Ask Language Log: German restaurant-name zum?

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From Aaron Powell:

I woke last night with a minor bout of food poisoning and spent some time catching up on Language Log to distract myself ,and it occurred to me that you might be able to explain a German linguistic phenomenon that I don’t understand.  I have recently moved from the USA to Vienna, Austria and I’ve noticed several restaurants whose names start with ‘zum’: zum schwarzen Adler, zum schwarzen Kameel, zum schwarzen Baaren, zum englischen Reiter.  (If you press me, I’ll tell you which one might have made me ill).

I’ve been learning German mostly on my own but if I understand correctly, ‘zum’ is a contraction of ‘zu’ and ‘dem’ which means something like ‘to the’ or possibly ‘for the.’  (Aside: In my limited exposure to languages it seems like one has to memorize which preposition to use in various circumstances and merely translating them from English in a  straightforward way doesn’t always give the correct usage.  Even in English, some people wait ‘in’ line and some people wait ‘on’ line.)  So, that would mean the restaurant ‘zum schwarzen Adler’ is called “to the Black Eagle” . . . but that doesn’t seem right.  Why isn’t it simply 'der schwarzen Adler' (the black eagle) or '[Gasthaus] des schwarzen Adler' ([inn] of the black eagle).  Is something in particular meant when they use ‘zum?'  Complicating things even further, the restaurant’s website is "“ using schwarzer instead of schwarzen.  One long-residing-in-Vienna American told me ‘that’s just the way they do it’ which may be true, but was a dissatisfying answer.  Do you or your colleagues have any insight as to why the Viennese (and perhaps the rest of the German-speaking world) name some of their restaurants in this particular (and, to me, peculiar) way?

A long list of chores awaits me, so I'll leave this one to our commenters, noting only that zu Hause is how you say "at home" in German, and zum einen is how you say "on the one hand", suggesting that the semantic field of zu is both broader and narrower than "to" and "for".



  1. Anonymous Coward said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 7:59 am

    The same in most part of Europe, I think. I have seen the same thing in France, Czech Republic (shall I say Czechia now?) and Poland.

  2. GH said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 8:09 am

    A couple of seconds on Google indicates that it's roughly equivalent of using a possessive in an English name (e.g. "Mario's"), or chez in French. As to why it's "zum" specifically, someone else will have to answer.

  3. GH said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 8:11 am

    *the equivalent

  4. Jenz said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 8:21 am

    I have no clear answer (some kind of genitival dative seems probable, since today a dative construction is the de facto colloquial genitive). Instead I'll just offer the observation that this is a fairly old tradition – Kant jokes that he got the name for 'Towards Perpetual Peace' (Zum ewigen Frieden) from a local tavern. Since the name is clearly a pun already in Kant's time, it looks like the construction could be a very old form of the genitival dative, the joke with 'Zum ewigen Frieden' being that the dative actually functions as a dative and not a genitive.

  5. S Frankel said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 8:26 am

    I think 'zum' mean something like "at" in these constructions (cf. French à, whose primary meaning also overlaps English 'to' but is used in exactly the same way. I wonder whether the German is an imitation of the French). It may be that historically this is a contraction for "at the sign of…" which used to be a common formula for restaurant/tavern names in English.

    As for the website, it's the preposition that triggers the dative construction, so no trigger, no dative.

  6. Jorgen Schäfer said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 9:02 am

    I always assumed that the form is based on the signs outside that pointed visitors to the place. The venue is called "Schwarzer Adler", but the sign out front, or even on the street, will say "(this way) to the black eagle". And of course with the form being commonplace and regularly used, people re-used it even outside of the original context.

  7. mic said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 9:17 am

    "(Gasthaus/Hotel/…) zur Post" is also quite common, so the preposition does change with the name giving thing's grammatical gender. Maybe a sort of distinction that you mean the post where you drink beer, not where you send letters? Curiously in everyday speech this distinction is preserved but the "zu" more commonly switched over to the real thing while the pub simply gets an article. "Ich gehe zur Post" -> mailing, "in die Post" -> drinking.

  8. Brian Ogilvie said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 9:32 am

    The preposition "zu" means not only "to" but also "at" (among other things). "Zum Schwarzen Adler" as the name of a restaurant presumes an implicit substantive such as Gasthaus (inn), so what it's really saying is "[Inn] at [the sign of] the Black Eagle." It's a usage that presumably dates to the time before there were street numbers and ensigns were used to indicate addresses.

