German word of the day: Ampel

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected] • 9 Dec, 2022 Updated Fri 9 Dec 2022 12:38 CEST
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Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Here’s a word you’re likely to see both on a German driving test and in a newspaper’s political coverage.

What does it mean?

Ampel simply means “traffic light,” “stoplight,” or “traffic signal.” It’s a feminine noun, so uses the article die when it appears by itself. Its meaning is simple enough, but its use has become more complicated in the last year or so. That’s due to Germany’s shifting political landscape.

How do you use it or where might you see it?

Ampel really can refer to something as simple as a road traffic light. Tourists visiting Germany also quickly become familiar with the Ampelmann – or “traffic light man” – the unique-looking red or green symbol at German traffic lights indicating whether it’s safe for pedestrians to cross the road.

Germany's famous red "Ampelmann" at a traffic light. picture alliance / Candy Welz / Arifoto Ug/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | arifoto UG

Political journalists in Germany now regularly use Ampel to describe Germany’s current federal government – the Ampel-Koalition – or “traffic-light coalition,” which just marked its first year in office.

It’s named that way because of the colours each of the three parties use in their banners or campaign communication. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats use red. The SPD also governs with both the Greens - which unsurprisingly use Green - and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), which use yellow.

Members of Germany's new 'traffic light' government brandish a coalition agreement, including plans to liberalise dual citizenship, in December 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

With the three party colours also being the three colours you find at a traffic light, political journalists now often use Ampelregierung – “traffic light government” – or even just Ampel, as shorthand when they want to refer to the entire government. That’s why you’re likely to see Ampel in a lot of political news pieces that have nothing to do with actual road traffic.

If you see Ampel in the news right now, it typically refers to Scholz’s current federal government. But the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate also currently has a traffic-light coalition in government at the state level.

You might have seen Ampel used like this lately:

So hat die Ampel an Zustimmung verloren – How the traffic light is losing in approval ratings

Was wurde aus den Versprechungen der Ampel – What became of the traffic light’s promises?

READ ALSO: One year on: Has Germany’s government kept its promises?



Aaron Burnett 2022/12/09 12:38

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sintoo29 2022/12/09 18:46
A blumenampel which actually is a plant pot hanger is also sometimes shortened and referred to simply as an 'Ampel'.

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