The Almost Lost Culture With German Traffic Lights

The Almost Lost Culture With German Traffic Lights

Who is the Ampelmännchen?

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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10 Places That Will Make Russia Your Next Vacation Destination

Explore the famous landmarks that play a vital role in Russia's history.

Russia...the underrated and often forgotten tourist destination. Places such as Italy (home to the Roman empire), France (the site of the Eiffel Tower), and England (the famous Big Ben and red telephone booths) are where millions flock to on their summer holidays. So how does some new inspiration for a vacation sound?

Picture this: Moscow, the city of golden domes visible from every street, with brick Kremlin fortress standing for almost a thousand years. St. Petersburg, the northern Venice of the former capital, home to the festival of White Nights, with the sun setting at 1 AM.

1. St. Basil's Cathedral

Built in 1555, St. Basil's is Russia's most famous church and the face of the country. Located on the Red Square in Moscow, its architecture and color scheme is unrivaled, as it was designed to resemble a flaming torch spiraling up to the sky. What makes it so unique is that it is actually nine churches in one, each chapel leading to another in a series of winding staircases and narrow hallways.

2. The Moscow Kremlin

Built at the end of the 1400s, the Moscow Kremlin serves as a fortress, surrounding five palaces, four cathedrals, and the enclosing Kremlin Walls with their towers, the central one serving as a clock tower that faces the Red Square. It also serves as the official residence of Russia's president.

3. The Cathedral Square

The square of five cathedrals, the oldest one dating back to 1326, is located inside the Moscow Kremlin. The Cathedral Square has served as the site of coronations and funeral processions of all the Russian tsars of Moscow in history. Today, the inauguration ceremony of Russia's presidents take place in this famous place.

4. Moscow City

Looking for a break from a long day of touring? Head over to the modern business district of Moscow City. Home to offices, financial districts, and malls, it is home to the second tallest building in Europe and the unique spiraling Imperia Tower pictured above. The mall is the perfect place to try authentic Georgian cuisine, do some shopping and relax.

4. Palace of the Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich

Built in 1667 and located outside of Moscow in Kolomonskoye, the palace of the Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich consists of 26 buildings attached through a maze of winding corridors. Without a doubt, the inside will leave you breathless.

5. The Kremlin in Izmailovo

Built in 2007, the Izamilovo Kremlin serves as a wooden complex consisting of a church and a cultural complex, modeled after fairytale descriptions of old Russia. Here you can have a laugh in museums dedicated to bread, folk art and even vodka, and watch multiple weddings take place here in one day.

6. Peterhof

Located outside of St. Petersburg, Peterhof sits on the Gulf of Finland. Laid out on Peter the Great's Orders, it is a complex of palaces, fountains, and gardens known as "The Russian Versailles". The grounds were the king's family's summer residence as to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city during that time of year. From its endless fountains to its perfect location on the gulf, Peterhof never fails to amaze visitors.

7. The State Hermitage Museum

Located inside St. Petersburg's Winter Palace complex, the State Hermitage Museum is a museum of endless hallways consisting of everything from one of Da Vinci's paintings, historical artifacts to an Orthodox chapel as well. Bring your walking shoes and be prepared to spend several hours walking through its breathtaking beauty.

8. The Splitting of the Drawbridges

One of the most famous features of St. Petersburg is the series of the opening of the several drawbridges, the first one beginning at 1 AM. Why so late, you ask? Up north, the sun sets very late in the summer, so therefore passengers begin their boat tours at midnight and take a cruise through the city to watch the different colored bridges open up before their eyes.

9. The Catherine Palace

Located in the town of Pushkino in the Tsarskoye Selo, the palace was built as a summer residence for Catherine I. The complex consists of sprawling land, gardens and a well-kept property, making it a popular tourist destination.

10. The Peter and Paul Fortress

Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, the fortress was St. Petersburg's original citadel in the shape of a star. It is also a part of the St. Petersburg State Museum of History today. In the time of the Russian revolution, it also held prisoners. You can walk into their former cells and take a tour of their former living quarters, as well as the church in the other building.

Although 10 places could hardly capture the timeless and unique beauty of Russia, it gives tourists a new destination to add to their bucket list. The largest country in the world has much for its own people to explore as well.

