Zug Fährt!

As a multiple trip per day commuter on Wiener Linien, Vienna’s amazing mass transit system, I’ve developed a amusement device to keep me entertained and distract me from the people smoking on the U-bahn (subway) platforms. My game is called, “Zug fährt”.

Apparently it is a matter of policy that prior to closing the doors and engaging the drive of the train, the conductor must announce “Zug fährt!” I like to translate this phrase as “train’s going!” because it gives a slightly human touch to the literal translation, which would be something along the lines of “Train is driving” or “train drives”. Each conductor — at least the ones with any sense of style — has an inimitable style.

Some like to add a “vorsicht!” (caution!) before they announce the departure. This can be said with authority, or with a caring “watch out”. These are the chatty ones.

Other train operators have a distinct style for their two word utterance. Some do it with emphasis: Zug fährt ! One driver does it so monotone that one would be forgiven for mistaking him for a robot with mid 80s voice synthesis chips. Yet another might do it Captain Kirk style: Zug!.. … …fährt.

In short, the announcements are as unique as fingerprints, and I like to make a game of identifying the speakers. For example, two drivers, one male, and one female, like to conjugate the verb strangely as “Zug fährte“, which makes zero sense to me (but perhaps a native speaker of Deutsch could help me out as to why on Earth one would do that — and what’s more, perhaps one could tip me as to why so many people seem to have turned coffee into a feminine noun and says “grosse schwarze” — am I missing something here, too?).

And yesterday, at Kagran, I swear I thought I saw that the driver was sleeping as the train rolled into the station.

6 Comments so far

  1. Peter (unregistered) on March 30th, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

    Hi, I don’t think they are actually saying “Zug fährt ab!” which gets truncated to “Zug fährt”.
    This would also explain the “Zug fährte” variant..

  2. nex (unregistered) on March 30th, 2006 @ 4:27 pm

    they always say “zug fährt ab” (which translates to ‘train departs’); they are very strict about this. i’ve often heard it slurred, but never truncated.

  3. nex (unregistered) on March 30th, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

    “große schwarze” makes perfekt sense, it doesn’t have to be feminine. behold the beauty of german grammar:

    der kaffe ist groß und schwarz. (the coffee is large and black.)
    der große schwarze kaffee. (the large black coffee.)
    ich möchte bitte einen großen schwarzen kaffee. (i would like a large black coffe please.)
    die farbe des großen schwarzen kaffees deprimiert mich. ich gieße milch hinein. jetzt ist der kaffee deprimiert, weil ich ihn nicht so akzeptieren kann, wie er ist. (i am viennese.)

  4. scott partee (unregistered) on March 31st, 2006 @ 7:31 am

    I think you’re right about it. Even though they are making a mistake if they use it as a direct object (should be grossen schwarzen…” as in “Ich moechte einen grossen schwarzen Kaffee”, what they are probably trying to say “der grosse schwarze Kaffee”. Keep in mind that I work in an international environment and so most of the people I hear saying this are foreigners.

    But wouldn’t it also be “Ein grosser schwarzer Kaffe…” when used as a subject? Also, what about making it a noun, as in the traditional Viennese “grosser Brauner”? Gotta love German and, in particular, Wienerisch!

    “Zug fährt ab” would make perfect sense and explain the mystery of why some people seem to say “Zug fährte@. However, as a multiple trip per day person, I can assure you that I do not hear many of them add the “ab”. maybe it’s just my ears.

    “die farbe des großen schwarzen kaffees deprimiert mich. ich gieße milch hinein. jetzt ist der kaffee deprimiert, weil ich ihn nicht so akzeptieren kann, wie er ist. (i am viennese.)”


  5. nex (unregistered) on April 1st, 2006 @ 8:01 pm

    you’re right, it would be hard to actually order a coffe using the phrase ‘große schwarze’. i could come up with such a grammatical construction, but i wouldn’t ever use it for real.

    i probably hear the “ab” even when it’s half drowned in the crackle of an intercom button released too early, just because i know what it’s supposed to be. in practise the announcement is, more often than not, so unintelligible that even as a native german speaker you would have difficulties understanding it, as long as you don’t know what it’s supposed to be. so while i’m sure that they do say ‘fährt ab’, phonetically ‘fährte’ probably really describes it better.

  6. scott partee (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

    I heard it plain as day today by a female conductor:

    “Zug faehrt ab!”

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