Kein Durchgang

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Multilingual sign near the entrance to a toilet at the Cologne Main train station, posted by Simon on douban, via Joel Martinsen:

I trust that the Germans who posted this sign knew very well what they wanted to communicate. It seems to me that the other three languages all fail to convey the intended meaning.

The German equivalent of "No Entrance" would usually be "Kein Eintritt", not "Kein Durchgang". The closest equivalent of "Kein Durchgang" in English would be "No Passage" (cf. French "Pas de Passage"). Yet it is clear that often (perhaps usually) "Kein Durchgang" does mean "No Entrance"; see these images.

The precise meaning of "Kein Durchgang" depends upon the particular circumstances where it is used.

Where these are relatively small differences between the German and the English, the Chinese and Japanese translations are way off the mark.

The Chinese translation reads:

méiyǒu liánxùxìng 沒有連續性 ("no continuity")

I received the following suggestions from native speakers of Chinese (listed, in my estimation, in order of increasing suitability for the circumstance in question):

jìnzhǐ rùnèi 禁止入內 ("no entry")

jìnzhǐ jìnrù 禁止进入 ("entry prohibited")

cǐ lù bùtōng 此路不通 ("dead end; road closed; no thoroughfare; not a through road; road is blocked; blind alley")

jìnzhǐ tōngxíng 禁止通行 ("no thoroughfare; it is prohibited to pass through")

méiyǒu tōngdào 没有通道 ("no passage[way]")

Amusingly, if you use Google Translate to find the Chinese equivalent of "No Entrance", it yields méiyǒu gāokǎo 没有高考 ("no entrance examination")!

The Japanese translation on the sign reads:

renzoku-sei nai 連続性ない ("no continuity")

I received the following suggestions from native speakers of Japanese (listed, in my estimation, in order of increasing suitability for the circumstance in question):

tachiiri kinshi 立入禁止 / 立ち入り禁止 / 立入り禁止 ("Do Not Enter")

Google Image search here.

tsūkō kinshi 通行禁止 ("passage forbidden; no passing through")

tōrinuke raremasen 通り抜けられません

tōrinuke dekimasen 通り抜けできません

tsūrode wa arimasen 通路ではありません

The last three versions all mean essentially "not a passage; you cannot pass through here"). The person who suggested them commented: "The German sign I think means 'No outlet' — in other words, you can't get through after you go into the toilet." I believe that she has caught the spirit of the German wording quite well.

Perhaps the most impenetrable bilingual sign ever discussed on Language Log was the following one, where both the English and the Chinese were mystifying, and it also had to do with an instruction similar to the one under discussion in this post: "Except for access" (11/20/12).

[Thanks to Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Nathan Hopson, Grace Wu, Sophie Wei, Tomoko Takami, Miki Morita, Liwei Jiao, Melvin Lee, and Siyen Fei]


  1. Fernando Colina said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 12:44 am

    I think the German means, "you can't get from where you are to where you want to be by going this way." The English equivalent might be "not a through street."

  2. JQ said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 2:25 am

    Why not just "no thoroughfare" (given as one of the translations of the Chinese suggestions)? This would be applicable to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

  3. GH said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 2:27 am

    How about "Dead End"?

  4. rosie said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 2:29 am

    "No Thoroughfare".

  5. Julian Bradfield said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 2:58 am

    Wrt the last comment about the `Except for access' sign, the English was only obscure to Americans! It was a completely standard British road-sign wording.

  6. Jim Breen said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 3:15 am

    Just for fun I looked up the Japanese suggestions in the Google Japanese n-gram corpus (2007). The counts were:
    立入禁止 73279
    立ち入り禁止 203132
    立入り禁止 8424
    通行禁止 48853
    通り抜けられません 381
    通り抜けできません 1314
    通路ではありません 79

  7. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 4:10 am

    The problem with translating the German is that you have to come up with something people instantly understand as meaning this isn't the way they should be going.

    Bearing in mind that the English is mostly there for non-native speakers.

    »No thoroughfare« is fine for me, but is »thoroughfare« a word that average non-Emglish-speakers who can manage a phrase or two of English would ever have heard of, or understand correctly?

    It is probably true that »kein Durchgang« is used in many cases where »Zutritt verboten« would do just as well, and then »No entry« is a perfect translation of what the sign actually means.

