Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Facing the Schaffner

It seems like an ordinary enough event.  The bustling of the U-Bahn. People getting on. People getting off.  The sounds of the doors closing.  Relief as you settle into your seat knowing that shortly you will arrive at your destination, when suddenly, two ladies dressed in normal everyday clothes pull out their badges and shout in a voice that sounds as if its a stick-up, "Everybody! Tickets out!"

A little startled by the disruption, people nervously rustle through bags and pockets and pull out their train tickets while the women block the exits to the subway making sure no ticket-less scumbag escapes.

Even though I have my ticket, I can't help but feel my stomach tighten as I wait for her to check over my ticket and give me the nod and the "Dankeschön" which mean I've passed her little check.  No public humiliation to face today.  *huge sigh of relief*

Unlike in NYC, where you can't pass through the gate without a valid ticket, in Germany they use an honor system.  They trust that you have bought and stamped your ticket like the good law abiding citizen that Germans expect you to be.  So this of course means that you can pass a whole month without a ticket and never get caught if you're willing to take the risk, in theory. If you do get caught however, count on a whole lot of public humiliation.

Its the VAG and Deutsche Bahn's fool proof plan to make sure people pay without having to make people pass through a metal gating system.  People who are caught riding without a ticket during these surprise ticket checks are stared at and frowned at and shamed without guilt. They are now a "Schwarzfahrer".   Not the most PC name the Germans have ever come up with, but none the less not a place I want to ever be in.

So Scary.


  1. I can relate! I had that happen to me once in Berlin. We had been told very emphatically that our U-Bahn passes were for not for one day, but for 24 hours. Well, that wasn't true, and when the guy pulled us off the train I could just feel all of those disgusted looks on people's faces!

  2. I was nearly a Schwarzfahrer on the VAG yesterday. I print my own tickets from the DB website, and I make use of the +City option to get a free trip on local transit from the Nürnberg Hbf to my company's offices in Nürnberg and back to the Hbf at the end of my day, on the way back to Regensburg.

    But that nifty, convenient +City option is only valid on self-printed tickets if the DB Schaffner authenticates the ticket with their stampy holepunch thing. Which, for whatever reason, never happened yesterday morning on the way to Nürnberg.

    So I had two choices: risk it on the VAG, or shell out again for public transit I'd actually already paid for. I opted to not risk it, given that this business trip will be reimbursed anyways (and they WON'T reimburse any Schwarzfahrer fees I incur!).

    I generally love public in Germany, but dang — sure is complicated sometimes.

  3. Ahem. Last line should read "I generally love public transit." D'oh!

  4. Ah yes, Controlle. Always a nerve-racking experience...