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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture File: Germany series at GermanPod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring essential information about Germany, German culture and German people. I’m Eric, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 2 - German Traffic Light Men, or in German Ampelmännchen.
There are things in our everyday lives that we consider so obvious that we never stop to think about whether they exist in other cultures as well, or even why they came to exist at all.
In some countries, such the United States or Japan for example, you’ll often see a countdown on crosswalk signals telling you how long you have to wait for a green light.
In Germany, you’ll find graphic figures on the signals at traffic lights. Like in many countries, a red light means don’t cross and a green light means walk, and there are human figures on the light signals that graphically represent these actions. For the green light, you see a walking figure, and for the red a standing figure.
Do you know when the first electric signal was installed? The first electric, or elektrisch, signal was installed in Detroit in 1919. The first of these in Berlin was then installed at Potsdamer Platz in 1924. To this day, you can still see a replica, or Nachbildung, there. For pedestrians, or Fußgänger, there was soon a signal that had red and green lights.
There were concerns at first that colors alone were not clear enough, so initially, crosswalk signals in some countries had "go" and "wait" written on them. But soon enough, it became evident that these words were not very effective. The traffic psychologist Karl Peglau contemplated the problem, and came to the conclusion that human figures depicting the intended action would help pedestrians figure out what each light meant. And this is how, in 1961, the green and red crosswalk figures came to be.
During the time when Germany was divided, there were two versions of crosswalk signals; the East-figures and the West-figures. After the reunion, or Wiedervereinigung, many of the signals in eastern Germany were replaced by their western counterparts, but this change caused some protest, so to this day you can still find many signal lights with the old eastern figures on them. Nowadays, these signals are so famous that there are various items for sale that depict the East German signal figures. So if you visit Germany, don’t be surprised to see two different styles of figures on the signal lights.
So listeners, how did you like this lesson? Did you learn anything interesting?
What do the signal lights in your country look like?
Leave a comment telling us at GermanPod101.com, and we’ll see you next time!