How difficult is Kafka in German?

How difficult is reading Kafka in German? Can a beginner read Kafka as their first novel? We'll answer these questions (and have a look at some text passages) in this blog post.

blogkafkareading
01.12.2023

As a language learning platform with a particular focus on German reading & learning the language through curious content, one question that we get quite a lot is how difficult it is to read German classics.

And one name that comes up particularly often is that of Franz Kafka.

But how difficult or easy is Kafka really?

How difficult is Kafka in German?

A lot of learners would like to at some point read their first German novel that's not a children's book, so they'll start looking for beginner books or easy novels that might fit the bill.

In this context, Kafka seems to be recommended surprisingly often. And indeed, the very first sentence of Kafka's Metamorphosis seems easy enough:

Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigenuneasy Träumen erwachteawoke, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheurentremendous Ungeziefervermin verwandelttransformed.

When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Sure, this is not an easy sentence. But there is also nothing incredibly difficult about it. The sentence structure is very straightforward and the most difficult vocabulary item in the sentence is probably the word Ungeziefer.

Easy right?

But Wait A Second...

But wait!

Before we stop here and conclude that reading Kafka is a walk in the park, let's at least have a look at the second sentence.

Er lag auf seinem panzerartig harten Rücken und sah, wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob, seinen gewölbten, braunen, von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch, auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke, zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit, kaum noch erhalten konnte.

He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly stay in place and was about to slide off completely.

Easy? Well, no.

This sentence is by no means beginner-friendly.

I think the reason why people recommend Kafka to beginners comes down to what exactly is being recommended.

If you ask me what German classics are the most accessible for beginners, my answer will be very different to my answer to the question about the easiest German crime novels.

Of the classics, Kafka is probably on the easier side. But the easiest German classic is probably still going to be more difficult than then easiest German detective novel.

Now, I am not saying that you shouldn't try to read Kafka. Compared to other German classics, Kafka really is one of the easier German writers out there.

I am just saying that it doesn't make a great first novel for beginners who want to start reading and get some comprehensible input (for this, we recommend our simple German stories or our online German lessons). This is why we haven't included Kafka's Metamorphosis in our blog post on German beginner books (but he did make it into our list of intermediate German books).

But even for intermediate learners, Kafka won't be a walk in the park. There will be sentences that will confuse you.

Easy Kafka Quotes (in German)

Well after just talking about how difficult Kafka is and how you shouldn't read the metamorphosis as your first novel, let's end this blog post on a more positive and opimistic note, with some Kafka quotes that are actually rather easy to understand.

Let's have a look now at some Kafka quotes that beginners can understand.

Questions & Answers

Here are a few more questions and answers about reading Kafka in German. If you have any more questions, send us an email.

How difficult is Kafka in German (for German learners)?
Let's be honest here. Kafka can be a bit challenging for German learners. His works are known for their intricate writing style and deep themes. But fear not! With some practice and perseverance, you can soon start reading some Kafka!
Can I read Kafka as a beginner?
As a beginner, diving straight into Kafka might be like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool. We recommend starting with simpler texts and gradually working your way up to Kafka's works. But once you have some reading under your belt, Kafka shouldn't be all too difficult.
What German level do you need to read Kafka?
To fully appreciate Kafka's genius, a solid intermediate German level would be ideal. His writing often contains complex vocabulary and sentence structures. But don't let that discourage you! Even if you're not there yet, you can still enjoy his works with the help of parallel texts and other resources.
How long does it take to read Metamorphosis Kafka for German learners?
It can take some time for German learners to finish Metamorphosis. Depending on your reading speed and comprehension, it might take a few weeks or so. Just remember, it's not a race. Take your time and savor the journey!
Is Metamorphosis easy to read for German learners?
'Easy' might not be the right word, but 'Metamorphosis' is one of Kafka's more accessible works. It's a great starting point for German learners. Just be prepared for some mind-bending twists and turns along the way!
How do I best start reading Kafka in the original German?
To embark on your Kafka adventure in the original German, we suggest starting with shorter works like 'Die Verwandlung' (The Metamorphosis) or even some of his short stories. Consider using parallel text editions or annotated versions to help you navigate through Kafka's unique style.
What grade level is Kafka's Metamorphosis?
If we had to assign a grade level to 'Metamorphosis,' it would probably be intermediate (B1, B2). It contains some challenging vocabulary, complex sentence structures, and thought-provoking themes.
What Kafka book should I start with?
As a beginner, we recommend starting with 'Die Verwandlung' (The Metamorphosis). It's one of Kafka's most famous works and a fantastic entry point. Once you've conquered that, you'll feel more confident to explore his other works.
Did Kafka write in antiquated / old German?
No, Kafka didn't write in antiquated or old German. He wrote in a quite modern form of German. However, keep in mind that his writing style can feel unique and sometimes challenging even for native German speakers and there are words in his works that aren't used as much nowadays (though really not too many).
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