Nach dem Weg fragen – Asking for directions in German Posted by Sandra Rösner on Jun 25, 2012 in Language
You are on a visit to Germany and got lost. The best thing you can do now is to ask someone how to get to the place you want to go to.
The most common question to ask for directions is:
Wie komme ich zu (zum;zur)/nach … ? – How do I get to … ?
As you can see, there are, at least, two German prepositions that are equal to English “to”. These are: “zu” and “nach”. You rather use the preposition “nach” when you want to go to another town or city, no matter whether you would like to go there by car or public transportation (by train, bus, etc.). For example, when you are at a train station and do not know which train to take you can ask the question below and you could receive the following response:
A: Wie komme ich nach Berlin? – How do I get to Berlin?
B: Nehmen Sie den Zug von Bahnsteig 3, um 13:32 Uhr. Dieser Zug halt in Berlin. – Take the train from platform 3, at 1:32 p.m. This train stops in Berlin.
Using the preposition “zu” is a bit more difficult. First of all, you use this preposition when you want to go to a particular spot in a town, that is, a building or address. Secondly, you often have to use this preposition in questions (like these) with definite articles: “zu dem” or “zu der”, which conflate to “zur” or “zum”. Whether you have to opt for “zur” or “zum” depends on the grammatical gender of the following noun. If the object noun of your question is neuter or masculine, you have to use “zum”. If the object noun of your question is feminine, you have to use “zur”. Examples:
Wie komme ich zum Kino? – How do I get to the cinema?
Wie komme ich zum Rathaus? – How to I get to the town hall?
Wie komme ich zum Schwimmbad? – How do I get to the swimming bath?
In German, the nouns “cinema”, “town hall”, and “swimming bath” are neuter: das Kino, das Rathaus und das Schwimmbad. Therefore, you have to use the prepositional form “zum”.
You also use “zum” when your object noun is masculine.
Wie komme ich zum Fernsehturm? – How do I get to the TV Tower?
TV Tower is masculine in German: der Fernsehturm. Consequently, you have to use the prepositional form “zum”, too.
If the object noun of your question is feminine you have to use the form “zur”.
Wie komme ich zur Kirche? – How do I get to the church?
Wie komme ich zur Ausstellung? – Ho do I get to the exhibition?
Wie komme ich zur Buchmesse? – How do I get to the book fair?
In German, the nouns “church”, “exhibition”, and “book fair” are feminine: die Kirche, die Ausstellung und die Buchmesse. Thus, you have to use these nouns with the prepositional form “zur”.
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