Easy German Books for Beginners11 Simple Novels

Have you yet begun to test your German skills, with some German reading? We have selected 11 easy German books, for beginners, looking to dip their toes in the curious world of German literature.

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06.04.2024

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 can do this a number of different ways, of course. If you wanted to improve your listening comprehension, you could try to regularly listen to a German podcast or audiobooks (or you could of course also try our YouTube channel).

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

Grimms Märchen by Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm
Grimms Märchen
Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm
Perfect, bite-sized stories for beginners. Read the fairytales you are familiar with from your childhood in the original German. Can you spot any differences in the narratives? Some are a little more gruesome than I remember them to be.

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

Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink
Der Vorleser
Bernhard Schlink
Schlink’s books are famously written in clear and simple language, and often split into short chapters - perfect for beginner learners looking for a challenge, but not too steep a mountain to climb. An English language film version of the book is also available, for those who may find it helpful to watch before reading the story.

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 Vergangenheitsbewältigungcoping with the past, 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

Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin by Sharon Dodua Otoo
Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin
Sharon Dodua Otoo
An important piece of writing that hits the raw nerve of social issues today concerning identity, developing social norms and race, concisely packaged into three, beginner-friendly bite-sized stories, this book is especially perfect for ambitious German language learners living in Germany.

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:

  1. the first award-winning piece focuses, surrealistically, on the perspective of a too-soft boiled egg.
  2. The second is packed with social criticism and humour, titled "Dürfen Schwarze Menschen Blumen malen?".
  3. 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.

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There’s also a limited edition of this book, that includes translations in British and American English!

4. Verbrechen

Verbrechen by Ferdinand von Schirach
Verbrechen
Ferdinand von Schirach
Simple crime fiction can make for great, practical material for language learners, usually following a straight-forward, linear narrative, without much abstraction and use of frilly literary devices such as stream of consciousness. With each case dividing the novel into digestible, short pieces of writing, this book makes for a fantastic beginner-friendly German book.

“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.

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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

Erzähler der Nacht by Rafik Schami
Erzähler der Nacht
Rafik Schami
Arab storytelling in the German language, this book is split into several, bite-sized tales exploring both magical settings and contemporary topics.

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

Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum
Menschen im Hotel
Vicki Baum
Explore a particularly famous period in German history - the Golden twenties, in Berlin - with this particularly famous Weimar-era book! Set in a luxury hotel, the story explores the curious lives of the guests staying in the centre of hedonistic Berlin.

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.

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“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

Der Richter und Sein Henker by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Der Richter und Sein Henker
Friedrich Dürrenmatt
In a way, this is a classic detective novel, “Der Richter und Sein Henker”, is pretty straight forward in narrative structure: an investigation for a murder takes place, and in the end the perpetrator is found. However, Dürrenmatt’s socio-critical approach to the story leaves us asking questions about the morality of the characters. Who, if any of them, were truly the good guys?

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

Eine Frau zu Sehen by Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Eine Frau zu Sehen
Annemarie Schwarzenbach
The erotically charged, coming-out novel of the Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who was known for her androgynous style, wealthy family and passionate lifestyle, laced with love, drugs and much travelling. A manageably short piece of writing, perfect for beginner readers in search of a challenge.

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.

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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

Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer by Patrick Süskind
Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer
Patrick Süskind
A short and sweet, well-received novella with illustrations, for beginner readers looking for an unintimidating first German language book, about a man’s childhood in the German countryside.

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.

10. Schachnovelle

Schachnovelle by Stefan Zweig
Schachnovelle
Stefan Zweig
Another short read, “Schachnovelle” entwines and examines two examples of extreme psychological pressure, found in: 1) the cruel practices of the Gestapo, and 2) surprisingly (?) a game of chess.

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.

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Also available in English, under the name: “The Royal Game”.

11. One more: Effingers

Effingers by Gabriele Tergit
Effingers
Gabriele Tergit
A meaty book 🍖, this one is for the more ambitious German learners out there, looking to take things up a notch and try out something more difficult. This books sheer length, long list of characters, the story’s historical context and the epic sub narratives make this a more challenging albeit juicy and satisfying read, more suited to intermediate level readers than beginners. However, if you’re up for the challenge, just give it a try!

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.

Questions around Reading in German

What should a beginner in German read?
A beginner should read books that are exactly at their level or slightly above their level. Great starting books are German translations of simple novels that you are already very familiar with. If you have read Harry Potter, for example, that would be a great choice for a first German novel - provided that's at your level
What is the best book to start learning German?
To start learning German, you would probably want to go for a textbook. We think that the Assimil series is a very good and easy introduction to German - and it gets you reading straightaway! However, reading your first German novel is a different story: In that case, you might want to consider easy German books or novels like those Erich Kästner - or even German children's books.
What is the best German book to read?
While this question is highly subjective, we think that Goethe's Faust is a close contender. Nietzsche's 'Genealogy of Morals' is also a great read, as is Thomas Mann's Zauberberg.
Will reading improve my German?
Reading books & novels in German will definitely improve your German. However, it's important to choose your reading material wisely - it should be slightly above your level, so that you do learn new words and sentence structures constantly, but at the same time aren't overwhelmed with too much new input.
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You can also always get in touch, if you have criticism or feedback. If you're a German teacher yourself, ask us about free learning resources! 😊

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