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I was reading a text, and I found those two sentences:

Auf der Hütte solltest du deinen Proviant besser im Rucksack lassen.

Du solltest deine Schuhe nicht in der Hütte tragen.

I don't understand why the preposition changed from "auf" to "in".

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Auf der Hütte solltest du deinen Proviant besser im Rucksack lassen.

Though you could read auf as a place, it's not too likely the roof of the hut is meant. Instead, it's the hut as an institution.

The reason is because die Hütte in this case isn't a booth but a lodge in the moutainside. There are usually only footpathes which go there, and a ropeway and/or helicopter landing place. It isn't just indoors, but also the Biergarten which commonly accompanies a hut. Some alpine lodges allow you to eat your own provisions at their outdoors tables, some not. It all depends on their general pricing policies.

Du solltest deine Schuhe nicht in der Hütte tragen.

That's clearly about indoors only. Auf doesn't match here. You should of course wear your shoes in the rocky Biergarten. Don't have to call the helicopter for you then.

  • so when referring to the hut as a whole institution, "auf" was used, does this also apply to other places ( places that consist of different compartments )? – Yomna Essam Aug 26 '18 at 11:49
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    It is about the name of the main building as a representative of a whole site where things go on. Think of a campus with various buildings and other facilities on it. That's why it's auf. You are standing on the greens of a campus. Not in that special building No.1 – Janka Aug 26 '18 at 12:50
  • I never knew I could use "auf" like that! If it won't bother you, could u please give me more examples of "auf" used like that? Now I understand it, but I also want to use it. – Yomna Essam Aug 26 '18 at 13:23
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    This narrow "building on a campus" case is e.g used with auf der Schule (though Hubert meant on another occasion that's not used in Austrian German), auf der Universität, and auf dem Bahnhof. And of course everytime you have a literal -gelände, or -platz e.g. auf dem Veranstaltungsgelände (though there may be buildings on it), auf dem Sportplatz (not only the green but also the locker rooms). But note the general theme is a place as an institution as Auf dem Amt (z.B. Bezirksamt, Postamt, Straßenverkehrsamt), auf der Bank (of opposed to in a bank building) etc. – Janka Aug 26 '18 at 13:46
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There are some idiosyncracies possible with these phrases.

  1. auf der Hütte seems to imply that this is a hut high up in the mountains. Like auf den Bergen. It seems to me quite unusual to use auf for a hut in a valley or plain. On a plain you are in der Hütte.

  2. There is some hygiene related background to be assumed with the sentence. It is either the advice tells you to not create a mess in a hut by eating there. But that seems nonsensical to me for really just a hut in the hills. Unless this is an establishment that provides professional food catering by itself. Then this is about a food serving place where bring your own is frowned upon.
    Or a certain colloquialism comes into play. It is always auf der Hütte if it is used as a synonym for a lavatory: enter image description here (also confer this to Janka's "institution")
    This colloquialism applies to any bath room and it then explains itself, why you should not eat there but keep your food in your rucksack. While not really a likely possibility for the sentence in question, it is a likely explanation for seeing the proposition auf with Hütte, depending on context.

The most fitting and most often chosen word relating to the usage of a preposition for a situation where someone really is just in a hut, the edifice, is German in der Hütte. So it is more the auf that is perhaps slightly unusual.

  • It isn't a lavatory. Here is the rest of the paragraph : Denn hier ist es untersagt, sein eigenes Essen auszupacken. Zeig, dass du ein guter Gast bist, indem du dir einen Imbiss von der Speisekarte bestellst. – Yomna Essam Aug 26 '18 at 11:53
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German prepositions are as inconsistent as Englisch ones:

Auf der Hütte solltest du deinen Proviant besser im Rucksack lassen.
At the hut you should leave your provisions better in your backpack.

Du solltest deine Schuhe nicht in der Hütte tragen.
You should not wear your shoes in the hut.

It changes from auf/at to in/in for no reason. Just because it is possible and to have some variation.

  • Are they interchangeable? – Yomna Essam Aug 25 '18 at 20:54
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    @YomnaEssam: Yes, same as in English. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 26 '18 at 7:11
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    Hubert, vergleiche: sie ist noch auf der Schule (= sie ist noch Schülerin) gegenüber sie ist noch in der Schule (= sie ist noch Schülerin oder sie ist noch im Schulgebäude). Die Präpositionen sind mitnichten gleichbedeutend und austauschbar. "Auf der Hütte" schließt auch die Terrasse vor der Hütte mit ein. "In der Hütte" dagegen meint nur innerhalb des Gebäudes. – user34121 Aug 26 '18 at 18:41
  • @SamuelSnow: In Österreich ist niemand auf der Schule (außer er sitzt am Dach der Schule). Österreichische Schüler gehen auch nicht nur zur Schule, sie betreten sie auch (diesen Scherz habe ich von Josef Hader geklaut). In Österreich sagt man bei Schülern nämlich nicht »sie geht zur Schule« sondern »sie geht in die Schule«. Erst wenn man das Verb von gehen zu sein ändert, hat man dieselbe Bedeutung wie in Deutschland (»sie ist in der Schule« = sie befindet sich gegenwärtig im Gebäude). Die Präpositionen sind daher mitnichten in allen Regionen gleichbedeutend. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 26 '18 at 20:43
  • Viel wichtiger: Man kann Hütten und Schulen nicht in denselben Topf werfen. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 26 '18 at 20:47
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The preposition auf refers to the hut as an institution. As such, it includes the outside parts of the hut as well, such as the terrace where foods may be served. The inn keepers only make money from the foods and beverages they sell (the accomodation expenses go to the owners of the huts, usually the alpine clubs) and are therefore unhappy when hikers bring their own foods.

enter image description here

The preposition in on the other hand refers to the hut as a building and means only its inside. You can wear your shoes on the terrace.


auf can be used with other buildings/institutions:

Er arbeitet auf der Post. "He works for the postal services, both outside and inside their buildings."
Er arbeitet in der Post. "He works inside the post office building."

Sie muss auf dem Rathaus etwas erledigen. "She has to take care of something at one of the departments of the city administration."
Sie muss im Rathaus etwas erledigen. "She has to take care of something in the town hall." (which might or might not be related to the offices there, e.g. she might have to pick up someone or visit the restrooms)

auf die Schule gehen / auf der Schule sein "to be a pupil"
in die Schule gehen / in der Schule sein either "to be a pupil" or "to go into the school building"

but

auf sein Zimmer gehen "withdraw from some other part of the house (e.g. to be alone)"
in sein Zimmer gehen "enter his room"

auf dem Bahnhof warten depends on what the train station looks like and may refer to waiting inside a train station as well as waiting on a platform outside or waiting in front of the train station (and not for a train)

auf dem Dorf wohnen not in a city; can also mean a lonely house in the countryside outside of a village

More examples can be found in dictionaries.

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