The traffic manager
Katharina Marienhagen and her team look after more than 2,100 traffic lights in Berlin
Two hours of Berlin traffic, day after day. From the far northwest to the far southeast in the morning, and back again in the evening. Once Katharina Marienhagen has reached her desk in Adlershof via Falkensee, the very long Heerstrasse through Charlottenburg, and the city motorway, she has had many short stops at many larger crossings to mentally gear up for the work day. Her area of responsibility includes all the traffic lights in Germany’s capital.
Since early 2023, Marienhagen has been head of GB infraSignal GmbH, a subsidiary of the state-owned Grün Berlin GmbH, whose headquarters and 66 employees occupy half an office floor at Europa-Center. Her specific field is what the jargon calls traffic light systems management. Programming, operation, maintenance, and modernisation. The latter is particularly close to the traffic manager’s heart: “I have many new ideas for traffic in Berlin.”
In her opinion, important avenues include using less electricity by retrofitting light bulbs to LED technology, more flexible signal timing, and more digital technology. Marienhagen’s vision is that of the “smart” traffic light, one that is able to communicate with road users. One that signals drivers the speed at which they will reach their destination with as little disruption as possible. One that shows pedestrians how many seconds they have left to cross the street. A traffic light that turns to green when a vehicle approaches it from a side street. “There’s a lot more to be done,” says Marienhagen.
Mobility has been the main topic of the now 54-year-old’s life ever since she completed a two-year apprenticeship as a railway technician in her home town of Erfurt in the days of the former GDR. “Somehow it all came together and I found it interesting.” This changed after attending a lecture about road traffic engineering at Technische Universität Dresden, where she had moved in 1989. Marienhagen was so impressed that the railway community subsequently lost one of its experts.
Her studies were followed by working for a Munich-based consulting company for four years, where she was involved in planning traffic control signal systems on motorways. Starting in 1999, she spent more than two decades at Siemens in Berlin, where she was most recently responsible for the traffic lights that the corporation was building in the northern half of the country. Her workplace was in Siemensstadt in Spandau, not far from where she lives.
She got to know Adlershof early on thanks to a nine-month stint at Alliander in 2015, a private company carrying out more or less the same tasks with the same staff and in the same rooms as infraSignal does today. “It’s great to work here,” she says. “Everything’s just around the corner.” Not least important research facilities like the German Aerospace Center to collaborate with: “A three-minute walk – ideal!”
What else is there? When it’s not about traffic lights? “Language and travel-savvy” is what Marienhagen calls herself. Since school, she has learned four foreign languages. She likes going to Sicily and has also travelled outside of Europe. And apart from that? “Music is my biggest hobby. I play drums in a samba group.” She even acted as chair of the local samba club in Falkensee for two years.
Dr. Winfried Dolderer for Adlershof Journal