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What is the difference between in den Bergen and auf den Bergen? We say in die Berge fahren and in den Bergen sein. What about auf die Berge? Does it only refer to mountain climbing and getting to the very top?

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Auf den Bergen (1)

literally means on top of/on some mountains, whereas

In den Bergen   (2)

is denoting a mountaneous region.

Examples:

(1) Auf dem Berg gibt es kein Gipfelkreuz.
(1) Auf den Berg klettern.
(1) Auf diesen Bergen gibt es kaum Bäume.
(2) Wir verbringen unseren Urlaub in den Bergen.
(2) Ich bin in den Bergen aufgewachsen.
(2) In den Bergen wandern gehen.

An exception would be:

In den Bergen gibt es viel Salz.

On the other hand, a singular version of (2) can only refer to a mountain's inside.

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  • Yes im Berg certainly refers to something inside the mountain (like mining etc.) – Ingmar Aug 2 '14 at 6:15
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You would use "auf die Berge" to emphasize getting on the top of mountains - by foot, by bike, by cable car or by something else doesn't matter much.

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