  9. Milan said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 10:01 am

    The locative function of "zu" also survives in noble surnames, where it indicates the current residence of a family, as opposed to "von" which indicates its origin.

  10. Bob Ladd said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    In a matter of minutes, most of the commenters have already said everything I would have said, but I think it's worth mentioning that GH's Google sources are not very accurate, and that zu is not actually the equivalent of using a possessive. In Italian there's a clear difference between restaurant names beginning with da (roughly 'chez') and those beginning with a (which have the sense of 'at the sign of…' mentioned by S Frankel and Brian Ogilvie). So you could have a place called da Stefano or da Antonia, or one called al cavallo bianco (lit. 'at the white horse') or al cavaliere (lit. 'at the knight') (cf. the many places in German-speaking places called zum weissen Ross or zum Ritter). If you had a place that was actually called dal cavallo bianco, you might wonder if the horse was waiting on tables.

    However, it's also worth mentioning that restaurant names with a seem a lot less common in Italian than those with zu in German.

  11. M.N. said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 11:34 am

    I'd been curious about another construction with zu: things of the form "(name of thing) zu (name of city)". The only example I can think of right now is a fictional one, a wizard school that was called something like "Das Kampfmagieseminar zu Andergast", but I've also seen real-life ones since. Seems like this is just another instance of zu meaning something like "at".

  12. Jeremy said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 12:03 pm

    @M.N.: the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin ( would be another example of that construction. As a learner of German, I definitely have trouble with it and kind of file it away in my head as meaning "belonging *to*", whether that is at all accurate or not…

  13. Karen said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

    I won't add anything about zu, but I will caution against thinking that prepositions in two different languages, even related ones, line up more than merely roughly.

  14. Christian Weisgerber said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

    As a German, I have little to add that hasn't already been said. It's an old-fashioned pattern for the names of restaurants and inns. As far as it is still productive, it has become an idiomatic usage whose origin is likely no longer transparent to modern speakers. It is also used in translations, e.g. the ca. 1925–30 translation of R. L. Stevenson's Treasure Island turns "'Admiral Benbow' inn" into "Wirtshaus 'Zum Admiral Benbow'".

    I agree that this usage most likely originated as "zu + <place>", where "zu" means 'at'. has a number of examples at section (1c) at this URL:
    Note that quite a few of these are marked as formal or obsolete.

  15. Theophylact said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

    Sort of "At [the sign of] the Black Eagle", no?

  16. Mr Punch said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 3:34 pm

    Back in the '60s (I think) there was a German-style restaurant chain in the US (one in Harvard Square) called Zum Zum. Lots of sausages.

  17. Mike E. said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

    I would say the German "zu" in this context has the same sense as "after" in "named after" or "to" in "dedicated to" or "alluding to".
    If no preposition were used, you would expect a descriptive name of the establishment (as in "Hofbräuhaus").

  18. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 4:18 pm

    In imperfect parallel to Italian (@Bob Ladd), Polish has u 'Italian da / French chez' for personal names (e.g. U Macieja) but the rather literal pod 'under' for signs (e.g. Pod Baranami 'under the rams' = The Ram(s) in idiomatic English).
    I've always considered rendering these into English literally (e.g. as Under the Rams) as bad translation; and I've always rendered the corresponding English names with pod, e.g. The Crown > Pod Koroną. Now I wonder: Does English (or, for that matter, German) ever use under/unter?

  19. Milan said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

    @Jarek Weckwerth
    "Unter den Linden" ('Under the linden trees') is a very common name for German guesthouses; in many cases the eponymous trees are still to be found. Versions with other trees exist, but as far as I know none with any other objects or images.

  20. Vance Koven said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

    My understanding of the "zum" in restaurant names is as many other commenters have stated, that it's a reference to a sign (das Zeichen, neuter, thus taking "dem" in the dative, which "zu" requires) pointing (hopefully not very far) in the direction of the establishment. As to the use of the preposition in noble titles, for example the late Eduard Egon Peter Paul Giovanni Prinz zu Fürstenberg (in common parlance called "von Fürstenberg), I've always thought it was an indication that the (original) title-bearer was appointed to be the nobleman associated with a district that he might not have originated from, rather like the Ambassador to the Court of Saint James.

  21. Peter said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

    The German already well discussed has been, but I wanted to point out a similar case in Spanish that drives a lot of non-native speakers mad: "Donde X" (where X is usually a person's name). Most Spanish learners will be told that "donde" means "where" (which it often does), and be confused by a restaurant named, for example, "Donde Maria", which actually translates to something like "Maria's Place" not "Where is Maria".

