As of my understanding, we use auf der Welt whenever we mean the English in the world and we use in der Welt whenever we are referring to a specific domain, as in in der Welt der Musik.

As my question goes, why then do we hear in the Deutschlandlied

über alles in der Welt

in the refrain of the first stanza? Is the text referring to the world of Kleinstaaten, is it a 19th century heritage, or again am I missing something in the German grammar rules?

  • 3
    Note that a refrain is a part of a song that is repeated several times, typically after each stanza. The Lied der Deutschen doesn’t have such repetitions in its text.
    – chirlu
    Aug 13, 2016 at 15:30
  • @chirlu I believe that the integral version by Hoffmann von Fallersleben does have a refrain in the first stanza, which is indeed the part my question is about. At least that is the version I have!
    – Easymode44
    Aug 15, 2016 at 10:10

2 Answers 2


The word »Welt« (world) has two meanings, that are very close, but not completely identical:

  • everything (the universe)
    The world can be the hole universe. And if we are talking about the universe, then we live inside it. And so we often also say »in der Welt«. For example:

    Ich will etwas in der Welt verändern

    This is: I want to change something in the world.

  • planet Earth
    The world can also be just the planet Earth, and we are not living inside the planet, but on its surface. This is why we say in German

    Ein Baby ist auf die Welt gekommen. Jetzt ist ein neues Kind auf der Welt.

    when a baby is born. Literally: A baby did come onto the world. Now a new child is on the world.

But as far as i know, you just don't say "on the world" in english, so when you have to translate »auf der Welt« into english, you have to use the phrase »in the world«. But German »in der Welt« of course also is »in the world« in English.


There are more than one German words that originally did mean »everything that exists«. But some of them did change its meaning during the time:

Universum (universe)
This still means "everything that really is". The universe contains stars and planets as well as the planet earth, the people living on this planet, and the space between all this objects.

All ("all/everything" as a noun)
Derived from »alles« (everything). But now means "everything except the planet earth"

Welt (world)
In the time, when this world was used first, the planet earth was identical with the universe in the peoples mind.

People in those days also had the concept of »heaven« in mind, which was a very special place. The heaven was the place where god lives, and the German world for heaven and sky is the same: Himmel. So the sky/heaven (and with it sun, moon, stars and gods living room) was a place that no living person could reach. It was undefined if this mystical place was part of world or not.

And this medieval undefinedness is the reason for the two meanings of "Welt" today.

Weltall (space)
A compound word built from »Welt« and »All«. It is a 100% synonym of »All« (Universe minus Earth)

  • Thank you for the answer. Is it so your opinion that the underlying meaning of "Welt" in the song is intended as "universe", as was intended in the old days?
    – Easymode44
    Aug 15, 2016 at 10:14
  • @GabrieleFabozzi: I don't know. I don't know the Deutschlandlied. I'm a native speaker of German but I'm not German. I am from Austria. Aug 15, 2016 at 11:54
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    Hubert, wenn jetzt ein Baby auf dem Mond geboren wird, kommt es dann nicht auf die Welt? Und würde es erst zur Welt kommen, wenn es erstmals zur Erde fliegt? Klar, die Formulierung fühlt sich komisch an, weil wir diesen Fall noch nicht hatten, aber laut deiner Definition müsste es so sein. Mar 26, 2017 at 2:02
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    Woraus ergibt sich, dass die Erde nicht zum All/Weltall gezählt wird? Mar 27, 2017 at 1:53
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    @userunknown: Das ergibt sich aus der Existenz der Kármán-Linie: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weltraum#Beginn_des_Weltraums Aber darüber, ob die Erde zu Weltall gehört oder nicht, kann man genau so trefflich streiten wie darüber, ob 0 eine natürliche Zahl ist. Die Wahrheit ist in beiden Fällen: Das definiert man von Fall zu Fall verschieden, je nachdem, wie es einem besser in den Kram passt. Mar 27, 2017 at 20:06

To give you a quick answer. The verse "über alles in der Welt" comes from the time of Kleinstaaten where Germany was split into many small regional states with the wish to become united to one country.

  • 1
    Yes, this is indeed what I suggested in the question. The question however is more grammatical, as it is concerning the use of "in" instead of "auf".
    – Easymode44
    Aug 15, 2016 at 10:05

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