In these stop-and-go days of re-openings and lockdowns, our hearts were lit up recently by the story of this charming fellow – an original Berliner: the Ampelmännchen.  

Invented by German traffic psychologist Karl Peglau in October 1961 just months after the Wall went up, the designer’s intention was to create a light that would both be more easily visible to visually-impaired pedestrians AND have tons of charisma – apparently people react more quickly to appealing symbols.

 After the fall of the Wall, the unified government was keen to erase reminders of the city’s former division, so the standard Western pedestrian light was rapidly deployed across the former East Germany and the Ampelmännchen began to disappear…until a young West German designer, Markus Heckhausen, had the idea to turn the discarded lights into lamps!

Word of Heckhausen’s work caught on and the public rose up to save the Ampelmann from extinction. Now he stands metaphorically at many intersections – between East and West, style and substance, past and present. The best part of the story? Despite their huge differences in age and background, Heckhausen and Peglau eventually met – becoming both business partners and good friends. And with that, our story comes to the end of the road.



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