Auf der Mauer, an der Wand, über dem Zaun

    This week’s German song is one that I have always found to be a very cute song even though it is about a bug. “Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer” is a song about a bug that is walking on top of a wall and is on the lookout. According to the song, he can also dance. The video below is the song, but after that I want to talk about the difference between a few different types of separating structures and how to use the two-way prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen) with them.

    Everyone knows that the word “Mauer” is a wall, but there is also the word “Wand”. What is the difference? Well, this distinction is pretty easy. You use the word “Mauer” when the wall is outside and is not a part of a building. This is the reason that the “Berliner Mauer” was called “Mauer” instead of “Wand”. There was no roof over the wall. The walls inside of your home for instance would be called “Wand”. Both of these nouns, however, are feminine, which makes it sort of convenient.

    So what is the difference between “Mauer” and “Zaun”? Both are outdoor structures that separate one thing from another, but fences are generally more porous. A can be a chain link fence, wooden, or plastic, but as soon as you make one out of concrete or something solid, it becomes a wall.

    Now is also a great time to talk about the two-way prepositions. In the song, you will notice that the “Wanze” is sitting “auf der Mauer” instead of “an” and we used the word “der” instead of “die” even though the noun “Mauer” is a feminine noun. This is because of the weirdness that happens with the two-way prepositions in German.

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    If something is moving in order to get to the place, you use the accusative case, but if the thing is already there, you use the dative case. In the song, the “Wanze” is already on the wall when the song begins, which is why we used the dative case. This changes the article used in front of feminine nouns to “der” instead of “die”. The masculine and neuter nouns switch from “der” or “das” as their articles to “dem”. The plural nouns use “den” in the dative case.

    If the “Wanze” started the song by jumping onto the wall, we would say, “Die Wanze springt auf die Mauer.” This sentence uses the accusative case, because the “Wanze” is going from one place to another. If the “Wanze” is jumping while on the wall, we would say, “Die Wanze springt auf der Mauer.” In this case, the “Wanze” is moving, but he never leaves the wall, which is why we used the dative case.

    There are nine two-way prepositions. They are: an (on the side of), auf (on top of), hinter (behind), in (in), neben (next to), über (over), unter (under), vor (in front of), and zwischen (between). Here are a few more examples using our friendly vocabulary from the song.

    Die Wanze klettert an die Mauer. – The bug is climbing onto the side of the wall.

    Die Wanze klettert an der Mauer. – The bug is climbing on the side of the wall.

    Die Wanze legt sich auf die Mauer hin. – The bug is laying itself down on top of the wall.

    Die Wanze liegt auf der Mauer. – The bug is lying on top of the wall.

    Die Wanze versteckt sich hinter die Mauer. – The bug is hiding behind the wall. (Going from somewhere else to the backside of the wall.)

    Die Wanze versteckt sich hinter der Mauer. – The bug is hiding behind the wall. (Once the previous sentence has been finished, this sentence would become accurate.)

    Die Wanze bohrt ein Loch in die Mauer. – The bug is boring a hole into the wall. (The bug is on the outside of the wall and is making a hole in the wall.)

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    Die Wanze bohrt ein Loch in der Mauer. – The bug is boring a hole in the wall. (The bug is trapped inside of the wall and is attempting to escape.)

    Die Wanze setzt sich neben die Mauer hin. – The bug is setting itself down next to the wall.

    Die Wanze sitzt neben der Mauer. – The bug is sitting next to the wall. (This is after the previous sentence has been completed.)

    Die Wanze fliegt über die Mauer. – The bug is flying over the wall. (It is going from one side of the wall to the other.)

    Die Wanze fliegt über der Mauer. – The bug is flying over the wall. (It is flying the length of the wall, but never goes to one side or the other.)

    Die Wanze gräbt unter die Mauer. – The bug is digging under the wall. (It is attempting to go from one side of the wall to the other by going under it.)

    Die Wanze gräbt unter der Mauer. – The bug is digging under the wall. (It is somewhere in the ground digging, but isn’t trying to get from one side to the other.

    Die Wanze läuft vor die Mauer. – The bug is walking in front of the wall. (It was somewhere else and it is going towards the wall so that it can be in front of it.)

    Die Wanze läuft vor der Mauer. – The bug is walking in front of the wall. (It is in front of the wall and is continuing to stay in front of the wall while it is walking.)

    Die Wanze fällt zwischen die Mauer und den Zaun. – The bug is falling between the wall and the fence. (It was flying over the wall and ran out of gas. Now it is falling from the sky into the space between the wall and the fence.)

    Die Wanze fällt zwischen der Mauer und dem Zaun. – The bug is falling between the wall and the fence. (It was walking between the wall and the fence and it tripped over a pebble. It fell, but never went anywhere other than between the wall and fence.)

    I hope this blog has helped you to understand some of the subtleties of the German language and also showed you some of the limitations of the English language, because in English you can’t tell right away if someone is going somewhere or if they are already there. In German, you simply have to look for the case.

    For your viewing pleasure, here is a GIF of a boy jumping over a fence. Der Junge springt über den Zaun.

    Der Junge springt über den Zaun.

    Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer

    Herr Antrim

    Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites.