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Berlin Lawmaker Seeks Female Traffic-Light Icon

By Stefan Nicola
May 16, 2014 6:56 AM EDT 6 Comments
The Ampelmann has grown to become a popular souvenir of the German capital, which attracted more than 11 million visitors last year, according to city statistics.
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
The Ampelmann has grown to become a popular souvenir of the German capital, which attracted more than 11 million visitors last year, according to city statistics.

The little traffic-light man with the hat, a Berlin icon that outlasted communism and the Cold War, may be about to get a female friend.

The Social Democratic Party in the city’s Mitte district wants to introduce a female version of the red and green Ampelmann, one of the enduring symbols of the German Democratic Republic, to reflect gender equality. The Ampelfrau should look “modern and self-confident,” the SPD wrote in a motion to the local assembly on May 12.

“Women need to be more present in the appearances of our capital’s streets,” Martina Matischok-Yesilcimen, the SPD district leader who signed the motion, said today by phone. “We’re a diverse city and that deserves to be seen.”

Introduced in communist East Berlin in 1969, the Ampelmann spread throughout the city after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, acquiring a cult status that reached far beyond the city’s limits. Designer Karl Peglau, a psychologist in East Berlin’s transport service, conceived the mannequin more than 50 years ago as a “human-like” figure the city’s citizens could identify with and trust, according to its tourism website.

The Ampelmann has grown to become a popular souvenir of the German capital, which attracted more than 11 million visitors last year, according to city statistics. Six Ampelmann shops, including one near Brandenburg Gate, sell wares from coffee mugs to t-shirts and suitcases sporting the iconic man.

No Ponytails

Matischok-Yesilcimen isn’t insisting on the Ampelfrau being introduced in Berlin’s main tourist areas. There’s enough room to install female versions elsewhere in the city, she said.

Crossings in eastern German cities including Dresden and Fuerstendwalde already have Ampelfrauen on their traffic lights, according to the SPD motion.

The new signal should be “modern” and not wear ponytails and wide skirts as is common in these existing versions, the party says. Miniskirts or high-heels are also inappropriate, it says.

The district assembly will discuss the motion on May 22 and may hand it to the transport committee for further consideration, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stefan Nicola in Berlin at snicola2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net Angela Cullen, Andrew Blackman

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