Berlin’s Ampelmänn is simple a crossing guard, an electronic figure who appears in most of the street lights indicating when it is safe to walk. When it’s not, Ampelmänn turns red and extends his arms. When it’s OK to walk, Ampelmänn turns green and breaks into an energetic stride.
It makes crossing the street in Berlin so entertaining.
But from a larger perspective, Amplemänn is a jaunty little character who survived the darkness of Communism and oppression in East Berlin to become a beloved symbol of a unified city and country.
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Who is Berlin’s Ampelmänn?
Ampelmann was an authoritative figure developed in East Berlin in the 1960s, but when the wall came down in 1989, he was almost lost to the broader German culture. Traffic lights needed to be consistent throughout the country, so Ampelmänn disappeared for a while.
By 1995, a campaign was underway to retain some of the nostalgia of East Berlin, particularly Ampelmänn. So Ampelmänn returned and he has a girlfriend named Ampelfrau. She has pink pigtails. Sometimes, Ampelmänn and Ampelfrau ride bicycles, hold umbrellas or walk with children. There are hetero and homo sexual versions of the Ampelmänn characters on some lights.
He is so popular, he has his own retail outlet just a block east of Checkpoint Charlie at the intersection of Freiderstraße and Unter den Linden. You’ll know it by the life size green Ampelmänn standing outside.
Ampelmänn Souvenirs in Berlin
Here you can buy Ampelmänn candy and pasta, soaps, coffee mugs, ice cube trays, Christmas ornaments, coloring books, flip-flops and all sorts of delightful treasures. Many street vendors and other tourist boutiques sell Ampelmänn items. He also shows up on street lights and in shopping districts in other German cities.
I regret that I simply bought a notebook, but that makes for a good reason to return to Berlin. Or shop a little online. Who would know the difference? 🙂