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Deutsches Technikmuseum - November

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The Websites of the donation Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin at a glance:

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The donation contains six locations:

Exhibit of the Month November 2017

Photo: The panel has many buttons on its tilted face and a telephone with a rotary dial on the housing. The traffic lights can be dialled with the telephone. The buttons could then be used to change, for instance, the green phase at the traffic light.

Highly modern at the time: With consoles like this one, traffic lights in West Berlin were centrally controlled for the first time since 1959. (Donation Jürgen Renelt) © SDTB / Photo: C. Kirchner

Remote control unit for traffic lights, 1959

Signal light units, commonly referred to as traffic lights, are such a commonplace feature of the streetscape that hardly anyone gives a thought to the modern transport technology on display here that lies behind conveniences like "phased traffic lights".

Germany’s first traffic light was erected at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin in 1924; up till then policemen had controlled the flow of traffic. After the end of the Second World War there was a steady increase in street traffic as the economy recovered and motorization became more prevalent. Attempts to deal with this problem included new city planning concepts like the "car-based city" as well as the use of modern traffic signal technology.

In 1956 the hundredth traffic light was set up in West Berlin; by 1976 that number had increased to 1,000. In East Berlin there were around 150. The modern "regulatory science" cybernetics was the solution for sensibly managed traffic: The continuously growing number of traffic lights became centrally controlled.

B/W-Photo: View of Kaiserdamm from Messedamm in the direction of the city. The eight-lane street has modern traffic management techniques. In comparison to today the number of autos is small. The Victory Column can be seen at the end of the long road axis.

Kaiserdamm boulevard displays the traffic management measures of the "car-based" city in 1956. A traffic light, turning lane and Autobahn sign epitomize the new era. © Jürgen Renelt

Up to 999 traffic lights could be controlled

One such central control unit is displayed here: This control panel from Siemens can remotely control up to 999 traffic lights.

It was put into operation in the first Berlin traffic control centre at the Kreuzberg police headquarters in 1959. The automation system was based on proven telecommunications: Each traffic light had a three-digit telephone number. Individual traffic lights could be dialled from the console in order to, for example, change the length of the green phase.

Computers were added a few years later: The first traffic computer in Europe went into operation in Berlin-Wilmersdorf in 1965. Today around 2,000 Berlin traffic lights are still controlled from the Kreuzberg control centre.