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I'm looking for simple but well-known and interesting German literature to improve my reading comprehension as an intermediate learner. It should fulfill the following criteria:

  • Well-known: Either classical literature, or contemporary and popular.
  • Interesting: Should not be written for young children. Harry Potter passes, Green Eggs and Ham does not.
  • Simple: On average, the sentences should not be very long, and most words among the 4000 most common. To quantify, let's say around 70 German Flesch Reading Ease. I took some (too small) random samples and found that Schätzing's Der Schwarm scores 30, while Zweig's Schachnovelle scores 55 and the Harry Potter translation 75.
  • „Standard“: Not much deviation from Hochdeutsch, and not much slang.
  • Original: Originally written in German. Revisions that make the work conform to neue Rechtschreibung and update archaic words are welcome but not necessary.

Please detail any other properties that make the book useful for learners. One book per answer, please.


Please add Title, Author, short description, optional ISBN / link to database, and a note on the difficulty level if possible. Look at an example answer given further down to get an idea of a consistent formatting. You answers here may be written in German or in English.


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The original part makes it quite hard.. :P –  poke May 30 '11 at 12:00
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You should use the adapted scale for German texts: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesbarkeitsindex#Flesch_Reading_Ease –  Phira May 30 '11 at 12:05

35 Answers 35

Split up answer #2:

Momo by Michael Ende. Very famous, a very lovely read and not too difficult as it is aimed at young readers.

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Split up answer #3:

Die unendliche Geschichte by Michael Ende. Very famous and cool story. Aimed at young readers, but also longer and more complex than Momo.

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  • Franz Kafka. Anything. Everything.
    Kafka wasn't German, but member of a native German speaking minority in Prag. His excellence isn't based on difficult words or sentences.
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+1 for Kafka. His stories are great, they're easy to understand as far as language is concerned, but the meaning/intention is a whole other story. –  Jemus42 Jun 11 '11 at 21:43
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Kafka was not German? He was a German living in Prag, what use to be part of the Hungaro-Austrian Empire, became later CSR, than Germany, then CSSR and now Czech Republic. –  Steffen Roller Apr 22 '13 at 19:02

I recommend Die Vermessung der Welt. It's a recent novel about Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt, both trying to measure the world with different methods. I found it very fluent and fun to read, though it may not be really simple. It's all written in indirect speech.

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If literature in this case also includes humor, I'd recommend trying some books by Loriot and Heinz Erhardt. They're some of greatest German language artists ever. Heinz Erhardt's books are actually mostly poetry, while Loriot has written a mixture of humorous texts.

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+1 Noch'n Gedicht :-) –  Jan May 30 '11 at 13:58
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@Jan: Genau. Ein Scherz jagt denselben. –  OregonGhost May 30 '11 at 14:14
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The problem might be that those are so witty ("Sprachwitz") that one understands less than half of the jokes. –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 6 '11 at 9:57
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Yep, good idea for advanced learners. Try it yourself and ask here if you don't succeed. –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 13 '11 at 15:22

Split up answer #1:

Tintenherz books by Cornelia Funke. If Harry Potter passes, you could try this. I haven't read them myself, but from watching movie it sounded interesting. Also, it's pretty famous.

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@bot47: the point is: is it a suitable for a not too advanced non-native german speaker? –  ogerard Jun 22 '11 at 13:37

Dürrenmatt's Der Richter und sein Henker is a short book with an interesting story about how an old and dying police officer solves one last difficult murder case. I'm actually not quite sure about its complexity as I haven't got it at home to look, but it should be rather simple.

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Daniel Glattauer's Gut Gegen Nordwind

I haven't finished reading this, but the most valuable thing about this novel from the perspective of a language learner is that it is written as a series of emails. The protagonists become interested in each other and initiate a long lasting email correspondence after one of them sends an incorrectly addressed mail to the other by accident.

The most useful thing for me as a learner was to see how real live people communicate by email, formally, informally, funnily, emotionally, etc. Also unlike many other books this is written in the first person present, which lends the language extra usefulness in terms of everyday use (as compared to say Als ich fünfzehn war, hatte ich Gelbsucht).

