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15 Influential German Authors

Whether you’re a German language learner or not, you’re no doubt aware of the profundity of German literature. Throughout its expansive history, Germany and German-speaking countries have been host to a number of writing prodigals who have made, and continue to make, their impact in the literary world.

In this post, we’ll go over 15 of such talents—famous German authors known well within their homes and abroad.


1. Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877 — August 9, 1962)

Recommendations: “Siddhartha”, “Der Steppenwolf” (Steppenwolf)

Those who knew Hermann Hesse in his formative years would know of his rebellious and non-conformist streak. He wasn’t shy to profess his opinions, whether it concerned the rigid school system or the tide of German nationalism during the world wars.

His poems and novels make clear his drive to figure out the meaning and value of the self, as well as his underlying philosophy that one should chase their destiny and be open to transformation. Many have found his works to be timeless in their ability to uplift and provoke thought.

2. Franz Kafka (July 3, 1883 — June 3, 1924)

Recommendations: “Die Verwandlung” (The Metamorphosis), “Der Process” (The Trial)

Born in Prague to an upper middle-class Jewish family within the Ghetto, Franz Kafka lived a troubled existence which inevitably helped to craft a style so unique that it birthed a term encompassing an individual genre.

A Kafkaesque scenario is described to be nightmarishly surreal and disorienting. Fewer adjectives can do better to describe Kafka’s published works, which vividly reflect the turmoil and discontent the young author felt during his own waking life.

Kafka’s ability to expressively capture the depths of the anxious psyche have been a source of inspiration for many subsequent writers and artists.

3. Thomas Mann (June 6, 1875 — August 12, 1955)

Recommendations: “Doktor Faustus” (Doctor Faustus), “Der Zauberberg” (The Magic Mountain)

Novelist, essayist and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, Thomas Mann claimed to have loathed school, and perhaps his genius in the craft of writing was fully borne away from the walls of the classroom.

Fiercely creative and philosophical, Mann wrote works that reflected not just his shifting dispositions but also the changing tides of the surrounding culture and environment.

The many historical events that occurred during his lifetime, including both World Wars, certainly have affected his writing style and topics. His works have been described to be humorous, ironic and satirical.

4. Michael Ende (November 12, 1929 — August 28, 1995)

Recommendations: “Die unendliche Geschichte” (The Neverending Story), “Momo”

Born in a highly artistic family, it was probably written in stone that Michael Ende would end up being a creative force. A writer primarily focused on fantasy and children’s fiction, Michael Ende had a keen eye for creating epic stories that still appealed to the childish whims inside all of us.

It’s likely that many of us haven’t gone through our younger years without having at least skimmed through Ende’s biggest hit, “The Neverending Story.” But what makes Ende’s writing stand out is that, despite its ability to take us away into imaginative worlds, it frequently encourages the reader to consider the “reality” behind them.

5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749 — March 22, 1832)

Recommendations: “Faust”, “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers” (The Sorrows of Young Werther)

It’s near impossible to discuss German literature without at least mentioning the legendary Goethe. Commonly considered the German Shakespeare, Goethe contributed a litany of poems and stories that reflected the zeitgeist of his time.

In his younger years, he was part of the Pre-Romantic sturm und drang movement in Germany. He later shifted closer to the ideals of the Enlightenment era. It’s clear in his strong, impactful writings that Goethe was very much invested in the workings of society and human consciousness.

It wouldn’t be quite right to just define Goethe as a “writer,” as he was also a scientist, statesman, artist and social critic, a multifaceted tour de force whose impact still lingers heavily today.

6. Wolfgang Hohlbein (August 15, 1953 —)

Recommendations: “Märchenmond” (Magic Moon), “Am Abgrund”

Wolfgang Hohlbein pursued his literary ambitions early on in his life. At the age of 15, he was already writing short stories. In 1982, he was officially recognized as an author after a manuscript written by both him and his wife won a science fiction writing contest.

His works, which are sometimes collaborative efforts with his spouse, primarily focus on the genres of fantasy and sci-fi with elements of horror, and he’s currently known as one of the most popular and successful German fantasy writers today. Unfortunately, not much of his published work has been translated into English as of 2024.

7. Frank Schätzing (May 28, 1957 —)

Recommendations: “Der Schwarm” (The Swarm), “Tod und Teufel” (Death and the Devil)

Born in Cologne, Frank Schätzing was involved in the advertising industry before plunging into the world of published literature. His most successful work is “The Swarm,” a science-fiction thriller inspired by the real-life death of a German architect.

His works are known for being thorough, logical and well-researched, with satire and humor woven into the script. As of 2024, he’s considered a typical German bestseller with plenty of native fans.

