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Interesting, As a native English speaker I am surprised that "laid" is incorrect, however my Grammar bone says that "Lay" is correct and that I have been using a transitive verb all these years in place of the correct simple past. Though "Lay" feels better to me, I often have a bookish way of speaking and but figured "he lay on the the bed" was over the top. Anybody else care to weigh in on "Lay" vs "laid"?
The past tense of "lie" (meaning "recline," not "tell a falsehood") is "lay." A lot of people make this error, however. Here's a more or less humorous/grumpy disquisition on the issue: http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/11/strong_verbs
In general, they are the same. It's a matter of semantics. I cannot say for certain regarding the German auf dem Bett, but the English "on the bed" tends to indicate being atop the sheets/covers that are on the bed, whereas "in bed" (im Bett) has the sense of being between the sheets.
In my experience someone who's not feeling well (perhaps a little tipsy) will go lay on the bed to recover. Someone who's going to sleep will be in the bed.
But overall, there's really not much difference.