German Writers Every German Learner Should Know

Gunter Grass in New York City. Getty Images / Credit: Waring Abbott / Collection: Michael Ochs Archives

What is it that your German teacher always says? If you can’t speak, then read, read and read! Reading will help you tremendously in improving your language skills. And once you are able to read some of the great writers of German literature, you will understand German thought and culture more in depth. In my opinion, reading a translated work never equals the original in the language it was written in.

Here are a few German writers that have been translated in numerous languages and that have influenced people all over the world.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Schiller was one of the most influential German poets of the Sturm und Drang era. He ranks high up in German people’s eyes, alongside with Goethe. There’s even a monument depicting them side by side in Weimar. Schiller was successful in his writing from his very first publication on - Die Räuber (The Robbers) was a play written while he was at a military academy and quickly became renowed thoughout Europe. Initially Schiller had first studied to become a pastor, then became a regimental doctor for a short period, before finally devoting himself to writing and teaching as a professor of history and philosophy at the University of Jena. Later moving to Weimar, he founded with Goethe Das Weimar Theater, a leading theatre company at the time.

Schiller became part of a German Enlightment period, die Weimarer Klassik (the Weimar Classism), later on in his life, of which also famous writers such as Goethe, Herder and Wielandt were a part. They wrote and philosiphized about aesthetics and ethics, Schiller having penned an influential work entitled Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Beethoven famously set Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" in his ninth symphony. 

Günther Grass (1927)

Gunter Grass is one of Germany’s most notable writers currently living, whose work has garnered him a Nobel Prize of Literature. His most renowned work is his Danzig Trilogy Die Blechtrommel (The Tindrum), Katz und Maus (Cat and Mouse), Hundejahre (Dog Years), as well as his most recent one Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk). Born in the Free City of Danzig Grass has worn many hats: he’s been also a sculptor, graphic artist and illustrator. Further, throughout his life, Grass has always been outspoken about European political affairs, receiving the'2012 European of the Year' award from the European Movement Denmark . In 2006 Grass has received much attention from the media involving his participation in the Waffen SS as a teenager. He has also recently voiced his disapproval of facebook and other social media, stating that “anybody who has 500 friends, has no friends.”

Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908)

Wilhelm Busch is known as a pioneer of the comic strip, due to his caricature drawings that accompanied his verse. Among his most popular works are Max and Moritz, a children’s classic that recount the mischievous pranks of the aforesaid boys, a ballad that is often read and dramatized in German schools.
Most of Busch’s works are a satirical spin on practically everything in society! His works were often a parody of double standards. He poked fun at the ignorance of the poor, the snobbery of the rich, and in particular, the pomposity of clergymen. Busch was anti-Catholic and some of his works greatly reflected this . Scenes such as in Die fromme Helene, where it is hinted that the married Helene had an affair with a clergy man or the scene in Der Heilige Antonius von Padua where the catholic Saint Antonius is being seduced by the devil clad in ballet attire made these works by Busch both popular and offensive. Due to such and similar scenes, the book Der Heilige Antonius von Padua was banned from Austria until 1902.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Heinrich Heine was one of the most influential German poets in the 19th century that German authorities tried to suppress because of his radical political views. He is also known for his lyrical prose which was set to music of classical greats such as Schumann, Schubert and Mendelssohn in the form of Lieder form.

Heinrich Heine, a jew by birth, was born in Düsseldorf, Germany and was known as Harry until he converted to Christianity when he was in his twenties. In his work, Heine often ridiculed sappy romanticism and over exuberant portrayals of nature. Though Heine loved his German roots, he often critiqued Germany's contrasting sense of nationalism.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bauer, Ingrid. "German Writers Every German Learner Should Know." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bauer, Ingrid. (2020, August 26). German Writers Every German Learner Should Know. Retrieved from Bauer, Ingrid. "German Writers Every German Learner Should Know." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).