8. Günter Grass (October 16, 1927 — April 13, 2015)

Recommendations: “Die Blechtrommel” (The Tin Drum), “Der Butt” (The Flounder)

Günter Grass was actually an artist first before becoming a writer, having been a sculptor before diving more fully into the writing sphere.

Considered a literary representative of the Nazi-era German population, Günter Grass strongly focused on political themes in all his works, presenting both his opinions and his perceptions of the shifting society around him.

His beliefs did make him a controversial figure at times, but it’s undeniable that his fierce expressionism was impactful in their depth and reach. His writing exhibits colorful prose and clear interest in classic German tales.

9. Cornelia Funke (December 10, 1958 —)

Recommendations: “Tintenherz” (Inkheart), “Herr der Diebe” (The Thief Lord)

Commonly referred to as the “German J.K. Rowling,” Cornelia Funke is best known for writing children’s fantasy and fiction. Many of Cornelia Funke’s works have been translated into multiple languages and are well-known in parts of the world outside of Germany.

Indeed, although her books are catered to younger audiences, her descriptive writing and worldcrafting still appeals to older readers. Her former experience as a social worker is said to have influenced her approach to the young protagonists of her stories, considering both their unique capabilities and weaknesses.

10. Herta Müller (August 17, 1953 —)

Recommendations: “Atemschaukel” (The Hunger Angel), “Herztier” (The Land of Green Plums)

Herta Müller was born in Niczkydorf, a German-speaking village within communist Romania, during a period of instability and Herta Müller was quick to find a spark in her political expression.

Her works boldly dive into the effects of social corruption and insecurity, with frequent references to actual events she had experienced or witnessed. Her prose has been described as poetic and sophisticated, bearing a fearlessness that speaks to her own sense of character. Fittingly, she won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

11. Heinrich Böll (December 21, 1917 — July 16, 1985)

Recommendations: “Der Zug war pünktlich” (The Train Was on Time), “Ansichten eines Clowns” (The Clown)

Having experienced the traumas of war as both soldier and prisoner, Heinrich Böll certainly had much to say about the grim realities of his landscape. Starting first with short stories before moving onto longer novels, he expressed his clear anti-war stance in a realistic, ironic and elegant manner.

His commitment to this mission made him become a leading moral spokesperson for the trials and tribulations of World War II-era Germany.

12. Wolfgang Herrndorf (June 12, 1965 — August 26, 2013)

Recommendations: “Tschick” (Why We Took the Car), “Arbeit und Struktur”

A writer and a painter, Woflgang Herrndorf published his first novel in 2002. Before then, he was mostly involved in illustrative and blog work. His first major success was his bestselling novel “Tschick,” which was published following his diagnosis of a brain tumor.

After his death in 2013, a sequel to it was posthumously released. Herrndorf’s writing has been praised for being witty and organic, retaining a humor well-appreciated by modern readers.

13. Sibylle Berg (June 2, 1962 —)

Recommendations: “GRM: Brainf*ck” (Grime), “RCE”

An activist, musician, playwright and prolific writer, Swiss-German Sibylle Berg is an intense creative force and is widely considered an icon for German LGBT culture.

With their writing having been translated in over 30 languages, it’s no exaggeration to say that they’re one of the most prolific German writers in today’s times.

Much of their written work is concerned with the oddities of political and cultural landscapes, and they’ve been highly recognized for carrying radical, dramatic and provocative tones that resonate with many in the contemporary era.

14. Sebastian Fitzek (October 13, 1971 —)

Recommendations: “Die Therapie” (Therapy), “Das Paket” (The Package)

Before becoming a writer, Sebastian Fitzek explored a few non-literary paths, including that of law and veterinary medicine. He ultimately ended up in the creative field, starting with radio entertainment, before publishing his first novel in 2006.

It was then that Fitzek made his mark as a bestselling thriller writer. His writing style has been described as craftily simple with a knack for cleverly enhancing the eeriness of the plot’s confusing events.

15. Christa Wolf (March 18, 1929 — December 1, 2011)

Recommendations: “Kassandra” (Cassandra), “Der geteilte Himmel” (The Divided Sky)

It’s significant to note that Christa Wolf is considered an East German writer. Her early years were spent in what was once East Germany, and her published works reflect the political climate surrounding her.

Her influence was substantial during these times, and she wasn’t a stranger to either praise or criticism. She also worked as a screenwriter, even helping to bring to life one of her own novels to the cinema.

Even after the many changes experienced by her country and its culture, it’s evident that Wolf still cared deeply for it as even her last few works still made them relevant. Now, her writing is lauded as poignant narrative artifacts critical to postwar Germany.


By reading any of the stories and books created by these 15 German authors, you can gain a good understanding and appreciation of what makes German literature so special.

If you’re a particularly ambitious language student, you may even wish to read these works in their original language as fantastic German writing and reading practice.

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