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Sara Marsh @smarshymarsh
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THREAD. Hi! Are you learning German? Have you ever wondered what you could read to help you expand your German-language and culture skills?? If so, read on for a list of #topbooksforGermanlearners! #lernendurchlesen #lesenlernenliteratur #deutschlernen #DaF #lesenistleben
1/ Some background. I’m a German teacher/PhD student at @UWaterloo. I chose works based on 1) appropriateness for learners 2) variety of genres/forms 3) importance to German-speaking culture(s) & 4) variety of topics (hopefully) interesting for you! #lernendurchlesen
2/ All were originally in German, tho you may recognize a few worldwide hits. This isn’t to say don't read works translated into German, it’s actually a great language learning strategy! #HPorLOTRaufdeutschmachtspaß. A few further ideas here #lernendurchlesen
3/ None are ‘easy readers’ specially for learners or simplified classics (not subject of this thread). Rather they've been written for (and enjoyed by) German-speakers. This is so you can get a taste of German & see how you CAN enjoy German in the original! #lernendurchlesen
4/ The works touch on a wide range of themes/time periods, & since I intend this list for college/adult learners, any children’s books can be enjoyed by all ages. Sometimes authors are listed with e.g.s of other recommended works. HM=Honourable Mention. #lernendurchlesen
5/ Many have important cultural context to consider (e.g. a few relate to WWII or Holocaust), and thus should be approached critically and with an open mind. Doing your own research on the political/social/historical context & reception/debates is encouraged! #lernendurchlesen
6/ Works are divided into categories, ranked approx. from easiest to hardest. Whatever level you’re at, works lower down the list should still be of interest (hopefully)! #lernendurchlesen
7/ Lastly, remember you DON’T need to understand every word when reading!! #justkeepreadingreadingreading! Some great tips here: and a few more: #lernendurchlesen
8/ PART 1: Children & Youth Literature. Books for young people are a great way to get into German. They are often accessible and fun to read. As someone once said, you might even forget you’re “supposed to be learning”! #lernendurchlesen
9/ First, some shorter works to get you started! They explore themes like the search for identity, embarrassment and confidence, and childhood pranks; Some use rhymes but most are prose; Some famous characters of Kinderliteratur are to be found here. Hint:
1.1 „Das kleine ich bin ich“ by Mira Lobe (1972). This classic picture book about a small, nameless animal’s search for identity has been a world-wide best-seller and translated into many languages. The vocab is easy, but the rhymes add some challenge too!
1.2 „Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat“ by Erlbruch/Holzwarth (1989). This cute tale of a little mole who investigates who “went” on his head became a unexpected runaway hit. Now a staple of Kindertheater everywhere
1.3 „Max und Moritz: Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen“ by W. Busch (1865). This illustrated rhyming (and blackly humorous) story about two mischievous boys who play pranks, & considered an early form of comic, is a classic bedtime story to this day
1.4 „Oh wie schön ist Panama“ by Janosch (1978). One of his many well-loved tales, reminiscent of "Oh the places you'll go"&"Where the wild things are”: bear and tiger adventure to their banana-filled dream land, learning important lessons along the way
1.5 “Alarm im Kasperletheater” by Werner/Behling (1958). This book, still popular in eastern Germany and made into a film, is a GDR classic. When the little devil steals Oma’s bday pancakes, chaos ensues! Behling was also a caricaturist and satirist.
10/ The next works are longer and meant for older children or teens. They have more complex language but still entertaining and meaningful stories. In this category you will encounter stories of crime; witches, ghosts, & robbers; and friendship amid persecution. #lernendurchlesen
1.6 „Emil und die Detektive“ by E. Kästner (1929). Set in pre-war Berlin, a capital of art, crime & cabaret, this novel follows Emil, who is drawn into intrigue when his $ is stolen on the train. With realistic characters + gritty details, its a must-read!
1.7 „Die kleine Hexe“ by Otfried Preußler (1957). This book, translated into 47 languages since the 1950s, is one of several excellent children’s novels by Preußler (HMs: “Das kleine Gespenst”, “der Räuber Hotzenplotz” and “Krabat”).
The titular little witch wants to be allowed to fly with her coven on Walpurgis night, but disobeys in her eagerness to join the festivities. The story follows her quest to be a “gute Hexe”. Will she make the cut? You’ll have to read on the find out!
1.8 „Damals war es Friedrich“ by H.P. Richter (1961). The narrator and his Jewish friend Friedrich grow up in pre/WWII Cologne. Addressing the slow drip/everyday nature of persecution of Jewish families, this novel is a German high school staple. HM in pic
11/ The last set of works are advanced, i.e. longer, some meant for YA/College. More advanced grammar/vocab and plots/timelines but very worthwhile reads! Read on for fairy tales, social critique, battles against evil, and imaginative tales defying time & space #lesendurchlesen
1.9 Die komplette Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Die Brüder Grimm (1812-1815). The famous collection of fairy tales, which includes favs like Cinderella, Dornröschen and Hänsel und Gretel, have had a huge influence on world culture, from Disney to their darker use as Nazis propaganda
Not as easy as they seem, but well worth reading in German, and familiarity helps. In addition to the darker originals of well-known tales are many, many more – waiting to be discovered! Complete:, "Schönste":
1.10 „Die unendliche Geschichte“ by Michael Ende (1979). Did you know the film “The Neverending Story” was based on a German teen fantasy novel? By the excellent and prolific writer Ende, it tells of a teen getting sucked into an ever-repeating fantastical tale in an old book...
