The Love Story of The Ampelmann

The way you measure a society’s soul is by the way that it treats its children.
Nelson Mandela

Issue No. 79 – 2nd November 2009

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The Love Story of The Ampelmann

Throughout the Western world when pedestrians face traffic lights, there is a ‘little green man’ and a ‘little red man’ to tell you when it’s safe to cross the road. That is, except for East Berlin. Here they have ‘Ampelmann’.

I have recently returned from my first trip to Berlin and while there I took a four-hour walking tour of the city. Our tour guide was a knowledgeable Brit called Zach, who brought all the various buildings, churches and squares to life, enthralling us with his stories of power and intrigue. The one I found most interesting and certainly the most endearing, equalling the events surrounding the fall of The Wall, was the love story of the Ampelmann.

Ampel means traffic light in German. In East Berlin the traffic light man (Ampelmann) is unique, looking nothing like the traffic light man we all recognize. He is short and squat and wears a hat! The hat is different depending on whether he is green or red.

When The Wall fell on 9th November 1989, successfully re-uniting East and West Germany, the East Germans were able to start enjoying all the freedoms and benefits, luxuries and opportunities that the rest of the country had been enjoying for so long. Everything was being standardised across the country. That included the Ampelmann. When it came to replacing him with the western version there was an uproar, a protest including petitions, that almost rivalled those for tearing down The Wall. Incredible!

To the bureaucrats, the Ampelmann was a symbol of the past, a quaint relic of a bygone and a shameful, best-quickly-forgotten era. To the people, however, he symbolised something completely different. To the people he was a comforting and familiar symbol in a sea of confusion and change. At a time when absolutely nothing looked or felt the same any more, when there were no longer the same securities, the people clung to the last vestige of a familiar past, albeit a past largely of repression and restriction.

It is human nature for people not to like too much change too quickly. Although this bizarre reaction took the bureaucrats by surprise, they relented and allowed the beloved Ampelmann to remain. Today there are shops and sections in department stores dedicated to Ampelmann paraphernalia.

If there is a moral to this cute and endearing tale it is probably that we often overlook the human condition in the midst of political upheaval. It is the simple pleasures that people enjoy and remember in times of chaos. Even in an intolerable situation, life was not all bad. There were some simple pleasures and certainties in their lives. Ampelmann became the symbol of all that was good about their past, even if the only thing that was good was Ampelmann.

Quote of the Week

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult. Seneca


LEXOPHILES (Lover of words)… 

  1. The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.
  2. A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France, resulting in linoleum blown apart.
  3. You are stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it.
  4. Local Area Network in Australia… The LAN down under.
  5. He broke into song because he couldn’t find the key.
  6. A calendar’s days are numbered.
  7. A lot of money is tainted: ‘Taint yours, and ‘taint  mine. 
  8. A boiled egg is hard to beat.
  9. He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
  10. A plateau is a high form of flattery.

If you are wondering what happened to numbers 1-10, please refer to the last newsletter. Click on to access.

NOTE:  No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.



The most useful thing was using simple things and creating many activities from them. It was very worthwhile for K-3 teachers. A great presenter and good explanations.  Catherine Rudd, Glengarry Primary School, Perth.

The most useful thing was the different ways to use music & objects.  I loved that it was hands-on and informative. Emma Groves, St Josephs’ Catholic Primary School, Launceston, Tasmania  

About The Author

Marlene Rattigan B.A., Dip. Ed. (ECS), CELTA

Marlene Rattigan is an Early Childhood teacher, a teacher of English as a Second Language, and from 1987-2000 was a nationally accredited fitness leader. Her background is in music education. A keen interest in motor development in children led to the creation of Kidz-Fiz-Biz which she taught successfully for 13 years. Marlene also conducts workshops for children, teachers and parents at schools, in the community and at festivals. She has produced teaching manuals complete with audio CDs which are an extension of her ‘Kidz-Fiz-Biz’ program.

PO Box 6894, East Perth WA 6892, Australia
T: +61 8 9325 1204 M: +61 (0) 410 64 2781 E:

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Until next time … continue being a legend in your classroom.

Marlene Rattigan, Editor
Kidz Newz

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