When in Berlin for our Moms Trip to Europe, I noticed Ampelmann right away. He set a charming tone for our entire time in Berlin, and really captures part of my fascination with Berlin.
What is Ampelmann?
Ampelmann, is the little guy you see on the traffic lights who tells you whether it is safe to walk. While most cities use a generic human figure, Ampelmann has character, charisma, and charm.
For whatever reason he just made me happy. Every time I saw the little guy with a had telling me to walk I smiled. I couldn’t help smiling. There is something charming about him.
What I didn’t know about Ampelmann is he is a relic of former East German life. In the 1960s, the Communist East German government introduced Ampelmann as a perky and cheerful symbol to lighten people’s moods as they went about their business. In the time since, Ampelmann has grown a cult following. He got comic strips, tv shows, and was a safety symbol for East German children. With the fall of the Berlin wall he has spread to the west and become something more.
Ampelmann More than Just a Man
In the 30 years since the Berlin Wall Fell Ampelmann has grown into a brand.
Stores popped up all around Berlin. You can buy Ampelmann shirts, candy, toys, and lights.
Funnily enough, he has become the face of a movement. Ampelmann is the number one figurehead for Ostalgie. Ostalgie is a combination of the German words for east and nostalgia, and the movement is exactly that. When the wall fell, East German culture went away very quickly. People lost their jobs, had to adapt to new money, food, and products. Essentially, their way of life was gone.
While the fall of communism was for the best, its citizens had to have felt lost. Their life and culture disappeared in an instant. On our Berlin Walking Tour, our tour guide was born in the East; his mom had been a schoolteacher her entire life. When the wall fell, she lost her job as the East had lower qualification standards than the West.
In 2003, brought on by the Movie Good bye Lenin, the Ostagia movement surged. People starting longing for the products and feelings the East. People missed seeing Trabants on the road (the only car in East Germany), drinking Vita Cola, and eating Spreewaldgurken. As a result, a few East German brands were revived and can be found in stores in former East Germany.
It is important to note that people think Ostalgie is people longing for the return of communism. However, this is not the case. For the most part it is people just missing and reminiscing over lost things from their childhood.
Ampelmann is that charming guy who greets you in Berlin on your way to work, but he is also much more. He is a sign of a lost culture, one that disappeared seemingly overnight. He is one of the last symbols of East German culture.