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Guten Tag.

I have read many articles and SO answers regarding this question. And still have some problems with it. "An" and "bei" look so similar that I hardly can choose what to use. I mean only those cases where we're talking about particular places.

For example:

  1. Es ist am Bahnhof passiert
  2. Es ist beim Bahnhof passiert
  3. Es ist auf dem Bahnhof passiert

Do I understand it properly, that:

  1. The 1st (an) means:
    • very very very close to the train station. May be in front of the door or near the wall of the building
    • but never "on/inside the territory of the train station"
  2. The 2nd (bei) means:
    • close to the train station. Maybe not so close as with "an", but at least more or less close. Nearby
    • even on the territory of the train station (like "in" or "auf")
  3. The 3rd (auf) means:
    • on the territory of the train station
    • but never near the train station
    • in some awkward cases on the roof of the train station

Google shows me that "am Bahnhof" is the most popular.

Many articles and answers shows that "beim" and "am" (in relation to locations) means almost the same, but "an" is closer to the object than "bei". But some answers says that "bei" can also mean "inside / on the / in".

Or maybe in some cases like this it means 100% the same?

Thank you!

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  • BTW: The most useful answer that I found before writing this article is this - german.stackexchange.com/questions/36474/… – faiwer Oct 18 '20 at 20:08
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    If it's any consolation, English prepositions are just as confusing for learners of English. This summary by DW might be useful. Another example is an der Tür vs. bei der Tür; only one means you have a visitor. – RDBury Oct 19 '20 at 7:10
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Train stations and airports are kind of special cases regarding "am", I think this has to do with the fact that in both cases, you normally have a large building, and behind the building there's what you could call the "actual" train station or airport in a sense. Or you could also, in a different sense, understand the building to be the "actual" train station or airport, and say that e.g. the trains are stopping "am Bahnhof". Whatever the reason, "am Bahnhof" and "am Flughafen" can mean in the building, at the tracks or on the airfield, too. "Am" is also used when talking about trains and planes arriving:

Der Zug kommt um 13.37 h am Bahnhof Hamburg-Altona an.
Das Flugzeug landet um 13.30 h am Flughafen Hamburg.

Wir treffen uns dann am Bahnhof (can mean in front of the station, inside the station or at the tracks).
Der beste Zeitschriftenladen in Heidelberg ist der am Bahnhof. Er befindet sich im Bahnhof am Zugang zu dem Gleisen.
Meine Frau nervt am Fliegen immer am meisten die Sicherheitskontrolle am Flughafen.

If you have something like die Kirche, das Museum, das Rathaus, these are more generic regarding the use of "an" or "am". I'll copy and change your list for that:

  1. "an" means:
    • close to the building. May be in front of the door or near the building.
    • never inside the church, inside the museum, or other buildings
    • but can mean: inside the train station or airport
  2. "bei" means:
    • close to the building. Maybe not so close as with "an", but at least more or less close.
    • "beim" does not mean "im" -- not for Bahnhof, not for airport, not for other buildings.
  3. "auf" means:
    • for Bahnhof and airport: on the territory of ...
    • for some public offices (Rathaus, Ordnungsamt, Bauamt ...): on the territory of ...
    • but never near the building
    • in some awkward cases on the roof of the building

More examples:

"Hotel am Dom"
Der Marktplatz liegt bei der Kirche.
Ich muss in 10 Minuten uf dem Bahnhof sein.
Auf dem Rathaus hat man mir gesagt, dass ich noch ein Formular brauche.
Wir sollen zwei Stunden vor Abflug auf dem Flughafen sein.

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    Vielen Dank für diese so gut erschöpfende Antworte! :) – faiwer Oct 18 '20 at 23:47
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    One thing: bei can mean im when used with a place that is metonymically called after a person: beim Zahnarzt, bei meinem Freund X -- both mean basically "in their flat/office/..." – phipsgabler Oct 19 '20 at 6:42

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