“Free”, like many other words, can mean a lot of things, but in Germany the word “frei” can be confusing in the context that it’s used. In English, we use the word “free” liberally also, but more in the sense of freedom or exempt of charge.

Let’s look at several usages of the word “frei” in Germany:

Vorurteilsfrei means open-minded.

“Eintritt frei”, which is quite often seen on posters for concerts or other such events, means free-entry and therefore you do not need to pay to enter. So one might ask “is it free to get in?” And the answer might be “ja. Es ist Eintritt frei.”

Likewise, the word “kostenfrei” is used to imply that there is no charge.

“Freiwillig” means voluntary, another usage of the word “frei” in a non-compensatory sense.

However, words such as “alkoholfrei” don’t mean that that the alcohol inside the bottle is free, but of course that there is no alcohol content. Same goes for words, like “Fett frei” or “Laktose frei”, there is no fat or lactose respectively.

So when I was 25 years old, I booked myself into the cheapest camping site that I could find while on holiday in Croatia. Nothing could be cheaper than a “frei” campsite, I had thought. In those days, we didn’t have smart phones to quickly check translations, we had to use a small pocket dictionary and a bit of guess work, so as you can imagine I was a little alarmed that I did have to pay money after all. Very soon afterwards the realization struck me, like a baseball bat to the back of the head, as I realized what the words “Freikörperkultur” really meant. Boy! Was I in for a surprise!!!

Now up until this point, everything sounds like common sense, but when I began cycling to work in the mornings, I became confused with some of the road signs, particularly one that was on the pavement. It had a picture of a bicycle and had the word “frei” underneath. Of course I interpreted this in the same way as “alkoholfrei”. No bicycling or bicycle free zone. So naturally I dismounted my bicycle and walked with it until I came to a well-defined cycle path and then I remounted it and carried on to work.

In the town, I was astounded by the number of taxis that violated parking restrictions and defiantly parked under “Taxi frei” signs. This made me annoyed that taxi drivers could get away with this and even a little curious, that I even knocked on one taxi driver’s window and had the audacity to ask him sarcastically if he was offering “kostenfrei” trips. Of course, the unfortunate taxi driver, who wasn’t German, didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

This misunderstanding was soon cleared up when a friendly neighbour kindly explained what “Fahrrad frei” meant. Of course, it means “free for bicycles to use”, although “Taxi frei” has a slightly different meaning, which is “parking only for taxis” (very confusing).

And on that note, I will end by saying “Freitag” is definitely not a free day. You have to go to work on this day too.

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