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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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  • So Harry Potter would be excluded considering your last point?
    – Alenanno
    May 30 '11 at 11:54
  • @Alenanno: Exactly. Otherwise, it would be great.
    – Tim
    May 30 '11 at 11:55
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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
  • @thei: Thanks, I've changed my answer and the numbers. The examples became a lot easier :)
    – Tim
    May 30 '11 at 12:33

41 Answers 41

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Anna Seghers Das siebte Kreuz Standard school book in Germany.

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  • Well, but it's boring…
    – feeela
    Apr 25 '12 at 16:15
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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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I just finished re-reading "der Fliegenmelker" by Rafik Shami. A serie of short stories from people living in Damascus in the 50'. Very funny, very human and easy to read.

Because I read mainly during my public transit times, I prefer short stories :)

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  • Actually, I'd recommend Rafik Shami in general. For learners as well as native speakers. He's just brilliant.
    – Arsak
    Sep 4 '18 at 4:37
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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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I suggest

Karl May: Das Buschgespenst

Yes. Karl May. Mostly known for "Winnetou" etc. Often despised as imposer etc (because in his later life he got a little bit lost between facts and fiction in his life), but also a rather underestimated author.

Das Buschgespenst is a novel pretty unknown to the general public. It has nothing to do with the Wild West, nor the Orient. The story unfolds in the kingdom of Saxony somehwere in the 1860s or so in a village of poor weavers and coal miners in the Erzgebirge mountains. It is an early detective story, also a love story, and not least a book sharply criticizing the society of its time and the extremly unjust distribution of income and wealth. (A thing you would not expect from Karl May if you know only his more popular novels.)

For your purpose I find it suitable as it has an intriguing story as well as flawless language which is neither too simple nor too demanding in terms of vocabulary or sentence structure: it was written, as the other novels by May for a broad audience for entertainment in a time when there was no television. And you get even some insight in the inner workings of society in the late 19th century in Germany.

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Der Alchimist by Paulo Coelho. It was originally written in Portuguese, but the translation is excellent, I find. It's an easy read and it's a fantastic book (it might just change your life, who knows?).

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    It would be nice to know why I was voted down. I understand it doesn't fulfill the "original" criteria, however it's perfect for beginners - it's easy to understand, and the translation isn't inaccurate.
    – Hanna
    Jun 6 '11 at 3:50
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    I'm not the downvoter, but if I were a native speaker of English and there's a good English translation of the book, then I'd always prefer that one. Jun 6 '11 at 10:39
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    @Hendrik: Not if you're trying to learn that language, and it's an easy read. Either way, it's a great book :p
    – Hanna
    Jun 6 '11 at 21:05
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    There are so many books written originally in German that I can't believe there are enough good and easy reads among those ... Jun 6 '11 at 21:22
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    @Hendrik - I'm not saying the other books aren't good reads. I was just trying to contribute @.@
    – Hanna
    Jun 6 '11 at 23:57
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In my opinion, the best things ever written in German language deal with philosophy. If you are interested in politics and history, give the Communist Manifesto a try. It is a simple read, as it was meant to be understood by working class people.

Other writers in German language who say meaningful things in a (rather) simple language include Sigmund Freud, Karl Popper, Arthur Schopenhauer, Konrad Lorenz.

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  • I warn against Marx, not only out of ideological reasons, but because he is notoriously hard to read. Must be the Hegelian influence, where you're always not quite sure what the hell that guy is even talking about.
    – Ingo
    Jan 6 '14 at 15:35
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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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There are thess special kind of books called Easy Reader. They are adult books but then rewritten in a limited vocabulary. There are a few levels depending on the size of your vocabulary.

Look at this site.

http://www.easyreaders.eu

http://www.easyreaders.eu/german/elementary/easy-reader-a-%28a2%29.aspx

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A classic German book for parents to read to their children is Katze mit Hut by Simon & Desi Ruge, 1980. It's similar to Pippi Langstrumpf in style, so mostly aimed at beginners, and it's quite funny.

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"Das Zimmermädchen", von Markus Orths, ist sehr zu empfehlen.

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    Did you oversee the note: "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." Feb 6 '18 at 21:03
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