My personal favorite Ostalgie item, as I mentioned before, is the Ampelmann, the man in the traffic lights of East Germany (“Ampel” is “traffic-light” in German).
My first encounter with the Ampelmann was actually in a traffic-light. I immediately liked that cute darling. And then I found out about his oh so naïve and sweet history, but also about its outrageous commercialization. I mean, I really wanted an Ampelmann bag, but not at these prices. So I settled for a woolen hat and shirt, and a little green man for my key chain. I also got a small book elaborating on the history of the man, the brand and the various products.
The Ampelmann was created by the traffic psychologist (what a weird profession, I’d say) Karl Peglau, in 1961. The rationale was to combat the danger of road accidents by using appealing symbols, since “road users react more quickly to appealing symbols” (well, maybe. I don’t believe it would have worked here).
The next logical step for the Ampelmann was, naturally, show business. So in 1982, it was used as “guardian angels” in road safety training films for children, in the form of animated figures, suggesting helpful tips in hazardous situations.
In Israel, we had a nice Doberman that did that. His name was, how surprising, Dobi. There was a rumor that he died in a car accident, but it was nothing but a vicious slander, and I was relieved to find out that he died of old age, in his sleep. But I’m diverting, so let’s get back to the Ampelmann (but here you can watch Dobi in action, if you wish…).
After the unification of Germany, the Ampelmann was supposed to disappear, and in 1994 the authorities started to replace them with the Western kind of traffic-light man. In 1996, the industrial designer Markus Heckhausen caused a media stir by adopting the cuties and putting them in lamps. A “resistance movement” evolved, and succeeded in preventing the disappearance of the Ampelmann.
The same Heckhausen, with the help of the designer Barbara Ponn, and his company MAKE Design, are responsible for the wide line of products carrying the symbol of the Ampelman. Their main store in Berlin is the Ampelmännchen-Gallery, in Hackesche Höfe, Hof 5 (courtyard 5). It is open daily, from 11 to 19.
And here is the Ampelmann website, store included.