Amplemann; the Hello Kitty of Berlin

Recently I spent a week in Berlin. Admittedly, this was not my first choice of city on my “big European adventure”, I’ve never really had an urge to visit Germany, however after my first day in Berlin my opinions had changed dramatically. Berlin is immersed in such an immense amount of important historical events – both negative and positive. This post isn’t going to be about World Wars, the Berlin Wall, or the Holocaust. I am going to talk about the lighter side (pun intended) – the Amplemann!

On October 13th 1961, Karl Peglau introduced the first pedestrian crossing signals in East Berlin. Soon, these little green and red men became an icon, so much so that in 1982 Friedrich Rochow cast the Amplemenn in a road safety training film. After the reunification of Berlin, the Amplemenn were assumed to be phased out as part of East Berlin culture. In 1996, Markus Heckhausen resurrected these men and put them back into working order on select intersections across Berlin. This obviously sparked a media outrage – many against the integration of a reminder of the grim past, but some looking past this and reassigning a new meaning to the little green and red beacons of hope. Eventually the ‘committee for the preservation of ampel men’ was founded and with the help of the media, politicians and local authorities could not resist the movement any longer.

Heckhausen, and his company MAKE Design GmbH collaborated with designed Barbara Ponn to create the first Amplemann collection in 1999. ” Items like bottle openers, fruit gums, magnets, corkscrew, key fobs and T-shirts were an immediate success.” [Source].

While in Berlin, I passed numerous Amplemann shops, purchased my very own Amplemann notebook, sent an Amplemann postcard back home to my family and ate at the famous Amplemann Restaurant; enjoying some red and green beer, and pizza with Amplemann shaped dough-charaters on top.

Maybe my title is a little bit of an exaggeration. The Amplemann is specific to Berlin, with a massive political history. Sanrio’s Hello Kitty is much more wide spread Japanese phenomenon, created purely for entertainment purposes. To me, the Amplemann is much more than a plastic key chain, or a traffic signal. It symbolizes the light of the future of the city while simultaneously shining light on the past to invoke and inspire knowledge.

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