Waiting For Green: Staring at The Ampel Mann
Most people at some point in their lives find themselves at a crossing deciding what to do, whether it be changing jobs, moving to a new city or relationships. Sometimes there seems to be no right way to turn. This was how I thought before starting my EVS in Germany. Lost for future plans, not knowing whether to stick or twist with my current job. The way I look back at it now is that I was telling myself that I needed change, to experience something more worthwhile and feel alive. And this is what brought me to Halle in Sachsen Anhalt and the topic of this piece.
I found myself once again waiting at a crossing but this time for the another reason. On my way to my placement in the morning is a busy roundabout in the middle of the city and subsequently many traffic lights as well. The first two take an absolute age to turn green. So long that even the adventurous few who like to live dangerously will take a glance at oncoming traffic and see if they can make it across without the time consuming yet ordinary wait on the pavement. Not in Germany however. I decided to do as I normally would in England and cross if it was safe. There I am about to place one foot onto the promise land a good few minutes under schedule when I hear an old lady shouting at me. ‘Mein Deutsch’ wasn’t too great (non-existent) so I had no idea what she was trying to say. That is until I reached the next set of lights. Everybody waits. Regardless of no traffic. The Germans pride themselves on respecting the rules and crossing the street when the Ampel Mann is red is no exception. So whether it’s a rush hour commute or drunken stumble home with Doner kebab in hand. You wait.
Why do I have to wait for the Ampel Mann?
Are you thinking what I’m thinking, shall we cross? What would Merkel think?
The Ampel Mann was the first pedestrian sign in GDR Berlin and has since become a recognisable image of Berlin and East Germany (he’s not in the west). Introduced by traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau, the Ampel men are truly Berlin. So much so that upon the reunification of Berlin the East were not having them disappear into history. Being so synonymous with street life and being easily identifiable the Ampel Mann has been used in adverts and bed time shows to teach children the importance of road safety. (Ahh, maybe this is why the old lady gave me a rollicking!)
Before I started my EVS placement I’d stand at a traffic light in the UK waiting for cars to pass not thinking about red, green and not the Ampel Mannchen and their part in German culture. The exposure to new contexts has made me more culturally aware. It’s taught me that there’s method to the madness in always waiting for green. Whether it’s to be a role model for children and promote road safety or to be a respectful rule follower.
So what can I take from this?
I’ve learnt and experience a way of living that is German and I wouldn’t have done that crossing a street in Leighton Buzzard. The next time I see someone crossing when the Ampel Man is red, I’ll shake my fist and shout.
Thank you old lady.