Berlin at night

by on April 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

You all know the famous photo of the two Koreas?  Well, here is a photo of Berlin at night:.  The key point is that the West and East still look quite different, mostly because they use different kinds of light bulbs.

The pointer is from Elan Bechor, who credits Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield with the photo.

1 kiwi dave April 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I don’t understand — is the idea that more affluent and environmentally conscious West Berliners use CFL bulbs and the poorer and more backward East still uses incandescent, or is it different modes of street lighting or what?

2 rpenm April 18, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Street lights – mercury vapor in the West, sodium vapor in the East.

3 kylind April 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

It’s still gas lighting actually.

4 rpenm April 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Sorry if I was jumping to conclusions. I thought Berlin’s gas lamps were outnumbered by the electric.

5 qs April 18, 2013 at 7:31 pm

No, it’s sodium vapour. There are very few gas lamps liturgy in Berlin.

6 rpenm April 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Those sodium lamps (East Berlin) are much more efficient at the cost of poor color rendering. One nice side effect is less night-sky pollution (since the emitted spectrum is narrow).

7 genauer April 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

The colors do not mesh up with the old West / East borders,

1. see e.g. the tanget to the west (deg 270), and to SSW (deg 200)

2. and the white center is former east berlin

8 prior_approval April 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Stop quoting facts – this blog has a narrative to sell to the gullible. Such as the idea that the two halves of Germany, reunited more than two decades ago, are just like the anything but unified North and South Korea – and thus easily identified by whatever strikes the fancy of someone who has already pointed out that facts are not important when posting information.

9 Sigivald April 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Or more likely that “investment in infrastructure has lasting effects”, say? Do East and West use compatible sockets for street lamps? Is it easier to just keep using the same different bulbs east-and-west?

I don’t see where you got that alleged narrative from this post.

(The mention of the Korea photos is not remotely to suggest that Berlin is “just like” the Koreas, but because it’s the only famous example of a satellite photo showing a political difference.)

10 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 2:57 pm


They are doing wonderful things in the areas of psychiatry. You should check it out if you think Cowen was drawing the inferences you claim. Sheesh!

11 prior_approval April 18, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I guess you didn’t grow up during the Cold War then, unlike Prof. Cowen or I. Or you could just read what he actually wrote – ‘You all know the famous photo of the two Koreas? Well, here is a photo of Berlin at night:. The key point is that the West and East still look quite different, mostly because they use different kinds of light bulbs.’

The real reason that the ‘East’ and ‘West’ don’t actually look different, as pointed out by someone using a German word as a user name, is because the actual Cold War boundaries of West and East Berlin do not match the current differences in lighting.

Something which applies to my own personal part of Germany – our town replaced its street lighting about 2 years ago, with a bit more of a reddish tint, about 20% more efficient, with less effect on insect life (a big concern in Germany, actually). The work crews removed the decades old poles, redid the wiring, then installed new poles with a different design. It took about a month from the very start to the very end to do this for a town of over 5,000 people. The town next to this one hasn’t yet – they tend to be much slacker, and less concerned with infrastructure.

The real point is that the current generation of more efficient lighting being used throughout Germany has a different color tone than the lighting it replaces. It has nothing to with a division of ‘East’ and ‘West.’ As any German under the age of 40 will tell you, there is only one Berlin.

Change is just something that happens – the new color tone of public street lighting at night where I live is the third one I remember in my life, from harsh white with stark shadows to a yellow, to a now reddish tone. That such wholesale lighting replacement is done on a district basis just seems sensible, and good planning.

The Cold War, and Berlin’s division, ended around the middle of the yellow era, which is now fading away as a memory. Well, for some of us.

12 Stev April 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I don’t get it. They appear to match up with the borders. Maybe there is a little error, but too hard to tell just by eyeballing it.

13 genauer April 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

you see a yellow circle from about 10:30 to 4:30 , with the withest spot in the center?

The dark spot underneath the center is Tempelhof, “Rosinenbomber”, you remember ?

With what kind of militia did you serve?

14 Sigivald April 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

The map you linked to seems to support Tyler’s post, too, as Stev says.

That there are additional white lights in the center area doesn’t change that the rest of the lights there are yellow like the East (as you said it was before reuinfication), not blue like the West.

Looking at that map and the satellite photo suggests something I’d eyeball-guess at like 95% match between “Ostis-Yellow” and “Westis-Blue” in lighting.

What’s the problem with the thesis, on that evidence?

15 genauer April 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm

like that most of the (south) west has yellow lights too,

and that the few blue spots are all over the map?

16 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm


You are aware, aren’t you, that Berlin was surrounded by East Germany. Yellow lights in the southwest of the photo are in parts of former East Germany.

17 as April 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm

The break on the night time image coincides perfectly with the former borders. The map that you you linked is just centered a bit more to the east.

18 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm

What in the Hell are you talking about? They borders are nearly perfect. Only the dead of center of Berlin really fails to show the borders in the night time photograph, and it wouldn’t be a surprise that the downtown areas of Berlin might show the least difference 22 years after reunification.

19 genauer April 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Tempelhof was for sure part of the West

20 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I know that, and it sits like a dark blob in the expanse of greenish-blue lighting.

21 genauer April 18, 2013 at 3:20 pm

go into magnification,

this is not “greenish” lighting. This is weak lighting mixed with dark green background in the pixel.

ever seen a green street light?