Another plus is that these are older people, and therefore avoid smilies, and capitalise and spell correctly unlike what one might expect of an email. The short length, and back and forth of individual emails also adds to the clarity.

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I want to add Krabat - Otfried Preußler, great book and it should fit all your needs.

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I would recommend Russendisko by Wladimir Kaminer. It is pretty interesting/funny and the thing that I liked about it as a beginner was that you don't have to follow a plot through the whole book since each chapter is its own little episode...

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That's a cool one! You'll also learn some interesting stuff about German/Russian culture in there. –  ladybug May 31 '11 at 7:57

There's a "Parallel Text" series by PenguinBooks. The first German book in the series is

German Short Stories 1 - Deutsche Kurzgeschichten 1

Much maligned in pre-war Germany, the short story enjoyed a creative rebirth in 1945. Initially imported by the Allies, the form also matched perfectly the prevailing mood of irony, objectivity and mistrust of the didactic.

With the original German text running alongside English translations, this collection features stories from eight outstanding post-war authors including Heinrich Boll, Ilse Aichinger and Reinhard Lettau which students will find both educational and engrossing.

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Käthe Recheis: Unser Dorf und der Krieg

A book about an Austrian village during World War II told from the point of view of a child. The book is aimed at 12-14 year-olds, but quite suitable to be read by adults. Obviously, this is not a fun book for the beach and you have to gauge your own comfort level with a narrative that includes a phase of falling for the propaganda, and the impact on village life. The big plus of this book is that all characters in the book are very real.

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I don't see any mention of Erich Kaestner (sorry, no umlauts on this keyboard) yet. I'm pretty sure a lot of his books should be suitable. I've only read one myself: Drei Maenner im Schnee, which I guess is less of a kid's book than his more famous ones. I thought it was very funny, and I don't think it was all that difficult, although I read it in a third year university German course, so the language might be more complex than I'm remembering.

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Splitted up answer #4:

Mephisto by Klaus Mann. Very interesting, counts as classical literature. Although it is aimed at adult readers, it has a very clear and straight forward language. I remember it being an easy, but fascinating read.

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Books by Hermann Hesse should qualify as readable, such as Unterm Rad, which has some autobiographic qualities as it explores the schooling and aspects of the private life of a boy in southern Germany towards the end of the 19th century.

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"Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käptn Blaubär" - Walter Moers

Well-known: Walter Moers is quite known and the book was/is quite popular

Interesting: The Protagonist is a new Age/fantasy "Münchausen", which is well known due to his long participation in "Sendung mit der Maus". But in contrary to "his" TV-Show the book is written for both, young and adult, reader. You even got some pictures.

Simple: Didn't do the Math, but the book isn't good due to his sophisticated use of language but the universe the author designs to its smallest and most wacky details.

„Standard“: It is written by Walter Moers, a well know Author, and not as old as some other books mentioned.

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one could place the whole bunch of Zamonien-Romane here –  Vogel612 Oct 31 '13 at 13:46

I'm not sure this is a famous tale in Germany, but looking for tales to read in order to improve my German I found a story called "Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten", there is also an audio to listen to, so you can use the same story to improve listening.

In this page you'll find more links to books/magazines/etc. in German.

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this is one of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales and yes, it's well-known all over Germany. :) –  ladybug May 30 '11 at 12:08
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The entire Grimm's fairy tales book might be a good read, though the language can feel a bit dated :) –  OregonGhost May 30 '11 at 12:15

I just remembered that we read Mario und der Zauberer by Thomas Mann, one of the classical German authors, in school (native German (; ), so maybe it's also suitable for learners of the language.

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Another very nice book for kids, but real literature and no nursery rhymes is Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliewatüüt by Boy Lornsen. I realize that this might not be right for your intended level, I just mention it to vary the complexity a bit. It's a rather long book about the fantastic adventures of a boy, a robot friend of his and their self-built vehicle which can fly, swim and drive (the name derives from these three properties.)

The same (long book with fantastic story for young readers) goes for everything by Michael Ende. Apart from what was already mentioned, the Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer books were some of my favorite books through a good part of my teen years. I will leave these two suggestions in one answer because I feel they are similar in style, target audience and originality and also because there are already several answers for Michael Ende's books.