  22. Roger Lustig said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 9:52 pm

    "Complicating things even further, the restaurant’s website is "“ using schwarzer instead of schwarzen. One long-residing-in-Vienna American told me ‘that’s just the way they do it’ which may be true, but was a dissatisfying answer. "

    As Jorgen Schäfer implies, one doesn't inflect unless one needs to. With the article, "the black eagle" is "der schwarze Adler." Without it (and who needs articles in their URLs?) it's "schwarzer Adler." With the preposition "zum," you get "zum schwarzen Adler."

    Yes, it's confusing, just like calling Ludwig van Beethoven "Beethoven" if we only use the surname.

  23. Bob Haut said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 10:54 pm

    I was taught (at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, many years ago, that "zum" (or "zur") in that construction means something along the lines of "at the sign of …" – more or less what Brian Ogilvie said in his comment above.

  24. Jenny Chu said,

    April 17, 2016 @ 11:51 pm

    While we're at it – let me throw in the "U" designation for a lot of the Slavic areas (Czech, Slovak, Polish). Why "U"? Who knows? It's just that way.

  25. Jim said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 2:10 am

    In West Slavonic, at least, 'u' is a preposition meaning 'at' or 'on' (Cz. 'u vedlejšího stolu' = at the next table), so it would seem to be linked to the German 'zu'. Pub names like 'U Ferdy' ('at Ferda's place') are very common. Wonder whether the Czech usage derived from the German, or vice versa?
    'U' is used in Polish too, and for pubs, but generally much more narrowly – almost exclusively with personal names. (Pl. 'byłem u Kasi' = I was at Kasia's place)

  26. Eline said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 3:02 am

    In Dutch, we have "bij", which I think is a recent calque from French "chez" or Italian "da".

  27. H.S. Gudnason said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 3:47 am

    When I lived in Vienna in the late 1970s I occasionally passed a cowboy-themed bar named "To the Western Saloon." I've long cherished it as an example of aspirational English.

    And, like Mr. Punch, I remember the Cambridge Zum Zum. I was never certain whether it was meant as a take on the German construction or was simply an odd spelling of "zoom zoom." Perhaps it was both.

  28. Vanya said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 5:12 am

    (If you press me, I’ll tell you which one might have made me ill).

    Surely not "Zum Schwarzen Kameel", that place is classic.

  29. Daniel said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 7:07 am

    On a related note, I keep asking myself whether it's common usage now at least in some situations to use inflected names as 'nominative forms'.
    Instinctively, as a native speaker, my answer would be no way, unless you want to sound slightly satirical – I can imagine a novelist using a phrase like "Abends saß man im Zum schwarzen Adler" – but it becomes more widespread at any rate.

    Book titles or names of newspapers would normally be inflected, so you'd read an article "in der Zeit", or a chapter "aus den Leiden des jungen Werther[s], but it's not impossible, "einen Artikel aus der letzten Ausgabe von Die Zeit zu lesen", witness a search result from

    "Hier finden Sie Informationen sowie alle Texte und Artikel von Susanne Kippenberger auf ZEIT ONLINE und aus DIE ZEIT im Überblick."

    A similar phenomenon seems to be the case in English as well, as mentioned, for instance, by languagehat ("the The Associated Press Stylebook")…

  30. Martin Ball said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 8:08 am

    At the sign of the prancing pony ….

    (To the lighthouse?)

  31. Roger Lustig said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 8:35 am

    @Daniel: hadn't noticed that before. Interesting: ZEIT ONLINE is the web site, with no article in the title; DIE ZEIT, with the uninflected one. House style? Note the all-caps for both, which cleans up any residual confusion. (Could there be a publication called "Die Zeit im Überblick"?)

    I haven't seen anything like your imagined slightly satirical item, but I could imagine the German equivalent of S J Perelman writing something like, "Abends saß man im schwarzen Adler–also im Wirtshaus, nicht direkt im Vogel…"

  32. Christine said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 1:15 pm

    In German, the names of masonic lodges are also formed in the same way: e.g. "Zur Wohltätigkeit" (charity), where Mozart was a member.

  33. James Wimberley said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 1:19 pm

    At the Reformation the Electors of Brandenburg acquired vast territories outside the Holy Roman Empire, known as East Prussia. Initially they held them as vassals of the King of Poland, but the latter eventually renounced suzerainty and recognized the Electors' full sovereignty. The title they assumed was "König in Preußen" (i.e. not in Brandenburg), not "König von Preußen". It was unwise to insist on this distinction to the King's face.