  8. John Walden said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 6:03 am

    A BrE term for a road that vehicles will have to turn round at the end of is "No Through Road". Cul-de-sac is also used, but what the French make of that I don't know.

    I can't think what term might be used in a railway station for an alley that goes nowhere. "No access to (place)" perhaps.

  9. Elessorn said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 6:19 am

    Since it was brought up, I'm still curious about the opacity of 不在此限.

    I'm sure it has to do with my Chinese being overinfluenced by Sino-Japanese, because clearly native speakers were finding it odd, but I immediately interpreted it as "(are) not不 at在 this此 (point) (to be) restricted限." Or more idiomatically, "people bound for the area ahead are not prohibited here" (i.e. but everyone else is). Guessing it's (1) the feeling that 此 has to modify a noun, (2) the fact that 限 can also be a noun, and (3) the fact that because 在is verbal, the reader isn't forced to look for a verb in 限 to complete the thought. What should be parsed 不(在此)限 thus becomes 不在(此限). But I'm really not sure.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 6:30 am

    The challenge for those who translate the German into any other language is to convey (hopefully succinctly) that it's quite all right to enter this toilet, but that you shouldn't expect to go elsewhere in this train station by going through this toilet. After going to the toilet, you have to come back out this same entrance and find another way to get where you're going in the train station.

  11. John Walden said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 7:01 am

    Unless, and I am perhaps guilty of lazy stereotyping, there is a perfectly good way through the toilet to this other place but you are forbidden from using it.

  12. Jonathan said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 7:30 am

    That seems odd to me. Why would one ever expect a toilet to be another passageway to somewhere else? If that's all you wanted, shouldn't the sign be something like: Toilet, or maybe, if the passageway looked particularly promising otherwise: Toilet Access Only

  13. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 8:06 am

    I'm with Jonathan here. I've been in many train stations, and in none of them has the toilet ever provided a passageway to somewhere else. It has always been the case that one uses the toilet and then returns roughly to where one started. It would be odd to design a train station that called on people to walk through toilets to get from Point A to Point B.

  14. Eric P Smith said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 8:39 am

    @Ben Hemmens: on "thoroughfare", I confirm what you say. I was a driving instructor in the UK from 1996 to 2008, and the No thoroughfare sign was still occasionally found, and none of my 17-year-old pupils had ever heard the word.

  15. Stephen said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 8:42 am

    I have known toilets, especially large ones that you might find at a railway station, that had more than one entrance.

    So it might not be necessary to go through the toilets to get from A to B but in some cases that might be possible.

    I don't think that I have ever used the toilets just as a short-cut but I have entered on one side, used the facilities, and then exited on the other side as it is nearer where I want to be.

    So if some of the toilets in this railway station have more than one entrance but this one does not then the sign makes sense.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 8:48 am

    I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe the toilet is closed. It looks as though the sign may have been pasted up temporarily and somewhat hastily.

  17. Eric P Smith said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 8:49 am

    @Stephen: and in soccer grounds here in the UK, all the toilets have separate "in" and "out" doors for greater flow-through (!)

  18. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 9:02 am

    But then why wouldn't they just say that it is closed?

  19. K. Chang said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

    Now I am thoroughly confused. Do people in Germany expect to pass THROUGH the public restroom to continue to a different part of the stadium? We're missing some sort of context, or they just did a poor job of picking the German phrase, but given that they are Germans, who has a word for everything… (hahahaha!)

  20. raempftl said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

    As a German, the thing that I thought was the weirdest thing about the sign (which seems to be printed on the floor) was the choice of languages. Why no other European languages but Chinese and Japanese in a train station?

    I've only ever been once at the Cologne train station but the thing I remember most clearly is that you could see the cathedral through the windows. So my guess would be that people, inculding lots of Chinese and Japanese tourist, standing at the beginng of the passage to the toilet (which I would assume is somewhat longer with the toilet beeing at the very end of it) can see the cathedral and a large number of them seem to assume they can get there by using the passage.

    I have never noticed such a sign at any train station in Germany I have been to. I would therefore assume that special circumstance in Cologne make it necessary.

  21. raempftl said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

    @K. Chang

    "Now I am thoroughly confused. Do people in Germany expect to pass THROUGH the public restroom to continue to a different part of the stadium?"

    Nope, we don't. Which makes me think that the indented recipients of the sign's message are not Germans but those strange humans – also known as tourists – that are ready to suspend common sense and to believe that people in far-flung places are capable of all kinds of weirdness (e. g. passages through toilets). They also have a tendency to arrive en masse. So it's always a good idea to point them in the right direction as early as possible.