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Jenseits von Aran :

Protagonist der Geschichte ist der junge Krieger und Königssohn Crithir, dessen Lebensziel es ist getreu dem Vorbild seines Helden Chuchulain auf dem Schlachtfeld Ruhm und Ehre zu erkämpfen. Eine Chance dafür scheint sich zu bieten, als sein Vater, König Ruad, ihn ruft, um Crithirs erschlagene Brüder zu rächen [...]

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I'd recommend "Die Geschichte des Herrn Sommer" by Patrick Süskind.

The style is very light hearted although the story of Mr. Sommer is actually quite a sad one.

I don't have a Flesch score, but I don't think that the book is too difficult to read. Although there are some really long sentences, which can be difficult.

The book itself is not that long (around 130 Pages) and contains some really nice illustrations.

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Robert Walser.

I think nearly all major writings of this author (1878-1956, of Swiss origin) are perfectly suited for your needs. He uses a plain, easy and yet fascinating langage, often describes ordinary things and activities (like going on a walk in Der Spaziergang which is one of his best known stories, a nice story to begin with).

His collected works are available as low-priced paperbacks so there is no risk but possibly a great discovery. You may begin with short prose -- Erzählungen, Geschichten, or Prosastücke -- which is the main genre he wrote; one of his short story collections is titled after the above mentioned story Der Spaziergang. He also wrote a few novels. I liked Geschwister Tanner and Der Gehülfe.

Most of his works are in the public domain so you can check them out at Project Gutenberg (for example, Kleine Dichtungen).

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Der Kontrabass by Süskind is really nice read, short and simple, but if you're interested in music, it's lovely.

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I very much enjoyed reading the adaption of Nathan der Weise:

Nathan und seine Kinder by Mirjam Pressler

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"Small World" by Martin Suter is a very good book.

I think the language should meet your criteria. But on the website of Diogenes you can actually find a excerpt of the book, so you can get an impression yourself. Just go to "Downloads" and select "Leseprobe"

You can find a summary on the linked page, so I won't post one here.

Martin Suter is a Swiss writer with some very good books. I can recommend all of them (at least of those I read) except "Huber spannt aus" and "Business Class" which are collections of short stories.

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The Tagebuch der Anne Frank is of immediate historical importance and gives incredible insights into the psyche of a 13-year-old girl. It is not, however, a children's book. You could say that Anne writes for all audiences, and she's very, very talented. Her diary is a stunning achievement and it is at times a breathtaking experience to read it.

I had forgotten that it was originally written in Dutch. Too bad, in a way.

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Actually, I once had a flatmate from Canada for a year and gave him several books to read, and he found Pippi Langstrumpf and Der kleine Prinz extraordinarily readable, entertaining and just right for him – although they are originally in Swedish and French, respectively, but that doesn't stop the fun they give! I'll include them here just because of this positive experience my flatmate had with them. Their simplicity makes them ideal first books for language learners. If you read Harry Potter fluently without consulting dictionaries or stumbling over the grammar, you are already an advanced reader so they will be too basic for you, even though they are both very entertaining for all ages.

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I see -- just one second :) –  Felix Dombek Jun 18 '11 at 9:50
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Ooops :( damn, I forgot about that! Sorry :/ –  Felix Dombek Jun 18 '11 at 9:55

I recently read a graphic novel series called Monster by Naoki Urasawa. It is a bit gruesome, but the language is simple enough especially with the pictures. There is a bit of a philosophical twist to the books, but it's not too difficult to follow. I definitely recommend them. They are usually found in the adult graphic novel section (again because it is a bit gruesome), so I think it meets your "not for children" criteria. This is a great question, I have some more novels to add to my list now! :)

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But this isn't originally written in German, is it? –  Hendrik Vogt Jul 3 '11 at 9:17

(Splitting up my first answer)

Karl Kraus: Die Sprache.

A journalist from Vienna, about 100 years ago. Not 100% up to date, but teaching German in this text in an entertaining way. Also, a lesson in history.

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Anna Seghers Das siebte Kreuz Standard school book in Germany.

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