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