Picture this. You’re a pedestrian at a set of traffic lights. The light is red. The road is completely empty. What do you do? Do you:
- Cross the road. The light may be red, but the road is empty, so there’s no chance of getting hit. Why should you bother waiting?
- Wait for the light to turn green. The light is red which means stop, regardless of whether there’s traffic around or not.
Chances are, if you chose option 2 you may be German, or have spent some time living or travelling in Germany!
Let’s go back in time. It’s the start of the 1900s. Traffic in Berlin is increasing. There are over 20,000 cars on the road. There are trams and busses. There are pedestrians trying to get to the S- and U-Bahn stations. Is it possible to regulate all of the foot and vehicle traffic to ensure the city remains safe?
Yes, yes it is. In 1924 the very first traffic light system in Berlin was installed at the Potsdamer Platz. It was an 8m high tower, and a policeman sat inside regulating the red and green colours. Almost a decade later in 1933 the first pedestrian-specific traffic light was installed in Copenhagen, and only 4 years later the first pedestrian traffic light was put into use in Berlin.
The colours of green (go) and red (stop) have been in use since the very first traffic light, however, if you have visited Berlin, you will probably be familiar with the Ampelmännchen (two traffic light men). In fact, the AMPELMANN brand has a bit of a cult following in Berlin, but where did they come from?
The ‘father’ of the Ampelmännchen, Karl Peglau, was born in 1927. He worked as a traffic-psychologist for over 30 years and one of his projects was to find a symbol to better guide traffic. On the 13th of October 1961, Karl submitted his idea for an effective, yet relatable and cute symbol: the Ost-Ampelmännchen were born. Ever since, they have been a huge hit. Karl Peglau passed away in 2009, however, the AMPELMANN brand remains in his family and his family is present at every company event.
To this day, Germans respect the Ampelmann. So if you’re going to cross the road whilst the traffic light is red, you may not risk being hit by a car if the road is empty, but you will risk being scorned by Germans who think you’re incredibly irresponsible.
This myth is definitely:
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