14 German Books for Beginners: Easy Novels and Novellas to Cut Your Teeth On
Literature is a great way to instantly immerse yourself in German culture and keep building up your grammar and vocabulary.
Read on to discover 14 easy German books—ranging from classic children’s tales to easier adult books—that will help make your German wunderbar.
- 1. “Emil und die Detektive”
- 2. “Tintenherz”
- 3. “Die unendliche Geschichte”
- 4. “Schachnovelle”
- 5. “Der Schwarm”
- 6. “Mario und der Zauberer”
- 7. “Krücke”
- 8. “Bergkristall”
- 9. “Münchhausens Abenteuer”
- 10. “Das doppelte Lottchen”
- 11. “Heidi”
- 12. “Bestattung eines Hundes”
- 13. “Dorfpunks”
- 14. “Tommy Jaud”
- How to Make the Most of Reading an Easy German Book
- Where Can You Find an Easy German Book?
- And One More Thing...
1. “Emil und die Detektive”
English Title: Emil and the Detectives
Author: Erich Kästner
“Emil und die Detektive” is a book from 1929 that follows the story of Emil, a boy who leaves a provincial German town and travels to Berlin with a small amount of money in his pocket. He is robbed on the train, and once he arrives in Berlin he must track down his stolen money with the help of a group of private eyes that call themselves The Detectives.
Besides being a classic German children’s story, this tale will provide you with a glimpse of Berlin at the time of the Weimar Republic, when the city was a capital of art, crime and cabaret. “Emil und die Detektive” is known for its realistic characters and unflinching descriptions of an often cruel and gritty world.
English Title: Inkheart
Author: Cornelia Funke
Originally from North Rhine-Westphalia, Funke now lives and writes in Beverly Hills. She’s known for her adventure and fantasy YA books.
As her stories are aimed at young adults, the language is easy to master. Plus, all of her books have been translated into English, so you could always grab an English copy as well, just in case you get bogged down in all the German.
Not sure which of Funke’s works to start with? Go for any of the books in Funke’s “Tintenherz” trilogy (the first book in this series was turned into a movie). They’ve all received glowing reviews from The New York Times Book Review.
3. “Die unendliche Geschichte”
English Title: The Unending Story
Author: Michael Ende
“Die unendliche Geschichte tells the tale of a young boy named Bastian who discovers a book in an antique store and becomes sucked into a fantastical tale that repeats itself over and over again.
The book was adapted into a famous American film in the 1980s. Although the film differs greatly from the book, if you’ve already seen it and are somewhat familiar with the story, this book could be a great choice for you to hone your German skills. It’s also ideal for anyone who likes fantastical literature and themes and would like to learn German vocabulary for words that often appear in Tolkien-esque realms.
English Title: Chess Novella
Author: Stefen Zweig
“Schachnovelle” is no children’s book; this novella delves into dark psychological and historical themes and was completed shortly before the author’s suicide in the 1940s. But Stefen Zweig is a famous writer, having published dozens of fiction and non-fiction works before his death, and this is still a classic of German literature.
As a novella, it’s manageable for language learners. The book follows the tale of a monarchist living in Austria shortly after the Nazi occupation; under the Nazis, supporters of the Habsburgs in Austria were persecuted and sentenced to death. The monarchist maintains his sanity only through losing himself in the world of chess.
This book is an ideal choice for anyone who wants to cross Zweig off their list of authors to read, or anyone who wants to learn about this dark period of German and Austrian history. It contains lots of vocabulary that involves psychology and psychiatry.
5. “Der Schwarm”
English Title: The Swarm
Author: Frank Schätzig
“Der Schwarm” is a modern book, published in 2004 and staying on the #1 bestseller list in Germany for eight months.
It’s an apocalyptic science fiction tale in which the earth’s marine creatures rise up against humans: Whales, undersea worms, jellyfish and sharks wreak havoc on humankind, until scientists discover that these creatures are being controlled by an unknown sentient entity called the “yrr.” A good choice for science fiction fans, fans of more modern literature or learners who want to study modern German dialogue and interactions.
6. “Mario und der Zauberer”
English Title: Mario and the Sorcerer
Author: Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann is one of the most famous and most prolific German authors. But “Mario und der Zauberer” is a novella, so if you want to take on something lighter but still say you’ve read Thomas Mann, this is the way to go. Besides, it’s a political allegory about the rise of fascism in the 1920s, so for the history buffs among you, this is an ideal read.
In the book, Mario, the narrator, describes a trip to Italy, where he meets a hypnotist named Cipolla, who uses his powers to control the people in a very fascist manner. This book is ideal for anyone interested in the politics or history of 1920s Europe, and will teach you plenty of historical and political vocabulary.
English Title: Crutch
Author: Peter Härtling
Peter Härtling is a renowned German children’s book author, but “Krücke” deals with anything but childish themes. This is a book about a nine-year-old named Thomas who loses his mother in the chaos of refugee life following the Second World War and must journey to his aunt’s house in Vienna.
Krücke paints a picture of life in this chaotic time, dealing with issues such as cities reduced to rubble by bomb attacks and the black market that sprang up in Europe in the wake of the war. Ideal for anyone interested in a portrayal of life at this crucial point in history, and like “Mario,” it teaches plenty of political and historical vocabulary.
English Title: Rock Crystal
Author: Adalbert Stifter
This is a classic Austrian novella about two village children lost on a glacier on Christmas Eve. It’s available simplified to an A2 level.
The book recounts a suspenseful story in which two children, Sanna and Konrad, attempt to travel home from their grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve, become lost in a snowstorm and spend the night in the wilderness wondering if they’ll ever see their family again.
This book will give you a taste of what life was like in the Austrian Alps in the 19th century—plus, it’ll teach you all the vocabulary you’ll need for traveling in Germany’s beautiful mountain regions.
