Munich and Berlin scrap the word "schwarzfahren" over racism concerns

Munich and Berlin scrap the word "schwarzfahren" over racism concerns

Munich has joined the city of Berlin in announcing it will do away with the word schwarzfahren, citing concerns that the term might be considered racist. 

What is schwarzfahren?

You might not have been brave enough to try it - and we certainly wouldn’t condone that kind of behaviour - but if you’ve been living in Germany for a while, you’ve probably come across the term “schwarzfahren." In case you haven’t, to fahre schwarz (literally, to travel black) is to travel on public transport in Germany without a ticket. 

Concerned, however, that some passengers might take umbrage at the use of the word “black” in this context, two transport associations in Germany have decided to do away with the term. 

MVG and BVG remove word from communications

As Bild reports, the Munich transport association MVG is systematically removing all stickers and posters in the city that use the term schwarzfahren. In a statement, MVG said that the move was a “measure for more contemporary communication.” Whereas before buses, U-bahns and trams displayed stickers stating, “Schwarzfahrt costs 60 euros," the slogan now reads, “Honesty rides the longest.” 

The state capital of Bavaria is not alone in being a bit concerned about the word. Back in September 2020, the Berlin Senate adopted a diversity programme that prompted the Berlin transport association (BVG) to ban the term “schwarzfahren” from internal and external communications to avoid allegations of racism. The BVG now without exception only speaks of “travelling without a valid ticket.”

Where does the term schwarzfahren come from?

It’s interesting to note, however, that originally “schwarzfahren” had nothing to do with colours. According to linguist Eric Fuß, the expression comes from the Yiddish word “schvarts", which means “poverty." The term was therefore used to describe people who did not have enough money to buy a ticket. 

The BVG also confirmed that the term “has nothing to do with racism,” but stated that they want to adhere to the Senate’s diversity requirements. 

The Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Black People in Germany) said in a statement in 2020, “Regardless of whether the term was originally used to denigrate black people through association with illegality, criminal behaviour and fraud… it has taken on this meaning decades ago in the racist present in Germany.” 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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