& is quite different to film. Worth reading especially if you want to improve your Tolkienesque vocab. Also highly recommended by Ende: “Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer“ und „Momo“
12/ Worth giving a side note here about outdated and racist/racialized language (e.g. 'Neger'), which are used in some of the books above, and about which there are debates (e.g. see for short overview). I've still chosen them since a) I feel we shouldn't
...wash away history, and these works show where some modern day ideas and perceptions of black people/POC come from in Germany b/c b) they're very well-known works, c) most have expired copyright, thus no more profit being made, and most important d) I don't feel (though this...
... is admittedly my own perception, and I am open to feedback), that they portray POC in negative light / this is not part of the narrative. Rather, I see it as insensitive uses of terms, which can be replaced without changing meaning of the story (see link above for egs.).
One last link: Thanks for reading! Now back to the last few works in PART 1. PART 2 will be posted tomorrow! #lernendurchlesen
1.11 „Tintenherz“ by C. Funke (2003). One of the newest books on this list, it tells of a girl & her father who can make characters come alive just by reading aloud – needless to say (like Jumanji) chaos/adventure follows! 1st in a trilogy & filmed in 2008
1.12 „Tschick” by W.Herrndorf (2010). 2 teens steal an old Lada & road trip thru the country; an instant hit due 2 universal themes: friendship, intercultural encounters, growing up. It’s “wonderfully balanced, simple language” =great for advanced learners
1.13 „Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee“ by T.Brussig (1999). This sometimes nostalgic & ironic story tells of Micha growing up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Quite advanced language, but especially suited 2 get familiar with dialect/speech of Berlin/DDR
13/ PART 2 – Poetry. It might seem overwhelming, but delving into poetry can help you experience German’s linguistic beauty: one word can mean so much! That’s why reading short texts intensively can be so rewarding; re-reading and contemplation foster learning. #lernendurchlesen
14/ There’s a long tradition of German poetry, but here’re some classics on every-day themes like animals, bedtime and seasons to get you started. Stay tuned for a special book recommendation and remember: take your time and read aloud! #lernendurchlesen
2.1 „Otto Mops“ & „Fünfter sein“ by E.Jandl (1963-68). This Austrian known for his experimental poems is great for beginners. The 1 about Otto’s pug is funny (+pronunciation practice!) + check out Fünfter sein (&book), about fear of waiting at the doctor's
2.2 “Alle Vögel Sind Schon Da” by Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1835). This poem about singing birds (hint: learn the German word for “to twitter”!) became a well-known folk song, meaning you can sing along!
2.3 "Mailied" by J. W. v. Goethe (1771). This romantic poem on the joys of Spring, incl. the intertwined blooming of nature & love, uses accessible & beautiful language. One of the famous Goethe’s earliest successes, it inspired composers like Beethoven
2.4 „Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend“ by H.Heine (1823–1824). Many of Heine's poems gained fame through musical renditions (Lieder), incl. this, which paints image of a mystical summer twilight. Lang. is more complex but brevity means still good 4 beginners
2.5 „Abendlied“ by M. Claudius (1779). Surprisingly found to be the most pop. German poem ever (, stanzas 1-3+7 of this lullaby/bedtime song are especially well-known. More challenging due to length/structure, but singing it helps!
15/ The next poems are Novice->Advanced & address complex themes: life & death; religion, myth, heroism, betrayal & revenge; German nationalism, nation-building & identity; & remembering/processing the horror and death of genocide that came in part from latter #lernendurchlesen
2.6 “Die Lore-ley” by Heine(1824). Based on the myth (mermaid luring sailors to ruin on the Rhein cliff), this famous poem, popularized by Schilcher’s tune ( into a lyrical song of woe, has spread worldwide
A few links to musical translations/adaptations of the Loreley song, since they are simply so much fun and have appeared in many languages and genres:,,,,
2.7 "Prometheus" by Goethe (1789). This rebellious allegorical poem spoken by Prometheus (giver of fire to humans in defiance of Zeus --> enabler of civilization) to God/Zeus, explores humanity's attempts to be free of conventional religious strictures
15/ Special Tip! Excellent book that incl. many poems in this thread, along w/ others by Brecht, Busch, Ende, Fontane, Grimms, Kästner, Morgernstern, Rilke, Ringelnatz, Eichendorff &c-“Dunkel war's, der Mond schien helle” 1999 ed. Jacoby&Berner. Highly recommend!#lernendurchlesen
2.8 „Todesfuge“ by P.Celan (1948) thematizes the Holocaust; using repetition & variation like a dirge/fugue, it powerfully portrays the everyday monotony & horror of death in a KZ, contrasting treatment of ‘ashen’-haired Sulamith & golden-haired Margarete.
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