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The best German authors Expats should read when learning German

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As an Expat in Germany, reading books written by German authors is particularly suitable for learning German or understanding the German culture by really becoming bilingual.

At some point you will learn German in order to fully enjoy the culture. If you are learning German for beginners it helps to start either listening to audio books or reading the German texts themselves, preferably aloud. Using this technique will greatly improve both your written language and their pronunciation. German authors have over the years received critical acclaim worldwide! If you read German writers, you can make rapid progress in learning German and learn about German culture at the same time .

Below is an introduction to German authors that you absolutely have to read!

German authors: An introduction to the classics to help with your German

1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

german authors

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered the most important German poet. His works are among the most important in world literature. But Goethe was a genius with many faces and dealt with politics, physics, botany, anatomy and mineralogy.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is one of the most important figures in German literature . Goethe, who was not only a writer but also a statesman, had a major impact on German literature.

His works are so famous that his name is often used as a synonym for the German language!

Goethe, who is an integral part of the curriculum in all German schools, began writing in 1773. In his novels and other works, Goethe captures the essence of German culture in its entirety. As a German writer his works tried to incorporate everything.

Goethe was more than a write:

  • Poet
  • Novelist
  • Dramaturge
  • Philosopher
  • Diplomat
  • Statesman
  • Art theorist
  • Scientist
  • Botanists

The writer tried to combine fiction and philosophy in his works to illustrate the European worldview of the 18th century. As an opponent of the French Revolution, Goethe sparked numerous controversies, in particular due to sensitive topics that are dealt with in his works, such as suicide.

Goethe acted as a model for many English- and German-speaking writers around 1790 and was often viewed as a forerunner of Romanticism.

He did not limit himself to writing novels, but used all literary genres – autobiography, essay, poetry or even scientific treatises – to put his thoughts on paper.

Goethe’s famous works

The most famous works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe include:

The novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” is one of the German-language works that you absolutely have to read (even if it may not be suitable for reading as part of a German A1 course …).

It is a letter novel in which the young legal intern Werther reports about his unhappy liaison with Lotte, who is engaged to another man, up to his suicide. The novel was very controversial at the time. Suicide contradicted bourgeois moral concepts, the novel was rated as immoral.

The book was also accused of seducing young people to commit suicide and was believed to have been confirmed by the “wave of suicide” that began after its publication.

2. Patrick Süskind

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Patrick Süskind is a contemporary German writer. Born in 1949, Süskind moved to Paris after studying in Munich, where he began writing his first works.

Patrick Süskind lived and still lives very withdrawn: He gives very few interviews and only speaks about his works. Süskind finds his inspiration in French cities, which often serve as the backdrop for his novels: He is particularly interested in 18th century France, because this was the era when “modern man” appeared for the first time.

His works usually set in the past and mix fiction with historical facts. To portray the society of that time, Süskind uses detailed narrative descriptions that reflect the feelings of his protagonists.

Süskind’s famous works

Perfume is undoubtedly Patrick Süskind’s most famous novel. This novel was a worldwide success and is therefore one of the most important novels of the 20th century.

The most famous works by Süskind include:

  • Parfume, the story of a murderer
  • The Dove
  • The story of Mr.Summer
  • About love and death
  • The legacy of Maître Mussard
  • The double bass
  • A fight and other tales

Parfume, the story of a murderer was later adapted into a movie. If you have not watched the movie (have you been living under a rock?!?), then we would suggest reading the book first.

3. Thomas Mann

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Thomas Mann, born in 1875, is one of the most famous German writers in the world. There is no question that he shaped the history of the German language .

The novelist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, was inspired by Goethe, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to construct his stories.

Thomas Mann subliminally criticized the German and European worldview in his works by modernizing biblical stories or classics of German literature.

His works have a high symbolic value and Mann creates a downright psychological portrait of his protagonists. Although a humanist, Mann believed in the decline of humanity with deep conviction: He was quickly seen as the forerunner of decadence in modern literature.

