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Still a cult figure in a unified Germany

Still a cult figure in a unified Germany

2010-09-03

The jolly Ampelmänn won’t need any introductions. The man in the hat can still be found at traffic crossings long after unification.

It’s too bad he can’t speak. The man first seen on the former East Germany’s pedestrian crossings could tell some stories. The Ampelmänn story became a political issue when West German transport authorities decided that pedestrian crossing signals in the East needed a revamp and the oh so familiar man in the hat would be replaced with his West German counterpart, Euro-Mann. The decision was to become a legal bone of contention as people pointed to the Ampelmänn’s cult-status and protested for his right for survival. Eventually, common sense and ethics prevailed and the traffic light everyman survived the revolution.
 
Instantly recognizable…was the man in the hat a spy?
 
Karl Peglau created Ampelmänn in 1961. Peglau worked as a medical psychologist in the former East German transport service and his idea was to devise a realistic and recognizable depiction of a little man that could address pedestrians in a simple, fun and effective way. The hat turned out to be a bit of an issue, being viewed as a garment favoured by the bourgeois, capitalist classes. Not a positive association for egalitarian workers in a restricted state. Others felt the hat gave him the look of a spy. Peglau wasn’t impressed, refusing to accept any negative associations. The design of the Ampelmänn’s portly figure was to emit as much light as possible and ensure clear green and red signals to pedestrians. The reason why, perhaps, that the former GDR traffic light man has now been reinstated to traffic lights in Eastern Germany and all over Berlin.
 
A man with a future: From the traffic light to a German design object
 
Based in Tübingen, industrial designer Markus Heckhausen wrote to Peglau seeking permission to develop an idea he had to use glass from dismantled Ampelmann traffic crossing lights to create lamps. The lamps were a resounding success. There are now over 600 Ampelmann products, from key fobs to postcards, available from exclusive Ampelmänn stores.
 
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
A career as a cult object: www.ampelmann.de

The jolly Ampelmänn won’t need any introductions. The man in the hat can still be found at traffic crossings long after unification.

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