Cover Image Credit: Personal Photo

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12 Things To Know Before Visiting Rome

The Eternal City holds secrets only its travelers know about.

Rome has some of the most spectacular ancient architecture you will ever see. The Eternal City is full of ruins and art and romance. Before traveling to Rome there are things you need to know about what to pack, what to do, and what to avoid.

1. Technology

Rome is still evolving. Most places aren't up to date on credit card systems. You will usually have to pay with Euros or meet a certain price minimum with your purchase if you want to use a credit card. Make sure you always have Euros on you just incase your credit card isn't accepted. Also, many places do not have wifi yet. The city is ancient, and a lot of Italy's population doesn't use the internet on a daily basis like Americans do. Even still, you should be enjoying the adventure rather than sticking your nose in your phone.

2. Trevi Fountain

Like right out of the Lizzie McGuire Movie. The best time to go is early in the morning in order to beat the other tourists from photobombing your candid moments as you toss your coins into the fountain. Don't sit on the ledge of the fountain or the police will reprimand you.

3. Learn Italian Phrases

Italians, just like the French, appreciate efforts to speak their language in their country. Ciao (Hello/Goodbye) and Grazie (Thank You), Non capisco (I don't understand), Inglese (English) are good examples. Learning these will go along way.

4. Gelato

Delicious, especially on a hot summer day. There are tons of Gelato stands, trucks, and cafes in Rome. Everyone has their favorite Gelato location, test them all out (well, not all of them because there are SO many). I personally like the Gelato truck that sits on Aventine Hill by the secret key hole.

5. Pizza

The pizza in Italy is not the same as the pizza in the US. It is a thin and more crunchy than savory. If I were to travel to Rome again, I would skip the pizza altogether.

6. Breakfast

You won't find very many places with an American type breakfast in Rome. Italians, like many other European countries, have cappuccinos or espresso and a pastry. If you are in the need of a larger, more fulfilling breakfast, there is a place by the Trevi Fountain with the breakfast deals listed in the window.

7. Water

There are fountains all over the city, and I'm not just talking about the monument fountains. There are drinking fountains scattered throughout. Make sure you bring a water bottle that you can refill, it'll save you money on buying water bottles (and also limit the amount of trash).

8. Aventine Hill

There is a small park situated at the top of the cobblestone drive with stone pine trees and scenic views of the city. A few yards past the park is a church. Allocated by the church are a set of doors. These doors lead to a secret key hole. This key hole has views of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica through a garden. Absolutely magical and best of all, free!

9. Toilet Paper

The toilet paper in Rome public restrooms is not the best for your bum. They are rough and sandpaper-like. If you have a ply-preference, I suggest you BYO-TP (bring your own toilet paper). I brought wipes... they also came in handy for cleaning sticky hands from melted Gelato.

10. Train System

The transportation system in Italy is known for its high-speed trains. In my experience, the trains were constantly late. Stations aren't filled with the most friendly/helpful people either. It can be amazing, however, having the ability to connect to several cities in Italy and be there within a couple hours for a decent price. Make sure you reserve your seat (reservations open up 120 days before departure), validate your ticket, and beware of strict conductors.

11. A Religious city, deteriorating

When I first arrived in Rome, I was taken aback by the amount of trash and graffiti that filled the streets and sidewalks. I wouldn't necessarily blame it on the tourists, either. Granted, I stayed in a non-touristy part of Rome, where locals lived and inhabited the streets and parks nearby. It seemed to be a very low-income area. Animals weren't cleaned up after, the smell of garbage filled the air. I thought that the religious city that preserves its ancient ruins and is home to the Vatican, would be marvelous and clean despite the thousands of tourists each day. I was disgusted and in shock, disappointed in what I anticipated. There were beautiful locations in Rome, in the wealthier areas around the Villa Borghese.

12. Slow Pace

When visiting Italy, it's not a race. I went during a heatwave in July and it was unbearable. I wanted to speed through everything just to get out of the heat.Go to Rome when the weather is nice and comfortable to spend all day outside in, not too hot. Don't try to see every attraction or monument right away. Take your time. The historical city has so much to offer, you will want to experience every single part of it.

Cover Image Credit: Charity Kane

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