The German word Butterfahrt might sound strange at first. Literally translated, it means “butter ride” and might evoke images of smooth sailing. This word, however, defines a quick trip into duty-free waters to buy cheap goods – including, of course, butter.
A Butterfahrt takes place on a so-called Butterschiff (“butter ship”), which is basically just a regular ship that takes its passengers out beyond the German customs zone. Once outside of Germany, passengers are able to purchase certain goods and products for a lower price than they would be able to at home. The term Butterfahrt received its name because Germans frequently traveled to Denmark to purchase butter for a lower price. Other common items on a Butterfahrt include tobacco, alcohol and perfume.
The cost of a Butterfahrt is usually low or free, which has sometimes encouraged people to take advantage of the overseas trips, even if they didn’t plan to buy any products. It could certainly be used as a means to travel to a neighboring country for a very low price. Some “butter rides” have also included leisure activities in their program. In some cases, the trips even took place on buses, rather than boats.
The duty-free shopping trips generally took place from the years 1953 to 1999. Laws of the European Union have restricted such trips, but there have been a few exceptions: between 2002 and 2004, Butterfahrt trips took place between Germany and the Czech Republic, which didn’t join the EU until May 2004.
Today, Germans more commonly go on a Kaffeefahrt (“coffee ride”), which is based on the same concept. Passengers board a ship, where they are provided free coffee and cake (or lunch), while vendors sell their items on board. The so-called “coffee rides” tend to attract retirees who enjoy the complimentary food and drinks during the trip.
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy