Although the first use of a gas light to control traffic dates to the 1860’S in Britain, the forerunners of the modern traffic light with red, green and yellow lamps were first set up in New York in 1918. (But before you Manhattanites claim all the credit, please note that this was a small modification of the green and red light concept already pioneered in Cleveland). The USA kindly sent an example of their new invention to Germany, where it was installed in 1924 on Potsdamer Platz. The light was a veritable tower on four legs, with a roofed platform on which a policeman stood to control the horizontally arrayed lights.
But Berliners, East-berliners specifically, made their own history with the design of the unique Ampelmännchen (crossing-light men) pictured above. The short, chubby, hatted figure stepping smartly out or standing roundly at attention has evolved to a cult-figure and symbol of the former East. Thanks to the ‘rescue committee’ established to prevent its replacement by the western standard crossing signal after the fall of the Berlin wall, this figure has survived to indicate not only when it is safe to cross but also that you are in the former East Berlin territory. Now the green revolution is mixing things up a bit: the installation of LED technology is bringing the Ost-Ampelmann to (former) West Berlin.
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