Marter aller Arten – the renovation that never ends: Staatsoper Berlin

Of the four cases in the German language, the genitive is the most neglected and in the same time, the most likable, at least for my students. It is a Mauerblümchen, a wallflower that rarely grows beyond the headlines of newspapers or advertising billboards. It can express things concise and less complicated, two characteristics not always attributed to the German language.

Yesterday, the daily “Berliner Zeitung” headlined a story about the never-ending renovation of the “Staatsoper” with Das Drama barocker Pfähle. It is an elegant, poetic headline, just four words revealing the imaginativeness of the genitive and the dullness of Berlin’s city planers. The headline tells us about a drama, obviously causing a further delay of the theater’s re-opening. The drama is part of something, here of Pfähle, plural of der Pfahl, a pole used in construction. The poles in question are very old or barock, actually from mid 17th century, and they were part of the city’s fortress. Workers found them unexpectedly while preparing a concrete foundation.

There are two elements, das Drama and die Pfähle. The noun das Drama is part of die Pfähle. In order to express possession or dependence we change the article, here from die Pfähle to der Pfähle .

Das Drama der Pfähle

We want to add an adjective because it is important for us to stress the age of the poles. We change the adjective in the genitive case by adding an –n.

Das Drama der barocken Pfähle

We are not interested to talk about specific poles. We want to refer to the poles in more general terms. In singular we use the indefinite article ein or eine. In plural we don’t have an indefinite article; we just say barocke Pfähle – as long they are the subject of the sentence, as long as they are doing something, connected with a verb. Therefore, to say Das Drama barocke Pfähle doesn‘t make much sense. We have to express the genitive in that phrase, take the –er of der and add it to the adjective.

Das Drama barocker Pfähle

The same applies to Konstanze’s Marter aller Arten from Mozart’s “Enführung aus dem Serail”, a wonderful genitive as well.

die Marter (the torture), die Art (the kind), plural: die Arten, alle = all

torture of all kinds = Marter aller Arten

Speaking of Marter aller Arten: After examining the poles, the planers concluded that they would leak water (I mean the poles) and the water would weaken the foundations of the neighboring historic buildings. As solution, the construction firms want to put a new ten feet thick flab of concrete on the poles. According to city officials, this will delay the re-opening of the Staatsoper for one more year. Originally, the re-opening was scheduled for October 2013. Then, facing groundwater problems, it was postponed to fall 2014. Right now, we cannot expect to see an opera in the Staatsoper, the oldest theater building in Berlin, before the fall of 2015. Generalmusikdirektor Daniel Barenboim is frustrated. In a statement, he asks, “Wie ist es möglich, im 21. Jahrhundert so ein Haus in zweieinhalb Jahren nicht fertig zu bekommen?”

fertig = finished, ready

bekommen = to get, to receive

Here is the genitive for all genders:

die Wut (anger), der Generalmusikdirektor. Genitive: die Wut des Generalmusikdirektors

das Alter (age), das Haus. Genitive: das Alter des Hauses

die Blamage (disgrace, embarassment), die Stadt. Genitive: die Blamage der Stadt

You see that the article changes in the genitive case. The masculine and neuter noun changes as well. It grows an –s or –es at its end.

article             genitive

der/ein             des/eines
die/eine           der/einer
das/ein             des/eines
die (plural)     der

Next update: Sunday, June 3rd – Der Hölle Rache – The Genitive, Part 2