Word on the street is that Click Clack Gorilla is writing a travel guide. It’s about Germany. Having recently escaped near financial ruin at the hands of a sinister, yet (conveniently) easily flustered ticket controller, I am posting a piece of the section on (free)riding the German rails in celebration. Here here. Break out the champagne already.
Schwarzfahren—in literal English, “riding black,” or, in English English, the practice of riding public transportation without a ticket—carries two risks: getting thrown out of the train in a potentially inconvenient place and/or a 40€ fine. Urban legend has it that schwarzfahren is statistically proven to be the smartest financial option. I don’t make this shit up. The people on the news do. Having done a little math I reckon it’s true. But it all depends on the train.
RE (regional), IC (Intercity), and ICE (Intercity Express) trains are checked uncomfortably thoroughly and often. It is not impossible to ride these trains without a ticket, but requires a high level of concentration, creativity, or the patience to lock yourself in a small hot bathroom for hours at a time. One variation: Purchase the sort of ticket that allows you five trips across Germany dress like a businessperson, and see if you can’t sleep through the entire ride without being shaken awake by a ticket-checking conductor. As long as no date is recorded on the ticket, it can be used again. Buying tickets to cheaper destinations that lie along your route is also rumored to be effective.
Public transportation companies within German cities employ plainclothes men and women to conduct random ticket checks. (The conductors on REs and ICEs wear blue uniforms and snappy little hats.) Possible signs that you are trapped in a car with one of them: He remains standing as the train starts in preparation for beginning the check, she is carrying what looks like a portable credit card machine, or she is with a uniformed railway security duder, recognizable by his own snappy little red tam. They tend to come in twos and there tends to be something about them that just doesn’t look quite right. But maybe that’s just urban schwarzfahrer’s legend. If you see a snappy little tam though, don’t panic. Most of these in are false alarms—duders waiting for a ticket checker in another car or doing security duty. Each city has its “hot” routes and times. Learn them, heed them, and get the fuck off the train if you smell a rat. Multiple offenses can lead to much higher fines and harsher penalties. If you pay with cash, they won’t record your name, and no one will be counting, so if you can afford it, consider keeping a 40 tucked into your wallet. Or there’s always that fake ID you used in high school to buy 40s, but don’t come crying to me when you get arrested for falsifying documents.
Signs within the train cars will attempt to guilt you into seeing your failure to purchase a ticket as a grave social offense and before the train system was privatized, I might have agreed. You, being an American taught to like the taste of corporate cum and to despise all social programs as communist propaganda, will be immune to their social guilt. Consider buying a ticket once in a while to appease the direct action cods, and your own guilt at having refused to pay your share of an already underpaid driver’s salary. Also consider the thoughts of your travel companions. There is a certain breed of Germans—fuck it there is a certain breed of people—who have a general tendency to take corpor-ehem-I mean social responsibility and abiding by the rules rather seriously.
If asked for a ticket there are several approaches you can take to attempt to avoid the fine. There is the Oh Shit I’m a Slow Witted Tourist from Am-eer-e-ca approach. There is the I’m an Exchange Student Just Starting (note: the new semester usually begins in October and March) and I Don’t Have My Student ID Yet (students ride local transport for free) maneuver. There is the Ticket From Earlier in the Day tactic (tickets are usually only valid for two hours, but some employees are not detail-oriented and look only at the date and not the time). There is the Quickly Flashed Ticket From Yesterday scam. And if you’re dressed right, there is the slightly more involved Oh My God I’m SO Scatter-Brained Can You Believe It I Lost My Ticket Oh Dear Look at These Tears of Sorrow Shining in My Eyes (I’d Like to Thank the Academy) double whammy get out of jail free card. Or you could just run. Most Bahn employees have big Bahn bellies, and most will take you off of the train, right out into freedom, in order to collect your information.