Easy German books to read for beginners are hard to come by. As a beginner German learner, one's tendency may be to reach for a trusty exercise or grammar book. Perhaps you may take some online German lessons or download one of apps out there that help with language learning.
However, once you've equipped yourself with a strong, starting foundation, you'll also want to begin exploring the native German content that's out there.
You could also find yourself a tandem partner, and practice speaking. Or you might want to watch German TV shows or movies, whether it's original German material or foreign shows that are dubbed in German.
Why Read Beginner Books?
But what about reading? One of the most effective ways to make consistent, overall progress, is to establish a consistent German reading practice, that includes challenging, interesting pieces of writing. Whether they're short stories, blog posts or meaty crime fiction books.
It's easy to see why this is: a text that truly engages you can propel your learning progress forward. Recognizing all the grammar rules and vocabulary you've been learning, in "real life" contexts, will help you to fully understand and digest them better.
So, for those curiously peering into the aforementioned vast pool of native German language content, below are some examples of German language books that we would recommend to beginner German readers (B1), looking for their next German language challenge.
Easy German Books
Before we dive into the list of easy German books, let us say that this list contains only novels. We think that it's a great idea to learn German with non-fiction books or read short stories in German, but for this list we decided to focus on novels.
1. Grimms Märchen
First and foremost, we'd recommend this classic collection of folk stories to any beginner German learner. Each tale is an easily manageable short story, with a straightforward narrative.
Popularly read as bedtime stories to children, they are also packed full of useful, beginner-friendly vocabulary.
As arguably the most well-known fairytale book worldwide, including in it the famous stories of Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, to name a few, the “Grimm’s Märchen” book serves as both a fantastic, well-known source of insight into traditional German customs and values, as well as a powerful learning resource.
2. Der Vorleser
Set in post-war Germany, Michael and Hanna - two people from different generations begin a passionate relationship, until Hanna disappears one day, to Michael's dismay.
When he finally finds her again, it is as a law student, in a courtroom. Hanna, it appears, is on trial for a Nazi war crime.
This book is another classic that is often read by German students at school, and belongs to a particularly German genre of literature associated with the term Vergangenheitsbewältigung, that describes the process of how Germany, as a nation, deals with it's past, in particular the events of the 20th Century, such as the rise of National Socialism and The Holocaust.
“Der Vorleser” belongs to this genre as it explores the relationship between the post-war generation and the generation that was directly involved in, or at least lived through, the traumatic events of the Second World War.
3. Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin
Would you like to put your finger on the pulse of Germany’s heartbeat? Gain an understanding of the constantly shifting socio-political, cultural makeup of the country?
Then we’d recommend reading some modern German literature, and in particular the book, “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin”, by Sharon Dodua Otoo, which was just published in 2022.
The book is divided into three compelling short stories:
- the first award-winning piece focuses, surrealistically, on the perspective of a too-soft boiled egg.
- The second is packed with social criticism and humour, titled "Dürfen Schwarze Menschen Blumen malen?".
- In the third, the author imagines travelling to Germany with her parents, where she enters a dialogue with the Austrian poet and writer, Ingeborg Bachmann.
This surreal and subversive polemic explores “otherness” and “Germanness” with equal amounts of eye-opening social criticism, and humour.
There’s also a limited edition of this book, that includes translations in British and American English!
“Verbrechen” is a well-known, popular piece of German literature; a riveting piece of crime fiction comprising a number of unusual stories based on the real-life crime cases from the law firm that author Ferdinand von Schirach works for, as a lawyer living in Berlin.
These cases include:
- a seemingly kind and gentle doctor, who had violently murdered his wife.
- a bank robber who escapes the German judicial system with his life and freedom
- a sister kills her own brothers, in the name of love.
If you’re a fan of the true-crime genre, this book is for you.
This book is also available in English, under the name: “Crime & Guilt”, for anybody who may find it helpful to get both the English and German versions, for comparison.
5. Erzähler der Nacht
There is a close likeness between the writing of Rafik Schami and the oral tradition of Arab storytelling.
For example, each short tale is narrative-driven and written in fairly simple language, reflecting the voice of a traditional story-teller, who may expect to share a tale in front of a gathered audience of all ages.
This style of writing, we believe, can make for appropriately challenging, learning material for beginner language learners.
The book itself begins with the curious case of a celebrated storyteller, Salim, in present day Damascus, who has mysteriously lost his voice, and thus his ability to share his tales with the people of the city.