  34. RINKIE said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

    THE NYC chain during the "80's–"Zum Zum"–had hot potato salad with vinegar, oil and raw onions, served on a hot steel plate–just like Ooh-ma's.

  35. Not a naive speaker said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 4:42 pm

    The Good Soldier Švejk:

    Czech: "U Kalicha"

    German: „Nach dem Krieg um sechs im Kelch!“

    English: "By the Chalice"

  36. Roger Lustig said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

    @James Wimberly: König in Preussen was in fact the King's title from 1701 until 1772. When the elector Frederick III crowned himself King Frederick I in 1701, he chose "König in Preussen" as his title because eastern Prussia was still technically a Polish fief. (If the male line of the Hohenzollern sovereigns of Prussia had ended, "Ducal Prussia" would have reverted to the Kingdom of Poland.) Only when Frederick the Great took western ("Royal") Prussia from the Poles in 1772 could Prussia also formally take complete possession of all of Prussia and call its king "König von Preussen."

    For most of that period (until 1742) the kings of Poland called themselves "King of Prussia" along with their other titles. If *two* electors of the HRE had been calling themselves "King of Prussia" at once, things would have been very messy. (The Elector of Saxony was also King of Poland for much of the time in question.)

  37. monscampus said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 6:28 pm

    As a German I always find it strange to find a typical Swiss inn called *Hirschen", because without a "zum" in front there should be no dative, but the nominative case, at least it sounds ungrammatical to non-Swiss ears. Perhaps Austrians share this zum-less usage with the Swiss?

    Anyway, it would be perfectly correct to say, "Ich bin der Wirt VOM 'SchwarzeN Adler'" (I'm the landlord OF the Black Eagle).
    "Mir gehört der 'SchwarzE Adler'" (nominative) would also be possible. (The B. E. belongs to me). Declinare necesse est.

    About noble names mentioned above. You might have heard of the German Minister of Defence who had to step back from office not so long ago. His surname is "von und zu Guttenberg". It's the stuff satires are made of in Germany. I wonder how they call him in the States where he lives now.

  38. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 18, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

    The odd-sounding-by-AmEng-standards toponym "King of Prussia, Pennsylvania" is more or less "at the sign of the King of Prussia," which was apparently a cromulent name for a roadside inn in that part of the English-speaking world in the late 18th century. Wikipedia says the eponymous inn was in existence by 1769, but may not have adopted that name until sometime in the 1780's, after the in->von switch had perhaps had time to filter through into English.

  39. Roger Lustig said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 9:43 am

    @monscampus: both seem to be standard. There's a Hotel zum Hirschen in Zell am See and other inns by that name in Germany, along with plenty of "zum Hirsch" joints.

    Another way of referring to an innkeeper: der Adlerwirt. In towns where inns and taverns didn't come and go too often, the name of the inn blended with the job of owning and/or operating it.

  40. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    One of my most treasured acquisitions as an undergraduate was the Dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache. The title puzzled me, so I asked my professor why is wasn't Atlas von der deutschen Sprache or just Atlas der deutschen Sprache. "One might well ask," he told me, "whether the German language has an atlas."

    That is, using the genitive (or the prepositional genitive with von) is inherently ambiguous, whereas using zu makes it clear that no possession is involved. Just as with the Italian example, a pub des/vom schwarzen Adlers would be one owned by a black eagle rather than one indicated by or otherwise associated with one.

    One the question of invariable nominative, I wonder if this isn't a phenomenon being driven more by modern marketing than anything else. That is, the official name and branding of this newspaper is DIE ZEIT. The variant DER ZEIT is awkward and–for all I know–in some way legally distinct.

    There's something similar in English when it comes to articles. For instance, "The" is part of the trademarked name of "The Body Shop", a widespread chain of cosmetics shops, which leads to slightly awkward phrasings in their ad copy such as "Visit one of the following The Body Shop® stores" or "Easily pack your favorite The Body Shop® products". (My general impression is that the definite article is dropped in natural colloquial usage, e.g. "I love body shop products but this one no [sic] at all".)

  41. Qafqa said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 4:15 pm

    My understanding is that names like this came from a widespread European Medieval illiterate-friendly proto-street address system, whereby rather than street names and numbers, every house had a "device" by which everyone in that town came to know it's location. Prague still has many of these and I think they are best known to English speakers in pub names.

