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Both Erinnerung and Gedächtnis can be translated into English as "memory". Are there instances where you would use one word and not the other?

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  • It is always interesting, how the reference language influences the perception of difference. – guidot Dec 22 '20 at 11:00
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Both "die Erinnerung" and "das Gedächtnis" can be used to express "in memory of somebody/something":

In Erinnerung an die Schlacht von ...

Im Gedenken an unseren Großvater ...

The second sounds a bit more formal, but otherwise their meaning is rather the same.

"Das Gedächtnis" can also be used to express "the memory":

Sein Gedächtnis ist nicht mehr das beste, er hat Anzeichen von Alzheimer.

Here, "Erinnerung" would not fit well.

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    in the last example, you could replace Gedächtnis with Erinnerungsvermögen – Christoph Jan 25 '14 at 10:12
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    furthermore: "Die Erinerrung" is the memory of a single "happening" and "Das Gedächtnis" is the place where all the memories are "stored" – Vogel612 Jan 25 '14 at 13:42
  • @Vogel612 's comment is the actual answer imo. There is one notable exception though: in the bible text "tut dies zu meinem Gedächtnis" (Do this in remembrance of me), "Gedächtnis" ist used to mean "Gedenken" or "Erinnerung". – HalvarF Dec 21 '20 at 20:02
  • This is mixing up das Gedenken with das Gedächtnis, which makes it quite confusing. Hence I give -1 here. – jonathan.scholbach Dec 23 '20 at 8:49
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  • Gedächtnis
    is the container
  • Erinnerung
    is the content

If you talk about Gedächtnis, you talk about the container in which memories are stored:

Egon hat ein Gedächtnis wie ein Elefant.
Egon has a memory like an elephant.
Das Gedächtnis von Sandra ist wie ein Nudelsieb, alles rutscht durch, sie vergisst alles.
Sandra's memory is like a noodle sieve, everything slips through, she forgets everything.
Sabine hat ein fotographisches Gedächtnis, sie kann sich an jedes Detail erinnern.
Sabine has a photographic memory, she can remember every detail.
Das Gedächtnis von Manfred funktioniert nicht mehr richtig, er ist dement.
Manfred's memory no longer works properly, he is demented.

If you talk about Erinnerung you talk about events, pictures, sounds, smells etc. that are stored in your Gedächtnis.

Hans und Lisa verbindet die Erinnerung an den ersten Kuss.
Hans and Lisa are united by the memory of their first kiss.
Oskar blätterte das Fotoalbum durch und schwelgte in Erinnerungen.
Oskar flipped through the photo album and wallowed in memories.
Die Erinnerung an den Anschlag ruft bei vielen Wut und Trauer hervor.
The memory of the attack evokes anger and sadness in many.

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