"I had to cry for joy"
Three years ago, the same-sex traffic light couples from Vienna caused an international sensation: suddenly, gay and lesbian traffic light couples graced numerous Viennese crossroads. What was originally intended as a temporary installation for the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 in Vienna has become an integral part of the cityscape. For two years now, Michael Bratl and Peter Rubik have been running the Ampelpärchen Rocks Store, which offers numerous articles in the traffic light couple design. In an interview with LGBT.wien.info, Bratl reveals how the unusual shop came about, who mainly buys there and what plans he has for EuroPride 2019 in Vienna.
How did you, as a straight father of two children, get the idea to open the Ampelpärchen Store?
Shortly before the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, traffic light couples were installed at crossroads in the city of Vienna. The campaign generated much enthusiasm around the world. Our aim with the store is to make the traffic light couples accessible to a wider public. I see it as a statement for the values lived here in Vienna: openness, tolerance and philanthropy. Again and again I come across my products on people on the street. When I saw someone with my bag in Schönbrunn for the first time, I had to cry for joy.
Your shop has been open for two years. What was the biggest surprise?
Our two main target groups are the LGBT community and tourists. The two sets of customers who traveled the farthest were two ladies from Korea and a couple from San Francisco who were looking specifically for our shop. The two Koreans have even immortalized themselves on our "Thank You Wall". I can't read what they wrote, but I hope it's something good (laughs). It's totally crazy to see how far this issue has reached. Once, even the Chinese embassy ordered something. We also have customers in America and Canada, and a few packages have already made their way to Russia. It is especially nice to be able to reach people there.
How active is your work?
Of course we also want to be part of the community with our label. For example, we support HOSI Wien (Homosexual Initiative Vienna) in its work. I'm interested in helping where we can. Since I am straight myself, this distance gives me a view from outside. I have had many conversations with people from the community who have told me what they are really all about: about love, about living together and not about what separates them and certainly not about hatred.
"In Vienna you can always experience something new."
What makes Vienna so special for you as a city?
The living versatility. Even as someone who lives here, you can always experience something new - from the city center with its pompous architecture from the imperial era to the districts with hip shops and fashion boutiques in late 19th century houses. In the peripheral districts, you can experience multicultural markets and find culinary delicacies from all over the world. You can dive into the world of another district every few steps in Vienna. That makes the city so worth living in and continues to overwhelm me. One of my favorite places from former times is Liechtensteinpark in the 9th district. I was there very often in my youth while courting my future wife. Later on, we got married there at Palais Liechtenstein.
What exciting things are you planning for Vienna Pride in June 2018 and EuroPride 2019?
We are in the middle of planning our new collection, which we will also be selling locally in the Pride Village. We are in the process of moving a little bit away from the traffic light couple designs and making articles with hearts and in rainbow colors. Ampelpärchen Rocks will then "only" be the sender. There will be even more to come for EuroPride 2019. That’s because we are the official merchandiser of EuroPride. And we are one of the few suppliers in Vienna who really has a lot of articles to offer on Vienna Pride and EuroPride.
What fascinates you about the traffic light couple?
Basically, the design is a very simple pictogram that tells you whether to stand still or walk. We transformed and portrayed it in a playful way. It should not be reduced exclusively to sexuality. My children, for example, see the traffic light couples on a completely different level: my son always reaches for the products with the two boys holding each other in their arms because he has friends and my daughter always for the two girls. That's the exciting thing about it - everyone can see in it what they want to interpret. The pictograms stand for so much, for different age groups and social, friendly or family relationships, different origins or different kinds of relationships.