  22. Eek said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

    There are many toilets one can fare th'rough at my university… all a toilet needs is two entrance/exits.

  23. Heidi said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

    If a German actually put up this sign it would seem that the place or
    position of the door to the toilet is such where the public gets confused to think there is another exit, alas making it some sort of
    passage to get from here to there.
    Actually several airports have such facilities with more than one entrance, others with "Entry" and "Exit" clearly marked.
    No thoroughfare may be an appropriate translation of Kein Durchgang, but strikes me more as a traffic sign than for pedestrian

  24. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 9:15 pm


    I've had the same experience in very large German airports. You can go in one entrance and exit elsewhere, which might save you a huge amount of time traipsing through long corridors, but sometimes they don't want you to take such shortcuts when it has to do with security, immigration, customs, etc.

  25. Mark Mandel said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 1:08 am

    "EXCEPT FOR ACCESS" is totally opaque to American me.

  26. Mark Mandel said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 1:11 am

    @John Walden: «I can't think what term might be used in a railway station for an alley that goes nowhere. "No access to (place)" perhaps.»

    Why specify a place if you're saying this doesn't go anyplace?
    DEAD END is the most obvious. Or NO EXIT, or (rather excessively IMO) NO THOROUGHFARE.

  27. John Walden said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 2:32 am

    "No access to street"

    "We think that you think that the street is a place that you can get to by going down there. It may even look topologically highly likely. Be warned that you can't. You may have other reasons for going down there: there may be offices and even a toilet. You may want to go down there for a myriad of reasons. There may even be places that you can access by going down there but be told that the street isn't one of them. Or it is, but you are forbidden to do it. There may also be absolutely nothing, not even a padlocked door. But anyway, not the street, if that's what you were thinking"

  28. Adam F said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 3:55 am

    How about "you can't get there from here"?

  29. Robot Therapist said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 4:49 am

    In UK English I would expect to see "Access to toilets only"

  30. Brett said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 9:59 am

    @Mark Mandel: Did you read the old thread? The crux is that "EXCEPT FOR ACCESS" is modifying something printed on another sign above it. In America, signs are self-contained; what they say cannot be modified by another sign underneath them. Elsewhere in the world, such modification is apparently commonplace.

  31. Vic said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 3:07 pm

    @Brett I've seen plenty of signs here in Los Angeles which have a second sign as a modifier. A common one is a sign reading "Right Turn Only" above the rightmost lane of traffic, with a small sign below saying "Except Buses". The only issue is that sometimes that extra sign says "Except Busses".

    I'm not sure about "Except for Access", but I've seen signs saying "Local Access Only", there's one near me which prohibits traffic from taking a shortcut through a residential neighborhood to bypass a busy intersection.

  32. PeterL said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

    進入禁止 ? (Japanese, which a native Japanese speaker tells me is essentially the same as 立入禁止)

    As to "no access through" a toilet … I can imagine some tourists not realizing that it was a toilet and trying to go through. ;)

  33. John Swindle said,

    May 19, 2015 @ 11:19 am

    The first zillion results from a Google Images search for "Kein Durchgang" are signs meaning "no entry." Google Translate says "Kein öffentlicher Durchgang" means "Public Transit".

  34. John Swindle said,

    May 19, 2015 @ 11:22 am

    Sorry—That should be "either signs meaning either 'no entry' or signs meaning 'no pedestrians.'"

  35. Alison C. said,

    May 20, 2015 @ 8:01 am

    In Michigan we say "No thru traffic" or "Local traffic only" on streets they don't want people to use to cut between major roads. I think "No thru traffic" is used for permanent signs whereas "Local traffic only" tends to be used in construction zones. ("Road closed: local traffic only" means the road is closed to thru traffic, but fine for local traffic to use.)

    Also, in Schiphol I saw "No entry" translated on signs as "Geen doorgang", which is, I guess, pretty much a direct Dutch translation (calque even?) of "Kein Durchgang". (Google translates "Geen doorgang" as "No thoroughfare", and "Kein Durchgang" as "No Trespassing".)

  36. 번하드 said,

    May 25, 2015 @ 3:30 am

    In Germany you can sometimes see a sign saying
    "Anlieger frei"
    Which is probably is "No thoroughfare, except for access."

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