With the help of his works, Mann tried to save human values ​​and to fight against the extremist ideas of his era.

Mann’s famous works

  • The magic Mountain
  • Death in venice
  • The chosen
  • The Buddenbrooks
  • Joseph and his brothers
  • Tristan and Isolde
  • Royal Highness
  • Confessions of the impostor Felix Krull
  • Tonio Kröger

The Magic Mountain is one of the most influential novels in German-language literature. In this novel, Mann deals with topics such as time, illness, death or even seduction. Every character in a novel is an allegory: Settembrini embodies humanism, Naphta represents extremism, Ziemssen is the representative of the fulfillment of duty.

4. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are one of the famous German authors. They were born in 1785 and 1786, were linguists and philologists who became famous for their fairy tales.

The two brothers, enthusiastic supporters of the German language, also wrote grammar books to bring their young compatriots closer to German word and sentence formation.

The two linguists were also the editors of the famous German dictionary!

In contrast to conventional dictionaries, the dictionary by the Brothers Grimm also provides explanations of the origins of the words and their origins. Unfortunately, this extensive work was never completed because the brothers underestimated the scope of such an undertaking.

In order to improve the language level of the Germans and to get adults excited about literature, the Brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales themselves.

Originally the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm were not intended for children: only over time did the fairy tales become more child-friendly. Topics such as murder, cruelty and violence were banned from the texts so that children could also read the texts.

The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are ambiguous: There are symbols everywhere that point to the social problems of 17th century Germany.

Famous works by the Grimm brothers

If you have not heard of at least one of the classics written by the Grimm brothers, then Houston we have a problem!

  • Cinderella
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • The Frog Prince
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Little Thumble
  • Snow white
  • Red Riding Hood
  • Rapunzel

Reading the original of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales enables students learning German to acquire basic vocabulary that is understandable for everyone. By immersing themselves in the stories of their childhood, German students can both deepen their language skills and get to know the stories of the two linguists better.

5. Stefan Zweig

german authors

Born in Austria in 1881, Stefan Zweig is one of the world’s most famous contemporary German-speaking writers. His personal experiences during the First World War, when he was part of the military corps, shaped the Austrian writer of Jewish origin in particular.

The violence that he himself experienced left its mark on his texts: over time, his texts became more and more brutal, as was the case with other German speaking authors of the same era.

Zweig’s works deal with topics such as social exclusion, physical and psychological violence, repression and psychology. Incidentally, Zweig was one of the closest friends of the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who inspired many of his fictional characters.

Stefan Zweig’s novels have certainly also become so famous because of the tragic fate of the author. The Second World War was another trauma for him. Zweig lost faith in humanity and committed suicide with his partner Lotte in 1942.

Zwieg’s famous works

His most famous works are:

  • Confusion of feelings
  • Trip to the past
  • Chess novella
  • Anxiety
  • The love of Erika Ewald
  • The letter of an unknown
  • The force
  • Amok. Novellas of a Passion

Zweig’s works are particularly suitable for getting to know the German language better . Most of his texts are short stories; reading his texts does not therefore take much time.

Other notable German authors to put on your list!

1. Heinrich Böll

Heinrich Böll was a post-war German author. He was born on December 21, 1917 in Cologne and died on July 16, 1985 near the city of Düren in Kreuzau-Langenbroich. 

The politically committed Heinrich Böll (1917–1985) was one of the most widely read and influential German writers of the twentieth century. In 1972 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Some of his most famous works have been made into films, including “Views of a Clown” and “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”.

In 1971, Böll was the first German writer to be elected President of the international PEN Club. In 1972 he published an essay in SPIEGEL about the RAF terrorist Ulrike Meinhof (part of the Baader-Meinhof gang). Böll wanted to mediate between the fronts, but got himself caught in the crossfire of criticism. Conservative forces accused him of sympathizing with the RAF. “The lost honor of Katharina Blum” (1974) was Böll’s answer to his experiences in this affair. 

