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 enrol in an A1 German course, take some online private lessons, or download one of the language learning apps.
However, once you've equipped yourself with a strong, starting foundation, you'll want to begin exploring the vast pool of native German language content that's out there.
You can do this a number of different ways, of course. You could regularly listen to German podcasts, music or audiobooks, and practice your listening comprehension. You could find yourself a tandem partner, and practice speaking in German. Or you might want to watch German TV shows or movies in German, whether it's original German stuff or dubbed.
However, we would argue that one of the most effective ways to make consistent, overall progress, is to read challenging, interesting pieces of writing.
Whether they're short stories, blog articles or meaty crime-fiction books, reading material 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.
...those who do more recreational reading show better development in reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. These results hold for first and second language acquisition, and for children and adults.
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 for Beginners
Before we dive into the list of German beginner books, let us say that this list contains only novels. We do think that it can be very advantageous to learn from German non-fiction books or read short stories in German, but for this list we decided to only stick novels that are relatively easy to understand.
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.
The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics, whose work on collecting and publishing local folklore largely contributed to the rise of romanticism across Europe in the 19th Century - an artistic and intellectual movement that idealised nature and “the past” (usually referring to the mediaeval times), as a reaction to the industrial revolution.
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.
Whilst Sharon Dodua Otoo grew up in London, she has spent most of her adult years living in Berlin. She is a Black British writer and political activist, whose writing explores empowerment, Afrofuturism and identity.
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.
Ferdinand von Schirach is one of Germany’s most popular and celebrated literary figures. He lives in Berlin, working as a writer and a lawyer, specialising in criminal law. It is known that the cases he works on make their way into his writings. For example, his first book, “Verbrechen”, included the stories of a number of real-life cases. It was an instant hit and became a longstanding bestseller, paving the way for a bright literary career.
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.
Rafik Schami spent his childhood in both Syria and Lebanon, before moving to Germany, where he has lived ever since. He is one of the most celebrated figures of German contemporary literature, often advocating for more tolerance of cultural diversity in Germany. His books are often set in the city of Damascus, where explorations of life and community subtly dismantle problematic stereotyping and prejudices.
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.
Vicki Baum was an Austrian writer, who lived in Berlin during the 20’s. There, she identified as a New Woman - the feminist ideal of the 1920’s, that described independent women who sought to radically redefine the role of women in society - , taking up boxing alongside the likes of German actress Marlene Dietrich, and often writing about the lives of strong women, fighting against social repression.
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.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a Swiss writer of novels and plays, whose work often explored political or philosophical topics.
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.
This book is also available in English, as; “The Judge and His Hangman”.
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.
Patrick Süßkind is a German writer, who famously published “Das Parfum”, or “The Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” - a delicious historical fantasy novel and international success, that we’d recommend to beginner / intermediate-level German readers.
The story follows a man in his forties, as he takes an unsentimental look back on his childhood in the German countryside, after World War Two, where he encountered a strange, aimlessly wandering man - Herr Sommer - three times, with whom he felt a surprising connection.
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.
Stefan Zweig was an Austrian writer, who lived and worked in Vienna until the Nazi’s came to power, resulting in him moving abroad, fearing prosecution as a Jewish man, finally settling in Brazil. Depressed by the war and state of the world at the time, Zweig and his wife committed suicide in their home, in 1942.
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.
Gabriele Tergit was a German writer and journalist, born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1894, where she lived and worked until she fled Nazi Germany, eventually settling in London. From there, she continued to write and eventually published “Effingers”.