A sure-fire way of making steady and effective progress towards German fluency is to read more. And while beginners benefit a lot from reading simple German stories or German children's books, we'd recommend B2+ learners like yourself sink their teeth into some challenging German intermediate books to make sure you're directing yourself off and away from the dreaded intermediate plateau of death.
Intermediate German Books
Just as is the case with German beginner books, reading intermediate material that you truly find interesting can work wonders in effecting your motivation to actually utilise the skills you’ve been learning in German class, in real life scenarios, and at your own pace.
On top of that, challenging yourself with meaty intermediate books & novels will throw you out of your comfort zone for the better, as you come across new vocabulary and expressions that you wouldn’t in daily conversation or in a newspaper article. This is especially important for intermediate learners, as a large part of progression at this stage relies on expanding your vocab base.
Lastly, exposing yourself to the varied voices of different protagonists in literature is like engaging in conversation with multiple people throughout the day. By doing so, you exercise your ability to adapt your eye/ear quickly to different styles of writing/speech.
Just as it can be helpful to speak German to different people and not only your tandem partner, it can be helpful to expose yourself to a variety of writing styles as you continue to read in German.
So here is our short but spicy list of five German intermediate books that we believe would make for appropriately meaty, challenging reading.
The list includes a variety of widely differing perspectives, experiences and time periods, so we hope at least one of them will catch your eye!
1. Die Verwandlung - Franz Kafka
First on the list is a well known classic: “Die Verwandlung”, or “Metamorphosis” in English. How about trying your hand at the original German language version?
One of Kafka’s most reputable works, the story peers into the life of a salesman who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a massive bug!
Unable to continue working himself to the bone in order to support his family and pay their debts, the others must take action.
It’s a novella about family obligations and the desire to break free from those obligations that weigh too heavily on the shoulders, for far too long a time.
Franz Kafka was a Czech Jewish, Bohemian novelist and is celebrated as one of the major figures of 20th century literature. His works often explore themes of alienation, guilt and the fantastical.
Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.
2. Dschinns - Fatma Aydemir
This well-received Familienroman begins with the unfortunate death of father and husband Hüseyin, who had spent the last thirty years working hard in a factory in Germany in order to support his family and finally buy his dream home in Istanbul, where he planned to spend his longed-for retirement that he was on the very cusp of entering into, when suddenly and tragically, he died.
Fatma Aydemir’s novel explores the various thoughts and experiences of different family members who gather to pay their respects at Hüseyin’s funeral.
It is a story about migration; a story about the search for lost identities, generational trauma and the difficulty of feeling at home in a country that often seems unwelcoming.
Hüseyin... Weisst du, wer du bist, Hüseyin, wenn du die glänzenden Konturen deines Gesichts im Glas der Balkontür erkennst? Wenn du die Tür öffnest, auf den Balkon trittst und die warme Luft übers Gesicht streicht und die untergehende Sonen zwischen den Dächern der Wohnblocks von Zeytinburnu leuchtet wie eine gigantische Apfelsine?
Fatma Aydemir is an author and journalist based in Berlin. The granddaughter of Turkish-Kurdish immigrants, her novels deal with identity and the experiences and repercussions of migration on a personal level.
This book is also available as an audiobook!
3. Die Klavierspielerin - Elfriede Jelinek
One literary critic described this novel as a critique of the “Bildungsroman” genre of literature popular during the 70’s and 80’s, that romanticised the mother-daughter relationship.
For in this novel, the relationship between piano teacher Erika Kohut and her mother is relentlessly abusive, disastrously impacting her life in many ways, least of which concern the sadomasochistic relationship she begins with her student, Walter Klemmer.
It’s a painful, merciless and ultimately devastating book about possession, repression and power, and although brilliantly frank, passionate and oftentimes humorous, “Die Klavierspielerin” is not for the faint of heart.
Die Klavierlehrerin Erika Kohut stürzt wie ein Wirbelsturm in die Wohnung, die sie mit ihrer Mutter teilt. Die Mutter nennt Erika gern ihren Wirbelwind, denn das Kind bewegt sich manchmal extrem geschwind.
Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian novelist and Nobel Prize winner for literature, whose razor sharp writing often explores female sexuality, gender relations and societal cliches.
4. Faserland - Christian Kracht
Christian Kracht’s debut novel, “Faserland” was one of the first books to trigger the German language wave of pop literature, which began in the 90’s.
It follows the aimless wanderings of a young man from a wealthy family, as he travels from Germany to Switzerland. On his journey, he visits unreliable friends and attends drug-fueled parties in a brand-saturated world, which he seems to waft through with a disturbing degree of self-destructive apathy.
Ultimately, the book paints a sober picture of a nihilistic generation of youth, struggling to find real meaning or happiness in their lives, as they continue to drink alcohol, take drugs and buy things.
A book commonly read in German classrooms, this is one of the less challenging options on our list, because of its straightforward, no-frills writing.
Also, es fangt damit an, daß ich bei Fisch-Gosch in List auf Sylt stehe und ein Jever aus der Flasche trinke. Fisch-Gosch, das ist eine Fischbude, die deswegen so berühmt ist, weil sie die nördlichste Fischbude Deutschlands ist.
Christian Kracht is a well-known Swiss author, whose books often follow the protagonist on some sort of journey. Along with his debut novel “Faserland”, Kracht’s other well-known novels include “Imperium” and “Eurotrash”.
5. Mephisto - Klaus Mann
A fascinating fictional tale about a real life villain, “Mephisto” is about the overambitious and amoral deeds of an actor, living and working during the Nazi period. A political satire, the book critiques the protagonist’s shameless opportunism as he works alongside the Nazi regime, purely for the professional success and power he hungers for and ultimately attains.
Interestingly, the novel was famously written with the real life “Gustaf Gründgens” in mind - an actor who became one of the most well-known and successful in Germany, throughout the Nazi period, and with whom author Klaus Mann had previous been in a relationship.
This is a novel for language learners and history fans alike!
In einem der westdeutschen Industriezentren sollen neulich über achthundert Arbeiter verurteilt worden sein, alle zu hohen Zuchthausstrafen, und das im Laufe eines einzigen Prozesses. Nach meinem Informationen sind es nur fünfhundert gewesen; über hundert andere hat man erst gar nicht abgeurteilt, sondern heimlich umbringen lassen, ihrer Gesinnung wegen.
Klaus Mann is a celebrated German writer, who lived and worked in Berlin as a reputable writer, until he fled the Nazi regime, but continued to write and publish, becoming one of the most important writers of literature by those living in exile during the Nazi period (called Exilliteratur). Mann also famously wrote and published one of the first German language novels about a homosexual, when he also publicly outed himself as gay, before the Nazis came to power. He was also the son of the literary heavyweight, Thomas Mann.
Reading Comprehension Tip
Why not try out this exercise, next time you challenge yourself to a piece of German literature: after each chapter, write a little summary of what you read about, in German.
By recalling what you have read, you will be able to see for yourself how much of the content you were truly able to comprehend and make sense of.
By writing in German, you’ll be using (hopefully) some of the new vocabulary picked up in the book. It's a simple and straightforward exercise, but very effective!