Berlin’s street lights and little green men

Two of the slightly random things I loved about Berlin when I visited last year were the figures on the traffic lights and the gas lights.

It turns out lots of people feel the same way.

Here’s The Atlantic Cities on the threatened street lights (which, by the way, is a brilliant offshoot from the Atlantic):

Berlin has a reputation as one of Europe’s more modern capitals, but there’s actually part of the city’s infrastructure that is positively Victorian: its gas lighting. The German capital is the most heavily gas-lit major city in the world, its 43,000 lamps making up more than half the total remaining public gas lanterns still in existence. Many of these lanterns are beautiful, ranging from elaborate hydra-like candelabra dating back to the 1890s to simple, single teardrops. They also shed an unusually warm, yellowish light, a little dim compared to most big cities, but soft and atmospheric, especially when there’s fresh snow on the ground to intensify its glare.

While these lamps are popular, it seems they have to go. Over 4,000 of the gas lamps will be removed by the end of next year, with the remainder phased out by 2020. Berlin’s government plans to refit city streets with more carbon efficient LED lights. In addition to consuming less power, LED lamps are also easily adapted to work with so-called “smart city” systems that might, for example, brighten or dim its beams depending on who is around nearby. This adaptability is one reason why similar LED lighting systems are being rolled out across the world’s cities.

 And from the same site, a piece on the traffic light icons for pedestrians:

Perhaps motivated by his Communist surroundings, East German traffic psychologist Karl Peglau wanted a pedestrian traffic light for the proletariat. Everyone from the color-blind, to the elderly, to children uses sidewalks, he reasoned, so why not a “walk/don’t walk” symbol that makes sense to anyone—and, ideally, reduces traffic fatalities too.

In 1961, he devised a “walk” man in a straight-legged stride and a “don’t walk” man with arms outstretched like a cheerleader. He gave them noses and hands so as to “appropriately provoke the desired pedestrian behavior through emotion.”

Thus was born the Ampelmännchen, or “little traffic light men,” the hatted, purposeful-looking indicators that helped direct traffic in East Germany and have since gained cult status.

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Berlin’s street lights and little green men