the marauder’s guide to schwarzfahren

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.

die Bahn

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.

0 Comments on “the marauder’s guide to schwarzfahren

  1. At the end of the day, just run!

    Very amusing guide, although I’ll still end up paying for my ticket, because I’m the other kind of american– milding terrified of making a big scene when they throw my ass off the train.

  2. What I can’t believe is the sheer number of Schwarzfahrers here in Berlin. I think that every time I’ve paid any attention at all to the control team I see at least one person escorted off the train in shame. So if you consider that there are as few as 5 or as many as 30 people per train car, there must be LOTS of people riding black.

  3. Travel guide? congrats, congrats, congratulations, madam. (!!!!!!!!!) Wahnfried, the dresden king of DIY, says hi. we hauled a shitload of veggies today. juice for a week to come. but click travel clack guide gorilla germany? — yeeeeeehaaaaaw!

  4. Where can I pre-order the book? I neeeeeed this travel guide urgently. (I also need a chapter on getting away with not sorting your trash. Oh and a section on avoiding going to the Amt. Ever. )

  5. As a disturbed adolescent I would ride the Long Island Railroad for free by pretending to be a naive German exchange student who had been tricked into handing over all his money to unscrupulous “wallet inspectors”. I used the name “Hölger Schmidt,” because we really had a German exchange student in our high school named Hölger. I took German back then, and was ok enough at it to fool conductors who weren’t all that worldly. One of them insisted on calling the police at the other end, to make sure I got back to my host family safely. When we got to the house of the friend I was going to visit, I made a big deal of saying “It is I, Hölger Schmidt! I haff lost my wallet and the nice policeman is driving me home!”

    My friend caught on, and the day was saved.

    You, on the other hand, should not attempt to fool the Germans thusly. They are more clever and worldly, I think.

  6. I would like to claim that I made a wonderful schwarzfahrer, though I always bought tickets on the ICE and when my helpful German friends were watching. Silly girls. Still, I bought 5 tickets for 8 days in Mainz and used one? And that was only b/c one of the natives was watching. Go, me!

  7. This is a good overall guide. But for local public transportation the key is where you decide to sit or stand. The two best locations are all the way in the front near the first door of the first car of the subway,tram (u-bahn,straßenbahn). In this position (if its not rush hour) you can scan the platform as you enter every station for possible suspects. Not only that you can eye the doors to your car as the doors open in one direction( you dont have to turn your head around to look for bad guys). Another good spot is all the way in the back of the last car, the same rule applies but you dont have a good chance to scan on the platform, but you can concentrate on who enters your car, again without having to turn around.

  8. When are there criminal consequences if at all- is it after the 3rd time. I got caught twice in 3 months- once left the ticket in the machine- 2nd time i was travelling with a friend and he forgot his monthly season ticket.


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