Looking for some juicy native reading content to sink your teeth into, but feeling overwhelmed and a little sweaty when Hegel’s “Phänomenologie des Geistes” comes to mind? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
It might not be time yet to tackle original texts on German idealism or any other chunky book for that matter, so why not start off with a tasty little German short story?
German Short Stories for Language Learning
Short stories are meant to be challenging but manageable, and importantly - rewarding, as you can burn through them quite quickly! Perfect for language learners at any level, there are fantastic, world-famous fairy and folktales for the beginner readers out there, and short but sparkling, literary gems of stories by Germany’s most accomplished writers for you to get your hands on.
If you need a little inspiration, we have put together a short list of ideas for German short stories that might interest you. Take a look!
1. Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin - Sharon Dodua Otoo
Helmut Gröttrup, in German history, was known as an engineer, who worked on rocket technology in Nazi Germany.
In Sharon Dodua Otoo’s critically acclaimed short story, the fictional Gröttrup is a retired, old man - set in his ways - whose life is suddenly flipped upside down, when he discovers that his breakfast boiled egg is too soft - what madness! Who is to blame?
Is it his wife, of whom we know so little about (don’t worry, Herr Gröttrup doesn’t seem to either), who made this so important and unforgivable mistake? What does the egg have to say about all this?
Yes, the story is also written from the perspective of the egg!
By utilising this creative and curious point of view, Otoo explores and exposes Herr Gröttrups entitlement and narrow-mindedness.
A fascinating story about social and domestic hierarchies, that strikes a hot and pulsing cultural nerve, “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin” is another highly recommended short story on our list.
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. “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin” was her first published short story in German, for which she was awarded the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.
2. Der kleine Herr Friedemann - Thomas Mann
The late 19th Century brought about the literary movement “Naturalism”, which stiffly rejected Romanticism (which was emotional, idealised nature and was suspicious of science), and instead embraced a pessimistic view of nature as hostile and indifferent, often describing miserable circumstances with a certain detachment.
In the same vein, Thomas Mann’s short story “Der kleine Herr Friedemann”, is about a man committed to devoting his life to his interests in art and nature, as replacements for romantic love, when a sudden and surprising attachment to a woman sends him spiralling into anxiety and madness.
A thought provoking, exciting and often quite funny story, reading “Der kleine Herr Friedemann” is a fantastic way to take your first step into the literary world of German literary giant, Thomas Mann.
Thomas Mann was a prolific writer, and one of the most well-known and celebrated figures in German literature, winning the Nobel prize in literature in 1929. He lived and worked mostly in cities of Lübeck and Munich, before fleeing Germany to Switzerland and the US, to escape the Nazi regime. From there, he continued to write and publish his work, becoming an important contributor to “Exilliteratur” - German literature written by those who fled the country during the Nazi period, and became an outspoken, public critic of Hitler. His most critically acclaimed and successful books, now regarded as classics, include: “The Magic Mountain”, and “Buddenbrooks”.
3. Saisonbeginn - Elisabeth Langgässer
This short story is a notable work of German literature, in that it belonged to German literary movement: Trümmerliteratur.
A literary movement which started soon after the end of World War Two, that focused on depicting the experiences of war and post-war life, from the perspectives of average people; depicting the hardships average people faced returning from war to rubbled cities, and taking responsibility for the part they played in it.
"Saisonbeginn" was written about the anti-semitism of a small town in Germany, shown through the action of hanging a sign forbidding Jews at the town entrance, in preparation for the tourist season, and observes the revealing ways the townspeople react to it.
Elizabeth Langgässer was an author and teacher who was classified as a “half-Jew” during the Nazi period and for this reason fell victim to the Nazi racial laws, losing her position in the Reich Chamber of Literature, for example, and experiencing the deportation of her fifteen year old Jewish daughter to a concentration camp (thankfully, Cordelia Edvardson survived and became an author herself).
4. Hänsel und Gretel - die Gebrüder Grimm
One of the Grimm Brothers’ most famous children's fairy tales, “Hänsel und Gretel”, takes place - of course - in a dark and foreboding forest.
When two young siblings are cruelly abandoned in the woods, they try in vain to find a way back home, until they stumble across that infamous house so many of us have heard being described as a child; a mouth-watering house made of gingerbread, sugar panes and cake, and owned by a waiting, watching, blood-thirsty witch.
If you'd like to read this very fairy tale in German, why not do so in our
fairy tale reading course
Do you remember what happens next? …What the witch looks like? … that there’s a duck involved in all this?!
We didn’t either, until we read the story again, but this time in the original German version.
A well-loved classic fairy tale, filled to the brim with helpful, everyday terms and expressions, we’d recommend this short story to German learners at any level, but in particular any first time readers of adult German literature (when you’re passed the Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt phase).
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.
5. Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch - Wolfgang Borchert
A particularly well-known and well-regarded example of Trümmerliteratur (see Saisonbeginn - Elisabeth Langgässer for more about this literary movement), Wolfgang Borchert’s story about the tragic loss of childhood during wartime takes place amongst the ruins of a German city that was destroyed due to the events of the war.
There, a young boy has given himself the responsibility of keeping guard of the body of his even younger brother, which has been buried in the rubble, for fear of the rats getting to it, until an older man approaches him to offer his help and protection.
The story is written in a simple, clear-cut and direct fashion, characteristic of the writing of the literary movement, and makes for less challenging, straight forward reading for advanced-beginner to intermediate German learners. In fact, Borchert’s simple yet significant and intelligent writing has led to his works being popularly read amongst young students in German schools, across the country.
Wolfgang Borchert was a reputable writer, whose work has made him an important figure in the “Trümmerliteratur” movement, which began just after the end of World War Two. During the war, he reportedly held an Anti-Nazi position, before he began service in the Wehrmacht, and was sent to the Eastern Front to fight. His first hand experiences and participation in the war largely influenced his work, which cast a humanistic light on the horrors that war brings.