In order to bring his voice back, seven friends gather together and share their own tales, one night after the other, as gifts to Salim.
6. Menschen im Hotel
The Golden Twenties was a particularly exciting time in Berlin, which was celebrated as a major world city during this period.
German Expressionism reached its peak then, churning out cultural gems still beloved today, such as Fritz Lang’s films, including “Metropolis” and “M”, countered by fresh, reactionary movements such as New Objectivity, that gave us the famous works of painters Jeanne Mamman and Otto Dix, to name a few.
The hedonistic underground culture in Berlin was thriving, as saucy cabaret and theatre shows, usually paired with a generous helping of drugs and liquor, grew more popular 🍸. In a nutshell, Berlin in the twenties was the grimy-but-glamorous place to be.
“Menschen im Hotel” explores just this world, and more specifically, the events that take place in a Berlin luxury hotel, where a number of curious characters are staying, including a hysterical ballerina dancer, struggling to deal with her falling stardom as a result of her ageing, and a man, horribly disfigured from the war, on a never ending search for a letter that hasn’t arrived yet.
Most of the characters are miserably lonely, and most use drugs to dull their feelings of unhappiness.
“Menschen im Hotel” was a huge success, and was translated into multiple languages, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding the English language version of it (titled: “Grand Hotel”), for those who’d like to compare the texts.
7. Der Richter und Sein Henker
This murderous crime novel is yet another German language favourite! Set in Bern, Switzerland, during the late 1940’s, master criminal Gastmann made a bet with Commissar Bärlach that he could commit a crime that couldn’t be solved.
Ever since he had been committing countless dirty crimes, all of which he was never convicted for, despite Bärlach’s best efforts. Fast forward years ahead, Bärlach is now terminally ill but nevertheless still determined to see Bärlach pay for his crimes. When he’s put on his last case, to investigate the murder of his former colleague, Gastmann coincidentally becomes involved.
Will Gastmann finally get what he deserves? Bärlach is ready to make sure of it, no matter what.
8. Eine Frau zu Sehen
It is Christmastime 1929, in the beautiful Alpine resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland, where the young protagonist of this story meets a mysterious woman in the elevator.
The encounter is life-changing, awakening a powerful desire and connection that leads the narrator to declare her love, without shame or fear, despite the rigid social norms of that time. As she navigates her newfound desires, the vibrant world of the resort town courses around her, full of leisurely holiday skiers, glamorous dancing girls, and those partaking in energetic winter sports.
Annemarie Schwarzenbach was a Queer, Swiss writer, known for her distinct androgynous look, who came from a wealthy family, and grew up in Zurich, before moving to Berlin as an adult. There, she adopted the seductive bohemian Berlin lifestyle of the time; partying, drinking, taking drugs and falling in love, before travelling around Europe during the time of Nazi rule, where she documented the rise of Facism as an anti-Fascist through her photography.
A book dripping with electric passion and longing, this erotic piece of writing was author Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s coming out, written at the age of 21, and just four years before the Nazi takeover in 1933.
9. Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer
This short novella is perhaps, along with the Grimm’s fairy tales, the most beginner friendly, simple read on this list.
Described as “a children’s tale for adults”, the book is filled with helpful little illustrations, and follows a clear, narrative-driven plot.
In 1941, one year before committing suicide with his wife whilst living in exile in Brazil, world-renowned writer, Stefen Zweig, wrote “Schachnovelle”, which would go on to become his most successful work.
What is it about? The story follows an anonymous protagonist, as he travels on a passenger ship from New York to Buenos Aires, where he meets a former prisoner of the Gestapo, who occupied himself with learning to play chess as a means of maintaining his sanity.
When he is persuaded by fellow passengers to play a game against the world champion chess player, who also happens to be aboard the liner, an impressive win quickly leads to a dangerous reexperiencing of psychological trauma, brought about by the memory of his cruel imprisonment.
Also available in English, under the name: “The Royal Game”.
11. One more: Effingers
This Familienroman, or “Family Novel”, is written about the fictional lives of a middle class Jewish family living in Berlin, witnessing the slow but menacing rise of antisemitism after the events of WW1, seeping through the safety of their bourgeois lives and leading to it’s ultimate collapse.
Spanning four generations, the novel follows the rapid changing of the times by looking over the shoulders of each family member, with developments including changing financial situations, sibling rivalry, love affairs and the changing role of women in society.