Many of our investors, partners, introducers and site visitors enjoy our “Greenman Logo” and most think it is green to represent Irish an Irish company “striding purposefully forward” to make investments for Irish people overseas. The real origin is far more interesting and anyone who has crossed the road in the former East Berlin may recognise the similarity between our Greenman and the traffic light’s “Ampelmen”. From East German traffic lights to cult figure
The East German traffic light symbols known as ampelmen are Berlin born and bred. They came into being on 13th October 1961 when, in response to the growing threat of road traffic accidents, the traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau, introduced the first pedestrian signals to the GDR capital.
And so the vehicle traffic light, which had directed traffic alone up to that point, was joined by the pedestrian traffic light. Its design was psychologically conceived, because road-users react more quickly to appealing symbols. The outspread arms of the little red man clearly signal: you have to wait; while the dynamic stride of the green man says: you can now proceed. The road to TV stardom
The traffic light symbols with their human traits soon fulfilled their purpose and found widespread acceptance both on the street and in social life. So it seemed the obvious thing to do when Friedrich Rochow, the DEFA film director, started casting them as guardian angels in his road safety training films for children in 1982. The ampelmen, in the form of animated figures, were always at hand with a valuable tip in hazardous situations.
The ampelmen were also deployed in other areas of road safety training. School children who could demonstrate good road safety knowledge received the “Golden One” badge with the green ampelman or a special ampelman key fob. The two ampelmen also adorned the card-game, “Take care in traffic!”. Kindergarten children made their acquaintance on rubber stamps and in colouring books. Phased out and disposed of
Following reunification, the ampelmen were supposed to disappear along with many other things from everyday East German life. The West German authorities, politicians and traffic engineers were critical of the little men on the East German traffic lights. In 1994 work started on replacing them with the west or euro traffic light man. The bureaucrats did not care that the arguments against the signal only concerned the defects of the antiquated electronics and not the symbols themselves. Resurrected as a lamp
In 1996 the industrial designer, Markus Heckhausen, adopted the discarded little men. The first Ampelmann products arose from the original glass of the traffic lights: as red and green lamps. The media response to the lamps and the story of the symbol’s disposal was huge, and so the extinct ampelmen entered the consciousness of the population. We are the people
A resistance movement stirred. Under the slogan “we are the people”, committed citizens strove to prevent the abolition of the last remaining symbol of East German daily life. The “committee for the preservation of ampelmen” was founded. With many creative protest actions it succeeded in drawing greater attention to the comical figures. And when the media also joined the campaign, politicians and authorities could no longer avoid entering into objective discussions. Better than the Wessi
The advantages of ampelman, such as the clear symbolic and his wide-spread acceptance could no longer be denied. And due to his stocky figure, large head and hat, the illuminated surface of the East ampelman was almost double that of his western competitor. This made him more recognisable, which is particularly important for children. In 1997 it became clear that the beloved East German ampelmen had been saved and would retain their place in the urban landscape.
Now they can be found again, mainly in the new federal states on secondary roads and municipal streets. Only the west or euro traffic light man is allowed to glow on main roads, in accordance with the Traffic Signals Directive.
In the meantime there are selected crossings in a few West German towns where pedestrians are directed by the East ampelmen. But this should be viewed as no more than an act of solidarity, because despite the advantages, a general change over in the other direction has never entered the discussion.
In 1997 Markus Heckhausen, together with the father of the ampelmen, Karl Peglau, published “The AmpelMan Book”, in it the history and rescue of ampelman is portrayed in detail by contemporary witnesses, and many photographs and illustrations. Ampelman as a cult figure
The huge interest in the lamps and the book motivated Markus Heckhausen to keep the ampelmen alive. With his company, AMPELMANN GmbH, and the designer Barbara Ponn he brought out the first Ampelmann collection in 1999. Articles like bottle openers, fruit gums, magnets, corkscrews, key fobs and T-shirts found many friends. And in the following years new products, such as a road traffic safety series, were constantly developed. Public and media interest grew with every new product, so that today ampelman is one of the most beloved of all Berliners. Ampelmann in the shops
The exhibition to mark ampelman’s 40th anniversary in 2001 also added to his cult status. This exhibition gave rise to the first Ampelmann shop in Berlin’s Hackeschen Höfen. Three further stores in Berlin, sales to the retail trade and direct sales via the web shop now make ampelman available throughout the world. To visit the amplemann shop and to find out more please click here