Lights On! Past the proverbial crossroad.

On a travel, there is a charm that visiting a ‘famous’ place that is listed as a ‘must-see’ by Lonely Planet or spoken with great passion by someone who has already been there. Like for instance, The Brandenburg Gate of Berlin. Had I not seen the place, I would have gotten a look that people reserve for the most unkempt idiot who has suddenly inherited a fortune. 

Then there are other sorts of places, that are tucked away. That carry a very different charm. Look, “I-saw-something-that-you-didnt-and-you-spent-three-times-more-money-getting-to-the-place-and-back” value that these tucked away places have, is phenomenal, to say the least. Ofcourse, I have been a gullible sucker for such places.

But then, there are other places. Not really places, but aspects of daily life and living which carry a story or two in them. That quietly co-exist in a matter-of-fact way that you only get to discover it if you spend some more time on them. If only you plod, ask around and check. Theres a treasure trove in there. 

Ofcourse, I have something to show. If I wrote three paragraphs and you have come till here, well, there better be something. Isnt it? 

Here it is.


A traffic light in Berlin. Whats so special, you may wonder. Indeed there is. Well, for one they are not uniform. Thats surprising for Germany, wont you think? 
Below are three images from Wikipedia, that perhaps helps you see the difference. Both these co-exist. It was a matter of giant intrigue that and and some plodding later, I sat, shaking my head thinking about that I could have missed an interesting piece of history and culture, had I not asked around! Thank god I asked.   


The man seen on the traffic light is called the Amplemann. He was introduced on the traffic signals of East Berlin in 1961 by a traffic psychologist Kalr Peglau, with the argument that road users react more quickly to appealing symbols.  

Over a period of time, the  Amplemann merged with the culture of what was then East Berlin. He started getting cast as a ‘guardian angel’ in road safety training for children, games etc right from kindergarten. When kids connect at Kindergarten, the impressions are deep and stay for long! 

The reunification of Germany brought, the wall down and the people together. In the quest for standardisation, it was decided that the Amplemann, like several other East German aspects of life would soon be, as the cliched expression goes, be a relic of the past. The nineties saw the gradual phasing out of the Amplemann. But then, a ‘symbol’ that is in the minds of a a ‘society’ and a ‘way of life’ goes far beyond being just another symbol

In response to the discarding from the traffic lights, an industrial designer started making green and red Ampel lamps,  from the original glass of the discarded traffic lights. Ofcourse, it attracted attention. Ofcourse, the Amplemann was back on the discussion table, if not back on the traffic signals. 

Soon, a committee was formed to protect the Ampelmann. The arguments were both emotional and logical. The stocky figure of the Ampelmann  ensured that the symbol had more visibility, it was argued. Several products taking the shape of the Amplemann were launched. 

Fast forward to now. The Ampelmann urges you to stop or move, from the traffic lights of Berlin. Not from the main roads of Berlin, where his competitor, the “Euro man” holds court. But the Amplemann is back, so what if he is seen only in the secondary roads. He is still standing, as one of the last remaining visual elements of a part of a culture that is now part of a larger whole.

I picked large parts of the story from here and had it corroborated with the staff at the hotel, and a taxi driver who nodded in vigorous agreement. You didnt have to be Sherlock Holmes to find that they came from erstwhile East Germany! 

This perhaps was the most fascinating nugget that hooked my attention and enveloped my thoughts. Thank God I plodded around. And the plodding on the internet lead me to other aspects as well. For instance, I had no clue in the world that the traffic lights in Greece sported Wrestlers. Or for that matter, they sport Robots in Japan, on their traffic lights as well!  A compilation is here. And is even better here

Incredible world we live in.  We discover more of it, if we just plod around a little bit.  So, there is a note that I wrote for myself and stuck to my travel bag. “Ask around. Theres a story there”. Curiosity got me a lesson that usually lies sacrificed at the grand altar of ‘seeing one more tourist attraction’!

3 thoughts on “Lights On! Past the proverbial crossroad.

  1. Jairam says:

    I believe I have seen similar traffic lights in the US, at least I remember having noticed it in some movies given that I haven’t actually been to the US myself.

    Lovely post nevertheless. Somehow you manage to engage us with these little known nuggets of useful information from these far fetched corners of the world 🙂

  2. Insignia says:

    Aah! So much of trivia on the lights in Berlin. Its these “I discovered” kind of experience during travel thats more thrilling and gratifying than “I have been here to the place you and thousands of others have been to” kind.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Kavi. If ever I visit Germany; I will be on lookout for these lights

  3. nice one Kavi!

    there is a story at every street corner?!


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