9. “Münchhausens Abenteuer”
English Title: Munchausen’s Adventures
Author: G. A. Bürger
Ever heard of Münchhausen syndrome, the disorder where a person makes up fabulous lies about themselves for attention?
That syndrome was named after Baron Münchhausen, a fictional character based on a real baron and his exploits in the 17th century. In “Münchhausens Abenteuer,” which is available in level A1/A2, Münchhausen kills a lion by forcing a crocodile to eat it, hires a man who pulls down an entire forest with a rope and then travels the whole world. There’s never a dull moment in his tall tale style adventures.
10. “Das doppelte Lottchen”
English Title: Lottie and Lisa
Author: Erich Kästner
This book, about twins who are separated at birth, meet as young adults at summer camp, and scheme to get their parents back together, has inspired dozens of movie adaptations. In the original story, the twin girls, named Lottie and Lisa, come from Munich and Vienna, and switch places at the end of the summer so they can experience each others’ lives. Hijinks ensue.
Even if you never saw the 1998 movie “Parent Trap,” this story is sure to captivate your attention and your heart.
Author: Johanna Spyri
Remember the Shirley Temple film version of “Heidi”?
Whether you do or don’t, this classic story of a young girl named Heidi growing up in the Swiss mountains will certainly either remind you of childhood memories or introduce you to an integral classic German tale. Like “Bergkristall,” this story introduces plenty of vocabulary that’s sure to be helpful if you travel in one of the mountainous Germanic regions.
12. “Bestattung eines Hundes”
English Title: Funeral for a Dog
Author: Thomas Pletzinger
If you’re slightly apprehensive about the language gap between YA and adult fiction, Pletzinger is the author for you.
His innovative and prize-winning novel, “Bestattung eines Hundes” tells the story of a reclusive children’s author Dirk Svensson through a collection of easy-to-read postcards, letters and notes. An excellent book for those who love to travel. The intriguing plot changes setting often as the story travels across continents.
English Title: Village Punks
Author: Rocko Schamoni
Tobias Albrecht acts, makes music and writes under his pseudonym Rocko Schamoni. His books are often a tongue-in-cheek critique of modern society.
Schamoni’s writing is fast-paced yet uses straightforward language. He’s a great author for any level of German. His second novel, “Dorfpunks,” is an autobiographical tale about growing up in a small village and was a hit across Germany, so much so that it even got turned into a movie.
Once you’re done with the book, you can watch it on the big screen and try out your German listening skills. Another great thing about “Dorfpunks” is the fact that chapters are no longer than 4 pages. These bite-sized chunks are great when you need a quick burst of German reading practice.
14. “Tommy Jaud”
Title: Complete Fool
Author: Tommy Jaud
Der Spiegel has celebrated Jaud for bringing back German men’s novels.
What’s great about Jaud’s novels is that they’ve all been recorded as German audiobooks. If you’re not all that into picking up a book, you can always grab a copy of the audio version!
His critically acclaimed novel “Vollidiot” tells the story of unlucky-in-love Simon Peters as he tries to woo the girl of his dreams, often resulting in hilarious consequences.
This comical story has also been made into a movie with German comedian Oliver Pocher taking the lead role.
How to Make the Most of Reading an Easy German Book
Not all reading methods are created equal. Follow these tips to make sure you get the most out of your reading.
Use a German-to-German dictionary
It’s tempting to look up each and every word you don’t know using Google Translate, isn’t it? But by learning new words by translating them into English, you’re simply perpetuating your status as a beginning language learner. Using a German-to-German dictionary will help you learn the words within the context of the language, which will only improve your knowledge of Deutsch.
Learning a word in context can do wonders to help you remember it—but it’s even better if you hammer the word home by writing it down on a flashcard. If you make a vocabulary set from every book that you read, soon you’ll have a big stack (or a large file, if you’re using an app) of words to memorize and integrate into your vocabulary.
Learning how to read in German is essential, but so is learning how to comprehend. Find your book as an audiobook as well, and you’ll be able to listen to each chapter as you read it. If you listen after reading, you’ll already know the story, and it will be easier to understand what the narrator is saying in the audio version. This is a great way to hone your comprehension skills.
Many of the books introduced in the list below are available as audiobooks online (including “Mario und der Zauberer,” “Emil und die Detektive” and “Krücke.”
Practice with other resources
You don’t have to start from books when you’re first learning to read in German. In fact, you don’t even need to start from short stories.
You can start with a three-minute clip of authentic, subtitled German.
Watching videos and following along with the captions trains your reading skills. This way, every video you watch helps you to practice. (And this improves your listening comprehension, too).
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Where Can You Find an Easy German Book?
Don’t live near a German-language bookstore? Never fear. You can easily order books online.
Amazon.com and Amazon.de can deliver easy German books right to your doorstep.
If you’re keen on finding books digitally, or you’re trying to save money, read up on how to find free German e-books on Amazon and stock up your e-reader with Deutsch.
2. Galda + Leuchter
Galda + Leuchter is a Berlin, Germany and Madison, Wisconsin-based German books supplier. You can search their database and request that they deliver books to you.
3. Dussmann, das KulturKaufhaus
Bookstores are still a large part of the culture and everyday life in Germany, so if you want to support one of these institutions by shopping there, you can order e-books from Dussmann, a giant bookstore on Friedrichstrasse in the heart of Berlin. The store stocks a wide variety of German and English tomes (along with stationery and office supplies).
And for more enjoyable reading material, check out these German graphic novels!
Whether you decide to pick up one of these 14 books or to find your own book to learn German, you should get started on German reading as soon as possible, following the tips above to facilitate your learning process.
There’s nothing like reading fiction to jumpstart learning another language!
And One More Thing...
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