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Berlin Lawmakers Seek Gender Equality in Their Traffic Lights

Berlin Lawmakers Seek Gender Equality in Their Traffic Lights

Illustration by Braulio Amado

For decades, Berlin’s pedestrian crossings have been ruled by squat red and green men wearing hats. They are Germany’s iconic Ampelmännchen—the “little stoplight men” that grace many of the country’s walk signals.

Now, Berlin lawmakers are demanding gender quotas for their capital city’s walkways. They insist the time has come for a Berliner Ampelfrau. “Women need to be more present in the appearances of our capital’s streets,” Martina Matischok-Yesilcimen, Germany’s Social Democratic Party district leader who signed a recent motion (PDF) to introduce female walk signals, told Bloomberg News. “We’re a diverse city, and that deserves to be seen.”

Germany’s beloved Ampelmann dates back to 1960s East Berlin, when the traffic psychologist Karl Peglau introduced the first walk lights in the country’s capital. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Communist relic achieved cult status and was adopted by several German cities. Today, tourists can buy all manner of Ampelmann souvenir swag, including red, green, and white Ampelmann pasta (which for some reason bears the name Naughty Noodle).

Not that Ampelmännchen haven’t seen any female competition. Some eastern German cities, such as Zwickau, Dresden, and Fürstenwalde, long ago unveiled an Ampelfrau with bow-tied braids and a knee-length skirt.

Berlin’s politicians are dismissive of these sorts of girlish crossing guards: “We don’t want a woman with braids and a flowy skirt,” Matischok-Yesilcimen told Der Tagesspiegel, adding that the Ampelfrau should look “modern and self-confident.” The SPD district leader does not yet have a specific design in mind but says pants and high heels would be a good look for the contemporary Ampelfrau. It’s worth noting that the current Ampelmann could, in theory, be a woman in slacks.

The Ampelfrau-equality motion is being considered by Berlin’s district assembly and may be passed along to the transport committee for further review.

Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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