The Ampelmann

Berlin has a very complex history that is made up mostly of events that have taken place in the past century. It’s inevitable that, with the changing landscape, the technology, and especially political ideology, the street signage would change too.

After World War II and the defeat of Adolf Hitler, the city of Berlin, German’s capital was split into four official sections, but essentially two main chunks, governed by the Americans and their allies (France and UK) and the Soviet Union. The four countries tried to make decisions together to try and keep a sense of unison within Berlin. Then, after the Cold War began, two halves of the city began to change and evolve separately, and eventually, a wall was erected between the two halves of the city and the country, signifying the tensions and disagreement between the East and the West.

The Ampelmann was born in Eat Berlin in 1961, only months after the Berlin Wall was put up. The iconic signage began in East Berlin, then resonated outward to the rest of East Germany. He is a little man with a hat that walks when green, and halts when red. The hat, now a famous feature, actually had political messages behind it. It signified a privileged society, one that flourished in times of trouble.
The West adapted more of a westernized (go figure) traffic crossing sign, one that was similar to the figures on bathroom doors. That side of Germany became “little America”.

When the wall came down, the Ampelmann was at risk of being fazed out. But the refusal of then East Germans allowed the little man to live on. The signage became so iconic, that West Berlin adopted the Ampelmann, and now most, if not all cross walk traffic lights light up green and show the little man strutting along with his fedora.



Jaye Harris

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