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Berlin’s Ampelmännchen ‘little traffic light men’ is one of many quirky walking signals from around the world

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Berlin’s Ampelmännchen ‘little traffic light men’ is one of many quirky walking signals from around the world
Issue Time:2017-07-28
Berlin’s Ampelmännchen‘little traffic light men’ is one of many quirky walking signals from around the world
WHILE Melbourne is mired in controversy over its plans to ditch traffic light signals depicting men, one country has gone in the other direction and made their pedestrian signs more blokey.
Germany has been slowly getting rid of Australian style traffic lights and replacing them with a jaunty — and clearly male — figure.
Far from outrage at the preponderance of men on road signs, Germans have embraced the figure as a link to the country’s past.
In Victoria, campaigners have called for walking signals to feature 50 per cent male figures and 50 per cent female figures.
The Committee for Melbourne says having green or red silhouettes only of men at traffic lights reinforces unconscious bias by discriminating against women. But others have said it’s political correctness overload.
The Equal Crossings initiative will kick off this week with 10 female pedestrian figures to be installed at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders streets.
Some cities around the world have already gone where Melbourne is about to tread and swapped their male pedestrian crossing lights for women.
In January 2010, a New York exhibition called Walking Men featured traffic signal figures from around the world. Appearing in Sydney in 2014, the exhibition’s name directly referenced the lack of women on the lights.
Indeed, in Berlin, signals called Ampelmännchen — or ‘little traffic light man’ — have been growing in popularity. They are one of a number of weird and sometime wacky traffic light signals from around the world.
With a brisk step and a jaunty hat, Germany’s Ampelmännchen is one of the world’s most distinctive traffic signals.
It is one of the few surviving symbols of communist East Germany and was a common sight before the country was unified in 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
However, the figure was slowly phased out in favour of the more standard western crossing figure.
But a nostalgia for East Germany icons saw the distinctive figure make a comeback, first on merchandise and then on the signs themselves.
The chunky and cheery figure, who seems to run on green and then on red stand with his arms in a blocking motion, was deemed to be easier to see and decipher than West German versions.
As such, the Berlin authorities rolled it out across the entire city and it has now spread far beyond the once divided city.
The Ampelmännchen can now be seen on T-shirts, mugs, has been crafted into lamps and even has a beer named after it.
In 2015, to coincide with — of course — the Eurovision Song Contest as well as Gay Pride, Vienna installed crossing lights featuring the figures running off with one another.
The signals variously featured two male or two female figures briskly walking hand-in-hand, love hearts passing between them. When on red, the figures would stand next to one another, with one having his or her arm over their partner.
The right wing Freedom Party was not best pleased, claiming the signs were illegal and a waste of taxpayers’ money. But the council, far from backing down, made them a permanent fixture as they had achieved cult status.
Last years, 50 traffic lights in London went gay to coincide with the city’s Pride march. As well as the usual figures they also included the male and female symbols in pairs.
The Dutch city of Utrecht has banished blokes for bunnies. Lights in the city centre feature Miffy, a beloved Dutch cartoon character of a rabbit, that was first drawn in the city by artist Dick Bruna.
In the Danish town of Fredericia, traffic lights are even more masculine and feature soldiers, standing tall, with guns in hand. The lights are a nod to the 1849 Battle of Fredericia, fought between the Danes and the forces of Schleswig-Holstein. The Danes won the battle but around 3000 people were left dead or injured.
Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, a country sandwiched between Russia and China, has some of the world’ most unique lights. They feature horses rather than humans. Mongolians are passionate horse riders, stretching back to the times of the Mongol Empire when the nation conquered much of Asia on horseback.
Critics of Melbourne’s new female lights may want to consider that the city is by no means the first to have its traffic signals change gender.
Utrecht in the Netherlands, also famous for its bunny lights (see above), has embraced a figure called Sophie.
Sophie is a feature of many lights in the city. When the lights go green, she confidently hits her stride, walking with purpose in high heels, her ponytail caught by the air behind her.
While Berlin doesn’t just have Ampelmännchen male lights. With the addition of some pig tails and a dress (and sometimes a handbag), the city’s traffic intersections also now sport a woman called the Ampelfrau.