2. Günter Grass

Günter Grass was born on October 16, 1927 in Danzig, the city in which two of his main works, “The Tin Drum” and “Katz und Maus”, are located. Grass is one of the most important contemporary German-speaking authors, belonged to the famous “Group 47” and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Other important novels and stories by the author include “Katz und Maus” (1961), “Hundjahre” (1963), “Der Butt” (1977), “Die Rättin” (1986) and “When Skinning the Onion” (2006) To mention only a few works from the extensive oeuvre of Günter Grass, who in addition to his narrative work was not only active as a playwright and lyric poet, but also produced several important sculptures as a sculptor.

3. Friedrich Schiller

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, born on November 10, 1759 in Marbach am Neckar, is, next to Goethe, probably the most important representative of classical German literature.

Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller  was an important German author, playwright, poet and historian. Initially influenced by the “Enlightenment”, Schiller became an important exponent of “Sturm und Drang” and “Classical”.

4. Heinrich Theodor Fontane

The icon of realism: Heinrich Theodor Fontane, born December 30, 1819 in Neuruppin, was a German author. He is considered the literary mirror of Prussia and the most important representative of realism.

In 1839 he published his first novella Geschwisterliebe. It was at this time that his first poems were written. 1844 did his military service for a year. He then went on a military trip. After 1847 Fontane fought as a revolutionary in the so-called barricade battles. In 1849 he decided to give up the pharmacist profession and to live as a freelance writer. Initially, political, social texts were written. He fell ill with severe brain disease and wrote his last two works, Effi Briest and Der Stechlin.

5. Michael Ende

Michael Ende was born on November 12, 1929 and at the age of 27 he wrote his first children’s book “Jim Button and Lukas, the Engine Driver”. At first nobody wanted to print the book, but after finally finding a publisher, it became a worldwide success and was translated into many languages. His fantastic short stories “Momo” (1973) and “The Neverending Story” (1979) were both successfully filmed.

He is one of the most successful German authors of books for young people. Books such as The Neverending Story, Momo and Jim Knopf and Lukas the Engine Driver were international successes and were widely adapted for film, television and theater. Ende’s works have sold over 30 million copies and have been translated into over 40 languages.

Bernhard Schlink is a German author who was born in Großdornberg near Bielefeld in 1944. He was already a successful lawyer and professor of public law when he published his first novel, “Selbs Justiz”, together with his friend and co-author Walter Popp in 1987. 

This was followed by other crime novels about the character of the private detective Gerhard Selb, which Schlink wrote without Walter Popps’ collaboration: “Selbs Betrug” (1992) and “Selbs Mord” (2001).

His most successful work “The Reader” was published in 1995. It was translated into 39 languages, received numerous literary prizes and was directed in 2008 by British director Stephen Daldry for the cinema. Other important works by Bernhard Schlink are the collection of short stories “Liebesfluchten” (2000) and the novel “Die Heimkehr” (2006).

7. Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was one of the most important German authors of the 20th century. He spent most of his life in his native city of Prague. 

Kafka, a bohemian novelist and short story writer, is famous for his grotesque and absurd stories and novels. Many of them appeared posthumously: the editor was Max Brod (1884-1968), his close friend and estate administrator. Kafka’s work cannot be assigned to any literary epoch or trend. It is absolutely unique: never before and never after has anyone written like Franz Kafka. Generations of readers have recognized each other in his works up to the present day.

Many of Kafka’s stories are characterized by opaque relationships, entanglements and unclear structures of people or places. This is particularly evident in “The Judgment” or “The Metamorphosis”. The stories published after his death (on June 3, 1924 in Klosterneuburg) (“The Castle”, “The Trial”) are also influenced by it. In addition to his extensive work, the “Franz Kafka Prize” of the city of Klosterneuburg and the “Franz Kafka Literature Prize” of the society of the same name remind of the writer.

Notable books by German authors that were turned into movies

Notable books by German authors that were turned into movies

german authors

The Reader

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Das Boot

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The Tin Drum

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Look Who's Back

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In Times of Fading Light

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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

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All Quiet on the Western Front

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Death in Venice

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