There is the following text in the movie "Der Parfumeur":

Eine unsichtbare Wand trennte mich von allem. Erst für dich setzte ich alles aufs Spiel, um die Wand einzureißen.

It's my understanding "einreißen" means "tear down" here. Would "herunterreißen" mean the same here? It'd seem more intuitive to me, as the speaker is bringing the wall down and not inside anything. I might be trying to see sense in those verb prefixes when there is none.

If there is a difference between both verbs in this context, could someone please share it with me?


3 Answers 3


With a wall, "einreißen" or "abreißen" or maybe "abbrechen" would work. The idea of "einreißen" implies that the wall is destroyed to such extent, that we can easily walk to the other side through the gap. The "ab-" verbs assume that the wall disappears completely. If it's not a wall inside a room (where you have a ceiling), but an outside one (for instance, the former Berlin wall), "niederreißen" would also work.

"herunterreißen" implies that some large structure is attached to a upper place of the wall and we want to remove it by force. Think of an air conditioner system fixed into the wall in a way that you can't just turn some screws to remove it, but have to use destructive force.


No, "herunterreißen" would usually mean that something (e.g. a poster) is torn down, but the wall remains standing.

  • 2
    So the answer would be 'YES' as there is a difference between both words, as 'Mauer' and 'herunterreißen' cannot be used together.
    – Jens
    Jan 11 at 10:22

You probably know already that words in German can be put together - German is for languages what Lego is for toys.

"reißen" means "to rip" or "to yank" and any composite with "reißen" reflects that: einreißen (to tear down, for walls), abreißen (to rip off, also to tear down, but for buildings), auseinanderreißen and zerreißen (to rip to pieces, to rip/tear apart), zurückreißen (to yank back), and so on.

"herunter", on the other hand, means "down" or "downwards" with the connotation of "in the direction towards the observer" (away from the observer would be "hinunter").

From this alone one can conclude that "herunterreißen" is a valid word, but not for tearing down walls or buildings. You can use it for not taking but ripping off e.g. pictures from a wall or for removing wallpaper (that also requires some force). "Reißen" always includes an element of force and "herunter" is a movement towards you. (Corollary: "hinunterreißen" exists too and is something a waterfall does when it takes something down with it - it "yanks it downwards", away from you.)

Alternatives for "einreißen" - tearing down walls - are "durchbrechen" (not necessarily removing the whole wall but maybe just create a door or window in it), niederreißen (works for both buildings and walls) and - for larger structures like city walls, but also for buildings - "schleifen". Notice that there are two words "schleifen": schleifen-schliff-geschliffen, which means to sharpen and schleifen-schleifte-geschleift, which, depending on context, means either to drag or to tear down a building or wall.

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