LearnGermanwith Us!

Start Learning

German Language Blog

Train Fare Dodging in Germany Posted by on Feb 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every German is familiar with the word Schwarzfahrer—literally, black rider but meaning ‘fare-dodger.’

Depending on what type of öffentliche Verkehrsmittel (public transportation) you are riding, a conductor or ticket monitor is not usually bei der Pflicht (on duty). Vorsicht (careful, watch out)! The Kontrolle (ticket monitor) could come aboard and ask to see your Fahrschein (ticket). Without your fare, die Kontrolle (ticket monitor, surveillance) will ticket you with a vierzig (fourty) Euro Strafgeld (fine).  The practice of the honor system as a fare purchasing method, reaches beyond the German boarders. Countries across Europe like Italy, Austria, and the Netherlands use this system.

It was a Saturday night in Portsmouth, NH. I had just finished up my shift at The Wellington Room and was bringing up the trash barrel from outside. There were a few stragglers, friends of the waitress, nursing their Getränke (drinks) at the bar. The guy on the right drank wine and the man on the left sipped beer. At rather a most opportune time, Germany became the subject of conversation. The wine drinker mentioned an experience he had in Italy and told a familiar story about public transportation. He described how eine kleine, alte Frau (a little, old woman), was stopped by the ticket monitor and asked for her Fahrschein (fare/ticket). He witnessed how the old lady rummaged through her purse and pulled out, one after the other, four or five ungültig (void, invalid) tickets. Sadly, the old lady was removed from the bus and penalized with a fine.

As the wine drinker told us the story of the Italian lady, I was immediately reminded of my own Schwarzfahrer Erlebnise (fare-dodging experience).

As anyone may have the Gelegenheit (opportunity), so too was I a Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger). However, in my version the Teilnehmer (participants) could have avoided the ultimate outcome. You see, I had a gültig (valid) ticket at the time. I was a student at Lüneburg Universität (Lüneburg University) and we received free access to public transportation. I had my ID/ticket right after the Abfahrt (departure) from Lüneburg Hauptbahnhof (main/central train station) to Hamburg Haubtbahnhof (main/central train station).

However, on the way back the next morning I no longer had my Fahrschein (ticket) on me. I assumed it had fallen out of my pocket somewhere during the night. It was 7:00am after a night of dancing and walking around the city. There were three other people with me and we were all fix und fertig (dog-tired). To complicate things the youngest of us was a friend’s sister who had borrowed a Spanish exchange student’s ID/ticket. As the Schafferin (female conductor), in this case, came along, Jess—pretending to be Monica from Spain—showed her the borrowed Fahrkarte (ticket). Jess then quickly slipped it under the table over to me. I handed it to the conductor. She looked at the card and then looked at me and then looked at the card and questioned, “Sie heiβen Monica (you’re called/named Monica)?”—wir waren erwischt ( we were caught)!

At the train station, we were escorted into a grün (green) van at Lüneburg Central Train Station and taken to the police station. During the ride, I made small talk with the officers (who were extremely friendly). We even joked that I was really experiencing German culture. Inside the police station we were ausgefragt (questioned). While Jess was being accused of Beihilfe (abetment), her Schwester (sister) and I had to guide us through the process because we had told the Polizei (police) Jess was from Spain and couldn’t speak any English or German.

After we checked out okay, they brought us home. I, of course, was scheduled to return to the Gerichtsgebäude (courthouse) at a later date. I am not a hundred percent proud of this incident, but I do brag of how it brought me closer to understanding German culture.

Stories like the two above, gibt’s wie Sand am Meer (are a dime a dozen) and provide a common ground for dialogue. When you connect with someone who had the same experience, a bound is automatically created with that person. This is how, through communication, cultural Barrieren (Barriers) can sometimes be avoided.

What struck me about this conversation was that we were having it in a small restaurant in Portsmouth, NH, in a small city some thousand miles away from Germany; we all agreed that it wasn’t the first time the subject of the Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger) came up in conversation.

Links to videos about Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger):



Der Schwarzfaher-fare dodger

öffentliche Verkehrsmittel – public transportation

öffentlich – public

bei der Pflicht– on duty, at work, prepositional phrase, dative

Vorsicht –watch out

Die Kontrolle- surveillance, monitor, control

vierzig – fourty

Das Strafgeld

Die Getränke – the drinks

eine kleine, alte Frau

ein –one

klein – small

alt – old

Farhschein – ticket

Die Fahrkarte – ticket

Die Fahrkarten – tickets

Fix und fertig – dog-tired

Ungültig – void, invalid

Das Erlebnise –the experience

Die Gelegenheit – opportunity

Die Gelegenheiten – opportunities

Der Teilnehmer – participant

Die Teilnehmer – participants

gültig – valid

universität – University

Lüneburg – a small city in Northern Germany

Die Abfahrt – depature

Die Abfahrten – depatures

Der Hauptbahnhof central/main train station

Der Schaffer/die Schafferin – male/female conductor

Sie heiβen Monica—Formal you, verb, to be called “Is your name Monica?”

grün – green

ausgefragt – questioned

Die Beihilfe -abetment

Die Schwester – sister

Die Polizei – Police

Das Gerichtsgebäude –Courthouse

Die Gerichtsgebäude – Courthouses

gibt’s wie Sand am Meer – idiomatic expression for “a dime a dozen.”

Die Barrieren – barriers

Die Barriere – barrier

Share this:
Pin it


  1. Steve:

    I’ve not received the last few blog posts, though I’m subscribed by email (the system won’t allow me to ‘re-subscribe’).
    Is anyone else experiencing this?

  2. Frederic Snyder:

    I always enjoy German music, and your blog brings to mind one that was very popular back in the 50’s.
    Everyone liked it even though they didn’t understand the words.
    The song was Morgen, and it was on a 45rpm record which was the format of the time.
    I’d love to hear it again.