Ana Juan-Gomez


Streets of Berlin


Because I understand no German, I have been relying on icons/images to lead the way.

The first thing I noticed was how different the traffic light symbols were for pedestrians. There is a side-facing green man walking signaling it is ok to cross, and a thick frontal-standing red one with its arms out. I’m not sure why I found these symbols so fascinating but honestly, I had never seen anything like them in any country I’ve ever visited! 

Apparently, a man called Karl Peglau designed “Ampelmännchen” (little traffic light men) in 1961 after criticizing the fact that just the colors of the traffic lights alone was not enough for their population to differentiate when navigating around the city. There is a long history behind its finalized design, but long story short, the Ampelmännchen became a sort of virtual mascot for the East German nostalgia movement. After the German unification in 1990, there were attempts to standardize everything to the way they had it in the West. Many East German signs were destroyed, until campaigns took place to try and save the Ampelmännchen as part of the East German culture.

It is now used as a marketing brand and seen all across the city as statues and souvenirs.

Enough about traffic lights…

What I like most about Berlin is that apart from its dark history, there seems to always be a recurring theme of moving forward.

Society everywhere tends to focus on the evils of history instead of remembering and honoring the innocent people who passed. On one of our walking tours we stopped on a grassy patch in the middle of a parking lot. We were standing on top of Hitler’s bunker where he spent the last years of his life in hiding. No monument, no grave or tombstone, just a forgotten patch of grass that not many people stop and look twice at. (Imagined how pissed Hitler would be if he found out he was not being commemorated).


Communist propaganda

This mural was huge! It was on the side of the main Luftwaffe headquarters in East Berlin (one of the few Nazi buildings that wasn’t destroyed after the war). Murals like these were pretty common back then to brainwash people into thinking that the harder they work, the happier they would live…Many protests came from the harsh working conditions and thousands of peaceful protesters were ruthlessly killed in front of this very building.


Street Art

The walls of Berlin have so much character! Surprisingly, the street art we found on the way to the Berlin Wall was actually more impressive than at the wall itself! 

KOEPI Community

The last thing I really want to mention is KEOPI.

We came across this space by accident. Our curiosity got the best of us so we opened the gates to what seemed like a whole new city within. It felt a bit like breaking into someone’s home, but the people that live there seemed used to occasional intruders like ourselves (as long as no pictures were taken).

My favorite part about their lifestyle was the “freebox.” This was a shelf that anyone can use as a way to recycle the things you no longer want. Coming from a European family that lives in the US, I see what an incredibly wasteful country we can be. We are the country with the largest consumption rate in the world. We buy, and buy, and buy without being very globally aware…It’s always been something that has really bugged me, especially after moving away from home and living with other people with customs different from my own. As “citizens of the world” (as we would say in Spain) we should really consider making changes in our lifestyles to be just a bit less wasteful and take care of the world we all live in. It sounds a bit corny but it’s true! :)

Ana Juan-GomezComment