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10+ Easy Beginner Books for Curious German Learners

Have you yet begun to test your German skills with a juicy, native German book 🍑? We have selected ten beginner-friendly books, for curious learners, looking to dip their toes in the world of German language literature.

beginner learnerbooks
01.08.2022
illustration of 2 German beginner books
Content

As a beginner language 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 private lessons online, 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 music, and practice your listening comprehension. You could find yourself a tandem partner, and practice speaking in German.

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 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.

Stephen Krashen, linguist, educational researcher and general badass 🍑 in the language learning community.

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 🤓.

German Beginner Books

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

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 ✂️.

Genre: Folklore
Level: B1+
Published: 1812

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.

Vor einem großen Walde wohnte ein armer Holzhacker mit seiner Frau und seinen zwei Kindern; das Bübchen hieß Hänsel und das Mädchen Gretel.

First sentence of Grimm's Hänsel und Gretel

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.

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Authors: Brothers Grimm

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

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.

Genre: Romance / Vergangenheitsbewältigung
Level: B1+
Published: 1995

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.

Als ich fünfzehn war, hatte ich Gelbsucht. Die Krankheit begann im Herbst und endete im Frühjahr. Je kälter und dunkler das alte Jahr wurde, desto schwächer wurde ich.

Der Vorleser, von Bernhard Schlink

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 coping with the pastVergangenheitsbewältigung, 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
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.

Genre: Short Story / Surrealism
Level: B1+
Published: 2022

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.

Er wusste es genau, deswegen war jegliche weitere Diskussion volkommen unnötig: Er hatte ganz einfach recht. Die Lippen fest zusammengepresst, blieb er neben dem Herd stehen, schaute mit leicht hochgezogenen Augenbrauen weiter selbtgefälling auf die Armbanduhr und beschloss, keinen Unsinn mehr zu dulden.

Sharon Dodua Otoo - Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin

This surreal and subversive polemic explores “otherness” and “Germanness” with equal amounts of eye-opening social criticism, and humour.

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 "DĂĽrfen 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.
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Author: Sharon Dodua Otoo

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.

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English Translation

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

4. Verbrechen

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.

Genre: Crime fiction
Level: B1+
Published: 2013

“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.

Friedhelm Fähner war sein Leben lang praktischer Arzt in Rottweil gewesen, 2800 Krankenscheine pro Jahr, Praxis an der Hauptstraße, Vorsitzender der Kulturkreises Ägypten, Mitglied im Lions Club, keine Straftaten, nicht einmal Ordnungswidrigkeiten. ... Über Fähners Leben hätte es eigentlich nichts zu erzählen gegeben. Bis auf die Sache mit Ingrid.

Verbrechen, von Ferdinand von Schirach

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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Author: Ferdinand von Schirach

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.

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English Translation

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

Genre: Cultural Heritage / Magical Realism
Level: B1+
Published: 1989

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.

Es ist schon eine seltsame Geschichte: Der Kutscher Salim wurde stumm. Wäre sie nicht vor meinen Augen geschehen, ich hätte sie für übertrieben gehalten. Sie begann im August 1959 im alten Viertel von Damaskus. Wollte ich eine ähnlich unglaubliche Geschichte erfinden, so wäre Damaskus der beste Ort dafür. Nirgendwo anders als in Damaskus könnte sie spielen.

Erzähler der Nacht, von Rafik Schami

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.

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Author: Rafik Schami

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.

6. Menschen im Hotel

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.

Genre: Hotel Novel
Level: B1+
Published: 1929

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.

Als der Portier aus der Telefonzelle 7 herauskam, war er ein wenig weiß um die Nase herum; er suchte seine Mütze, die er im Telefonzimmer auf die Heizung gelegt hatte. 'Was war's denn?' fragte der Telefonist an seinem Schaltbrett, Hörer vor den Ohren und rote und grüne Stöpsel in den Fingern.

Menschen im Hotel, von Vicki Baum

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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Author: Vicki Baum

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.

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English Translation

“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
Friedrich DĂĽrrenmatt
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?

Genre: Crime Fiction
Level: B1+
Published: 1952

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.

Alphons Clenin, der Polizist von Twann, fand am Morgen des dritten November neunzehnhundertachtundvierzig dort, wo die Straße von Lamboing (eines der Tessenbergdörfer) aus dem Walde der Twannbachschlucht hervortritt, einen blauen Mercedes, der am Straßenrande stand. Es herrschte Nebel, wie oft in diesem Spätherbst, und eigentlich war Clenin am Wagen schon vorbeigegangen, als er doch wieder zurückkehrte.

Der Richter und Sein Henker, von Friedrich DĂĽrrenmatt

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.

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Author: Friedrich DĂĽrrenmatt

Friedrich DĂĽrrenmatt was a Swiss writer of novels and plays, whose work often explored political or philosophical topics.

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English Translation

This book is also available in English, as; “The Judge and His Hangman”.

8. Eine Frau zu Sehen

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.

Genre: Erotic Literature / Coming-Out
Level: B1+
Published: 2008

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.

Eine Frau zu sehen: nur eine Sekunde lang, nur im kurzen Raum eines Blickes, um sie dann wieder zu verlieren, irgendwo im Dunkel eines Ganges, hinter einer Türe, die ich nicht öffnen darf - aber eine Frau zu sehen, und im selben Augenblick zu fühlen, dass auch sie mich gesehen hat, dass ihre Augen fragend an mir hängen, als müssten wir uns begegnen auf der Schwelle des Fremden, dieser dunkeln und schwermütigen Grenze des Bewusstseins...

Eine Frau zu Sehen von Annemarie Schwarzenbach

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.

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Author: Annemarie Schwarzenbach

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.

9. Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer

Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer
Patrick SĂĽskind
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.

Genre: Novella
Level: B1+
Published: 1991

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.

Zu der Zeit, als ich noch auf Bäume kletterte - lang, lang ist's her, viele Jahre und Jahrzehnte, ich maß nur wenig über einen Meter, hatte Schuhgröße achtundzwanzig und war so leicht, daß ich fliegen konnte - nein, das ist nicht gelogen, ich konnte wirklich fliegen damals ...

Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer, von Patrick SĂĽskind

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.

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Author: Patrick SĂĽĂźkind

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.

10. Schachnovelle

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.

Genre: Novella
Level: B1+
Published: 1942

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.

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.

Auf dem großen Passagierdampfer, der mitternachts von New York nach Buenos Aires abgehen sollte, herrschte die übliche Geschäftigkeit und Bewegung der letzten Stunde.

Schachnovelle, von Stefan Zweig

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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Author: Stefan Zweig

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.

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English Translation

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

11. One more: Effingers

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!

Genre: Family Saga / Historical Novel
Level: B1+
Published: 1951

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.

Ein junger Mann, Paul Effinger, siebzehn Jahre alt, schrieb 1878 einen Brief: 'Meine hochverehrten Eltern! Euren 1. Brief vom 25.cr. habe ich empfangen, und beeile ich mich, denselben zu beantworten...

Effingers, von Gabriele Tergit

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.

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Author: Gabriele Tergit

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”.