22 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm

I don’t care what causes it. It is is just different from the areas formerly in East Berlin.

23 genauer April 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm


wiki Berlin_Blockade

with “seventeen hundred calories per person per day” “1,534 tons were needed daily”
“With this fleet, the British contribution was expected to rise to 750 tons a day”

[German Mayor] “Reuter, although skeptical, assured [US commander] Clay that Berlin would make all the necessary sacrifices and that the Berliners would support his actions”

24 Thom April 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm

The same guy took a similar picture of Baltimore:

Should I infer a similar cold war past? Or should I accept the answer that I know to be true in Baltimore’s case, and is more likely true in the Berlin picture as well: that the city is gradually introducing more efficient bulbs.

25 genauer April 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm

maybe worth to look at the racial distribution in Baltimore ? 🙂

26 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm

In the case of Baltimore, you might actually see borders between county and city (I am not saying that is the reason you see light differences there, but it could be, or that the lighting was built in different eras of the city’s history). However, in the case of Berlin, you can clearly see that the lighting changes right at the old borders of the divided city, and that those differences persist 20 years later. Occam’s razor then comes into play.

27 genauer April 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm

what I realize , is, that we seem to ,look at different features of the pictures.

Me the color of the (main) streets and others on the intensity of the sub grids.

28 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Then you are studying the trees while the rest of us examine the forest.

29 genauer April 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm

and what you can see, is the different intensity of the yellow main roads, it what is more to the west,

and the subgrids to the very east are Brandenburg. They get too much money from the solidarity levy 🙂

30 genauer April 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

what I realized too, is that

some here, Yancey alone?, seem to go more by the kind of general shape of the subgrid features,

while it irked me, that this does not mesh any finer structures, Kreuzberg, Mitte, etc.

Sooo, I went to
(the english version is only superficial stuff, the german version, with several 20 MB files with maps etc)

Well, this is Berlin, you really can’t make that up.

a) They still have significant gas lighting (half the consumption cost !!, kylind kind of right!)
b) The electric number and light output outnumbers by 4:1 (rpenm right !, both point 2.2 page18)
c) The yellow is Natrium (English: sodium), but in special designed electrical lights ( Na low pressure , to be “insect friendly”, point 2.1.1, page 17), so we have the same in east and west, my point, for the major streets and new lighting
d) The relative homogeneity of certain ways of street lighting is the result of intentional homogenization in certain quarters (point 3, page 19) AFTER reunification, “to enhance orientation by neighborhood”
„Aus stadtplanerischer Sicht führt die Ausstattung zusammenhängender Stadtgebiete mit unterschiedlichen Leuchten zu einem ungewollten Orientierungsverlust.“

Kind of a retro version of the argument of Yancey : – )

Welcome to Berlin, everybody is somehow right, and in the end the western german taxpayer pays.

And the local stuff lines up with votes for the green party, which had a serious run for mayor last year, btw

31 Yancey Ward April 18, 2013 at 8:10 pm

No, dude, we (me, sigivald, etc) go by the general overall color and intensity impression of the lighted areas. The old borders of East and West Berlin (and, incidentally, the areas to the west, north, and south of the old West Berlin- Potsdam for example) are clearly outlined by those color and intensity changes. Nothing more. I imagine you are someone who would argue over the color of the sky. Indeed, I am beginning to think you suffer from some sort of color blindness.

32 maguro April 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm

My, the Germans are a sensitive lot.

33 prior_approval April 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I see this became quite a discussion on boundaries. There is only one Berlin, of course, but there are differences in boundaries. Brandenburg encloses Berlin completely, for example – and Brandenburg has other priorities (Potsdam comes to mind). Potsdam is in the ‘East,’ but is actually southwest of Berlin – and is much closer to Berlin than Baltimore is to DC, with a denser corridor. Want to guess what color part of the ‘southwest’ of Berlin is? I wouldn’t – I don’t follow Brandenburg politics in the least. That infrastructure is continually replaced is not exactly a revelation, and that such renovation is done along political/physical boundaries is not a surprise.

That Berlin still uses gas lighting is a surprise.

That would have been an interesting post.

34 genauer April 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

@ prior

Potsdam is not on the picture.

LOL, I was actually a month ago in Potsdam (this is in the south west corner of the map.

The larger (older, “historic”) streets are yellow, just that the actual lighting posts are new (as in “after 1990”), but made to look like around 1900, the side streets are darker, what you prefer for upper third, private housing areas.

A lot of the “old” stuff you look nowadays in Germany was rebuilt after WWII.

And Berlin is not a typical “capital” like London or Paris, more like a hippie community in the lower east side, filled with draft dodgers, etc.
About 15% of the income their is somehow subsidized by the rest of Germany, via “Länderfinanzausgleich” : -)


Potsdam is not on the picture. You did fall for some “framing” because you wanted to see that.

take a ruler, measure from the center to the center of Tempelhof,
then confirm your precision with the distance to the ring, and
translate this to the to the distance of Potsdam from the center.

You will find Potsdam is not visible, and that means you are mis-interpreting fine yellow grid in the south west as former “east germany/berlin”

35 Sonia April 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I’ve noticed something similar between Chicago and its suburbs. If you fly over the city at night you notice this tendril of different colored street lights stretching out to O’hare airport – the airport is in the same jurisdiction (not sure if it’s city or county) as downtown, but most of what’s around it isn’t.

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