  42. David P. Kendal said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 8:35 pm

    Regardless of the origin, the most natural translation into English in my view for these names is to drop the ‘zu’, which usually results in something sounding like a British pub name.

    Some examples from Berlin’s reconstructed historic centre: Zur Rippe (The Rib); Zum Nussbaum (The Nut Tree); Zur Gerichtslaube (The Food Pavilion).

  43. Daniel said,

    April 21, 2016 @ 7:26 am

    @Roger Lustig, @ Daniel von Brighoff
    I agree that there is some branding issue (or house style) going on with the invariable nominative in my example. All the people I informally asked agreed with my feeling that not to inflect these names results in awkward speech, and it's certainly inelegant in writing, which of course doesn't mean it's not going to be adapted sooner or later.

    May I also say I disagree with the false purist notion that a genitive in German necessarily indicates possession (as in Atlas der deutschen Sprache), I think it's rather easy to parse such phrases, but I see DTV has dropped the 'zu' as well and is going for DTV Atlas Deutsche Sprache now.

    With restaurant names, what I found (but I confess not to have searched very extensively) are more analogous cases of marketing-speech, e.g. here
    "Ein herzliches Dankeschön an alle meine Gäste und Freunde für die vielen gemeinsamen Stunden im “ZUM LEITNER”."
    This of course doesn't sound natural at all, and I doubt many would use such constructions in 'normal' circumstances.

    As to "Adlerwirt" etc. this is certainly very common in literature (19th c especially), but I don't actually recall examples in colloquial speech, with the notable exception of "Kirchenwirt" (of which every Austrian town has one), which refers to the place more often than to its owner.
    Similarly, some people will humorously call McDonald's restaurants "Schachtelwirt", for instance.

  44. Jeremy said,

    April 21, 2016 @ 9:23 am

    @Daniel von Brighoff
    "The variant DER ZEIT is awkward and–for all I know–in some way legally distinct."

    It wouldn't surprise me in the least if German trademark law devoted a few paragraphs to formalizing the legally equivalent uses of declined names.

  45. Hans Adler said,

    April 21, 2016 @ 6:29 pm

    German *zu* and Dutch *te* have an apparently obsolescent non-directional meaning that translates roughly to *at*, as in "zu Hause" / "thuis" = "at home", in "zu Berlin" / "te Amsterdam", which are old-fashioned variants of "in Berlin" / "in Amsterdam", in German "hierzulande" = "hier zu Lande" = "in this country" / "in these parts", or in "zugleich" / "tegelijk" = "at the same time". The English *today*, *tomorrow* and *tonight* look as if they also fit into the pattern.

    This preposition is traditionally also used when describing a house by its sign, a practice nowadays seen only in restaurants and pharmacies but once very widespread when houses did not have numbers and many streets did not have names. In connection with inns the preposition is sometimes used in ways that cannot easily be interpreted as related to house signs. E.g. "zum Kirchenwirt" (lit. "to the church innkeeper") is a widespread name for Austrian inns that makes little sense as referring to a sign.

    In the Alsace region of France, which was traditionally German-speaking, many restaurants have names that use *au* where you would expect *zum* in German: "Au Vieux Moulin", "Au Lion d'Or", "Au Chasseur", "Au Soleil", …

    All house and restaurant names with *zum* can be completed to "Haus zum …" or "Wirtshaus zum …", and they can all be shortened by by dropping *zum*.

    In the example "Atlas zur deutschen Sprache" (compare "Oxford Companion to the English Language"), mentioned above, I would translate *zu* as *about* or *on*. I agree with what has been said above – that the choice of preposition expresses scholarly understatement. E.g. a "Wörterbuch der mittelalterlichen Architektur" would probably contain a more complete list of medieaval architecture terms than a "Wörterbuch zur mittelalterlichen Architektur".

  46. Francisco said,

    April 22, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    This usage exists in Portuguese too, although it feels a bit archaic these days. I recall Ao Veado d'Ouro, "to the golden stag", a hundred year-old apothecary in down-town São Paulo complete, of course, with the requisite gilded sculpture over the main entrance.

  47. Roger Lustig said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 1:37 am

    As this discussion winds down, I'll throw in a Baltimore-area restaurant chain: Al Pacino. Not owned by the actor–not associated with him. It's an Egyptian pizzeria…

    …"at [the sign of] the brick oven."

    Now, if Hollywood ever produces an actor named "zum Backsteinofen," we'll know why.

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