The Almost Lost Culture With German Traffic Lights

The Almost Lost Culture With German Traffic Lights

Who is the Ampelmännchen?
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Traffic lights are typically considered a functional aspect of everyday life. Green is go, red is stop. A glance at the color is all most give. Crossing streets in Germany instead provide a nostalgic ode to a former society. Ampelmännchen (German for "Little traffic light men") is a green man wearing a hat in full strut, found on pedestrian signals in the former East Germany sections.

West Germany and East Germany unified in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. Relief, jobs, peace- these were euphoric words to encapsulate a pivotal moment for both sides. In the name of unification, seemingly everything Western stayed and Eastern discredited, from currency to furniture.

For all of the good, locals felt dismayed to see their culture slip away and their homes seemed foreign. 40 years had separated the cultures and it was more than a wall dividing them. Fears and aches arose for the vanishing Eastern culture, known as Ostalgie, would be at the forefront.

On Oct. 13, 1961, designer Karl Peglau undertook a project in response to pedestrian deaths from confusion and visibility issues with traffic structures. Crossers followed the same lights as drivers. People found difficulty distinguishing the red, amber and green lights. From 1955 to 1960, there were 10,000 deaths recorded. Ampelmännchen would become the country's first pedestrian traffic light symbol. Production stages took tender care to mix functionality and charm.

Peglau sought to define the bodily features under the notion people could relate to someone they looked like, according to the official website for Ampelmännchen. The large size allowed more light to shine and give greater visibility in harsher weathers. Showing Ampelmännchen walking drew a quicker connection with the action commanded. Initially, he feared the stylistic attributes would make Ampelmännchen appear bourgeois and get rejected.

By 1969, Peglau’s green man would make his debut on Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse, two major streets in East Berlin. Residents and media took an interest beyond traffic statistics. Beloved, the green man became a mainstream image and brand. He got acting credits through representation in the children's animated television show "The Sandman" and in coloring books.

However, in 1997, traffic lights were next for Westernization. Ampelmännchens were being replaced with the West's smaller, generic and simply styled man. This would be the last straw for East Germans.

Markus Heckhausen, a native to East Germany, found fond memories of Berlin's Mitte fading. Uneasy with the present, he sought to reconnect with the past through traffic lights. Before his eyes, his culture was disconnected, dismantled and left astray on sidewalks. Collecting the glass on Rosenthaler Platz, Heckhausen created a gallery with the Ampelmännchen symbol prevalent. German press took notice and articles covered the story.

Hearing of the passion and artistic revival, Peglau reached out to Heckhausen for coffee. The two would strategize how to save the remaining Ampelmännchen and ultimately form a lifelong friendship.

Rescue the Ampelmännchen! was a committee dedicated to the cause. Lobbying right to the traffic minister, this was something a generation could get behind. Under public pressure, Ampelmännchen's survival was singled via the removals halted.

He has been used as inspiration throughout other German areas. As recently as July 2017, southern German city Augsburg unveiled a puppet-themed crossing figure to celebrate their theatre history. Residents in other parts regularly suggest personalised and themed symbols too.

Now a cult icon, Ampelmännchen went from being nearly extinct to fame beyond sidewalks. Outside of Berlin, you can see him internationally parading on shelves as a mug or key chain.

Cover Image Credit: Ibokel / Pixabay

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.
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After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing. My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from Shameless.

Shameless is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out-of-place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside, Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum -- it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone -- however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by Shameless.

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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I Lived In Europe And I Can NEVER Go Back To Small-Town America

I want to be part of a city that is always moving at the speed of light.

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I've been pretty clear in my dislike of my small Midwestern town. I think I've made at least two articles here about how I feel about where I live, so this is not a new topic on it. However, I have new insight into it, having lived in Europe for a month.

At the time that I'm writing this, I am finishing up a month-long study abroad in Paris, France. I flew out from Minnesota on May 31st and began my journey in Paris on June 1st. And it has truly been a journey. I am living in the heart of the city, riding public transportation daily, and trying my best to speak French like a local. And I love it. I never want to leave.

In my small hometown, there is nothing. The nearest mall is around an hour away. There are two fast-food restaurants in town, and everyone knows everything. In Paris, the world is at my fingertips. I can walk down the street for a pain au chocolate (the best thing every created, btw) or hop on the nearest métro station and be at the Eiffel Tower or the Champs-Élysées in less that 10 minutes. I can meet a new person on public transportation every day while also picking up a conversation with my server at the local café that we were talking about yesterday.

Paris makes me feel free in a way that I never did in my small town. I may only be one person in a population of over 2 million, but I have never felt more myself. I have never felt so independent or so excited to go out and explore the world. There is always something new to discover in Paris. I don't have that back home. Paris is always active, always pushing toward the future. I love the speed. Home is slow, barely moving forward. It plods along, slower than the tractors that drive along the side of the road.

I can't go back to somewhere that crawls forward. I crave the hustle and the bustle of the line 1 métro station at 9 a.m. when everyone is trying to get to work and there is no room on the train. I crave a brisk walk down the street, past people cruising through the streets on their motos and teenagers smoking on the sidewalks.

Paris is everything that I've always wanted. I want to live somewhere that is a constant adventure. Sure, I want to keep traveling and I totally intend to, but I wrote this article to say that I can never go back to stagnation. I love it here. And sure, I'll come back home to see my family. But I'd so much rather they come and visit me. Because Paris is so much better than any hole-in-the-wall town could be.

Cover Image Credit:

Alyson Amestoy

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