Auf zur Oper – Prepositions

Staatsoper Berlin - under construction

 All roads lead to Rome. More roads lead to the opera house – if you let German grammar guide you.
Gehen wir in die Oper? Gehen wir zu der Oper? Gehen wir nach der Oper? Whenever will we be there?
Don’t worry. With two of these prepositions we will arrive at the opera house safely and in time. Even more, with in and zu, we will get even into the house and we won’t miss the performance.
The proposition in opens the door. With in we physically get into the building.
We also can say in when we announce our plan to see an opera tonight. “Heute Abend gehen wir in die Oper.”
The preposition in gives us a direction. We are not there, yet, but it is clear that we will enter the opera house, we’ll go in die Oper. When in gives a direction, the following noun, here Oper, is the object of our movement. It is in accusative.
Once we are inside the opera house, things change: in turns from a preposition of direction into a preposition of a location. “Wir sind in der Oper.” The article die has changed to der, telling us that the activity (sind) is taking place in the opera house. That’s called dative.
“Wir sind in der Oper” can also mean, that we are performing in that show.
The preposition zu opens not only the door of the opera house, but opens up a lot of opportunities, too. Leaving your house, you can shout to your neighbor, “Ich gehe zu der Oper”, and he or she will understand perfectly where you are heading.
If you told this sentence to your parents in a conversation about your future, your parents knew that there is nothing they could do: You were going to have a career in opera.
Zu gives us a direction as well, but unlike in, it leads to an abstract place, to an institution (Musikschule, Rathaus, Universität) or to a person (Ich gehe zu Jonas) or to a person who represents a certain function. (Ich gehe zu dem Intendanten, ich gehe zu der Ärztin.) Zu also implies that you have some business at that place. Zu der Musikschule gehen means that you are a student or a professor at the music school; you go zu dem Rathaus to get a resident registration. As you might have noticed, zu is a preposition that leads to a dative.
zu + der = zur
zu + dem = zum
The preposition nach brings us to continents, countries or cities, not to opera houses.
Ich fliege nach Mexiko. Dort gehe ich in die Oper.
Ich fahre nach Berlin. Dort gehe ich zur Universitaet.
Nach leads to a dative.

Next update: Thursday, February 23rd

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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