Following the recent election for the German Bundestag, political parties SPD, Die Grünen and FDP have concluded their exploratory negotiations to form a coalition. In the summary paper they point out that in order to meet the obligations of the Paris agreement, an increased speed at which coal power plants are phased out is necessary. They promise continued support to the regions in Germany that would be negatively affected by that:

Die betroffenen Regionen können weiterhin auf solidarische Unterstützung zählen. Maßnahmen des Strukturstärkungsgesetzes werden vorgezogen bzw. beschleunigt. Die flankierenden arbeitspolitischen Maßnahmen wie das Anpassungsgeld werden entsprechend angepasst. Niemand wird ins Bergfreie fallen. (my emphasis, "Ergebnis der Sondierungen", p. 3)

The word Bergfreie is new to me. I assume that it's a term from mining jargon, and from the context I suspect it might refer to the state in which a miner loses their contract with the mining company. But I may be way off here. So – what is the meaning and etymology of the word?

(It goes without saying that political discussions aren't welcome, neither in answers nor in comments.)


2 Answers 2


The term Bergfreiheit very roughly means that an area is free for mining for everybody, that nobody has exclusive rights on the natural ressources.

In Ancient Rome, for example, natural ressources in the ground were "automatically" property of the owner of the land. In later centuries, the ownership of the ressources became separate from the ownership of the land. That ownership is called Bergregal. If nobody has a Bergregal for a piece of land, that land is bergfrei.

The Bergregal is administered by the Bergamt. To finance the Bergamt, mining companies who had a Bergregal had to pay a fee called Rezessgeld. If a company failed to pay the Rezessgeld, they could lose their Bergregal - the respective area could "fall into free mining", ins Bergfreie fallen.

When a company loses their exclusive right to do mining in a specific area, they typically don't have much use for their employees who were meant to do the mining, too. So when an area did "ins Bergfreie fallen", the workers often fell as well - being they fell into unemployment.

So, in areas where mining was prevalent and had a strong influence on culture and language, "ins Bergfreie fallen" became a set phrase for losing one's job, losing one's livelyhood, to be abandoned (by your previous employer or by your community as a whole).

So, if a politican promises that "niemand wird ins Bergfreie fallen", "wir lassen niemand ins Bergfreie fallen", it basically means something along the lines of "nobody will be left behind", "nobody will be left to fall through the cracks". It is for example used in the context of closing mining operations.

  • 2
    As a side note, "Bergregal" isn't related to "Regal" as in "shelf" or "rack", but to Regalien as in Jura regalia - privileges belonging exclusively to the king, who can in turn "sublet" them by his disgression. Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 9:57
  • The references in your answer show that "ins Bergfreie fallen" means that if the owner did not pay the Rezessgeld, then he lost his mining permission. This may have caused the loss of miner's jobs, and therefore your explanation of "Niemand wird ins Bergfreie fallen" is plausible. But there is no real evidence in your references for it. Anyway, I think the meaning of the phrase in the context of "Die flankierenden arbeitspolitischen Maßnahmen wie das Anpassungsgeld werden entsprechend angepasst" is so obvious that it doesn't need an explanation of the historical origin of Bergfreiheit. Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 15:58
  • sounds simply like "Schulfrei" or "Sturmfrei" to me, which some people seem to (mis)understand as a bad thing
    – vectory
    Commented Nov 27, 2021 at 23:36
  • @vectory But with that logic "bergfrei" would mean "free of mountains", like "schulfrei" means roughly "free of school" (or "free of the duty to go to school today"). I don't think that's the case. As explained in my answer, it's more like "the mountain is free for all". Commented Nov 28, 2021 at 9:18
  • is ja alles relativ, kommt der Profet nicht zum Berg, kommt der Berg dann dann zum Profeten? Wohl eher nicht. Man kann sich übrigens auch von einem Berg voll Schulden befreien, z.B.
    – vectory
    Commented Nov 28, 2021 at 13:23

Your guess is largely correct - the term Bergfreiheit or Bergfrei free is a mining law term.

In dictionary Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm you can find:

bergfrei: Feld, das noch nicht gemutet oder auflässig ist.

In the mining sense this is a field that is suspected or abandoned. In contrast, mining freedom ("Bergfreiheit") no longer took place in a conferred mine field.

The term was used in different ways. Further references and explanations can be found in Veith, Heinrich: Deutsches Bergwörterbuch and extensively also in the German Wikipedia.

In the draft coalition papers, I think a complex term from mining law was used somewhat confusingly here to describe the economic security of the population in these regions.

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