A Spell on You

We fear the worst for Hänsel and Gretel when they got under the spell of the witch. But don’t worry. The kids know: What spills out of the Knusperhexe’s mouth are just fancy words and a barrage of verbs in imperative. Read an excerpt from my book Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas.

Hokuspokus, Hexenschuss!


rühren = here: to move
Fluss m = here: stream of magic energy
bannen = to put under a spell
starr = stiff
Genick n = neck
Zauberknopf m = magic button
Tropf m = fool, ninny
lokus Latin = place
bonus Latin = good
malus Latin = bad
jokus Latin = prank

Hokuspokus, Hexenschuss!
Rühr dich, und dich trifft der Fluss!
Nicht mehr vorwärts, nicht zurück,
bann dich mit dem bösen Blick.
Kopf steh starr dir im Genick!
Hokuspokus, nun kommt Jokus!

Kinder, schaut den Zauberknopf!
Äuglein, stehet still im Kopf!—
Nun zum Stall hinein, du Tropf!
Hokuspokus, bonus, jokus,
Malus lokus, hokuspokus!

The spell of a witch is nothing other than a sequence of commands, verbs in imperative, sent out into the ether. When she addresses a child or a thing, here Hänsel and his head, she simply removes the -en ending of the infinitive.

rühren refl. Imperative (du): rühr. In the second stanza, as she demands Gretel not to move, she adds an -e: Rühre dich nicht von der Stell’!

stehen. Imperative (du): steh.

The verb bann (bannen) is short for ich banne. She talks about herself: Ich banne dich mit bösem Blick.

When she addresses both children and their eyes (Äugelein), she must use ihr, the plural of du. For the imperative (ihr) she removes the -en ending of the infinitive and adds a -t or an -et.

schauen. Imperative (ihr): schaut.

stehen. Imperative (ihr): stehet.

She bewitches Hänsel and orders him not to move vorwärts (forward) or zurück (backward). Eventually, she directs him zum Stall hinein (hin describes a position in relation to a movement).

vernünftig = reasonable
Stelle f = here: spot

Nun, Gretel, sei vernünftig und nett!—
Der Hänsel wird nun balde fett.
Wir wollen ihn, so ist’s am besten,
mit süßen Mandeln und Rosinen mästen.
Ich geh ins Haus und hole sie schnell—
Du, rühre dich nicht von der Stell’!

The Hexe now turns to Gretel with a friendlier demeanor, starting with the imperative of sein (to be), an irregular verb: sei. She even uses the first person plural, wir, and wollen (to want) as if she and Gretel shared common interests.

It is best, she says, to fatten Hänsel with almonds and raisins. Then, she announces, Ich geh ins Haus und hole sie schnell. Who or what does she mean with sie? Gretel? Mandeln, Rosinen?

Die Frist ist um
Navigate the Language
of 10 German Operas

by Bernd Hendricks

ISBN 978-1-008-908529

379 pages

$ 28.80

Available at: lulu.comamazon.com and bookstores

Published by


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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