The short story.
What a beautiful thing.
From “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” short stories pack beautiful writing into a smaller amount of pages, enabling readers to get their fix without forcing them to commit a significant amount of time.
They provide the same convenience for German language learners as well: a shortcut to fluency.
That’s because Germans have plenty of quick tales about love, war, triumph and heartbreak, all of which connect you with the cultural aspects of the German people, while also providing a quick language lesson for learners of all ages.
The point of a short story is to grab your attention from the start and bring you into a world for anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple hours.
That’s why we compiled some of our favorite German short stories for beginners. The Internet is filled with short stories, but these choices have purpose and meaning. They are known for their enchanting story lines, along with their ease for beginners.
Keep reading to find a handful of short stories that are bound to remain in your collection for years to come. Heck, you can even get through most of them in the time it will take you to read a full blog post like this.
Why Are Short Stories Ideal for German Learning?
The primary benefit of reading a short story for learning German is because they don’t take too long for you to read. Whether you’re taking a lunch break at work or you have a short train ride back home, you can fit them in every day, and jump to a new story on your next break.
It’s similar to the way you can use a learning app, like FluentU, to learn in short bits of idle time.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
And all that learning adds up. The reading practice you’ll get from following the interactive German captions on FluentU is a great way to practice reading in German—just like the practice you get from reading short stories.
In addition to wanting to learn in shorter bursts, beginners often find it difficult to follow along with story lines when written in German. Therefore, long books could be tricky. The short story removes the need to follow a long story line, making room for translation checks and breaks to understand what’s going on.
Many short story books also offer compilations, so you get a collection of reads, minimizing the need to keep buying or scrounging for your next adventure.
Finally, quite a few of these short stories are posted for free online. Whether they’re public domain, or the author shared them with the world, you can quickly download the PDF or place a story on your Kindle without spending any money.
Shortcut to Fluency: 5 German Short Stories for Beginners
1. “Learn German with Stories: Café in Berlin”
To start, we have a collection of short stories that engages the reader and continues your learning with a series of shorts, one after another. Each story follows a guy who comes to Berlin from Sicily, trying to figure out where he fits in and how he can get past the struggles of being in a new country.
We enjoy this story because it places you in the shoes of a Berlin newcomer, broadening your views on the German culture and deepening your understanding of Germany’s capital city. The book focuses on simple German sentences and basic vocabulary, so you’ll rarely get lost or confused along the way. In addition, a German dictionary sits at the end of each story to cover the more difficult words and walk you through without any problems.
2. “Die Küchenuhr” (The Kitchen Clock)
“Die Küchenuhr,” by Wolfgang Borchert, gives you a unique perspective on the German world, since it’s extremely popular in Germany, and many young school children are advised to read the story. (It’s similar to something like “Huckleberry Finn” in the United States.)
Seeing as how the Nazis dominate most of the conversation about Germans in World War II, it’s not often we stop to realize that millions of regular German people were victims as well. This short story offers it from the perspective of a 20-year-old man who lost his home and family after it got bombed in a British air raid.
In the remains, he finds a kitchen clock, which reminds him of his mother and pushes him through this hard time. In terms of learning German, the sentences are simple and to the point, and the story provides great practice on the German past tense.
3. “Auf Der Flucht” (On the Run)
This short story was written by Wolfdietrich Schnurre, and it’s about a man and his family who are forced to abandon their homeland and flee through a barren landscape. The dad leads the way, but he questions his loyalty when he finds a loaf of bread, since he’s been starving for so long. It’s believed to have been written around 1945, and it presents an interesting look into the human condition, and how people respond during desperate times.
The short sentences are wonderful for beginners, and the vocabulary offers a solid look into some emotions and thoughts that may occur when you are sad or distraught. It’s also worth pointing out that the story is written in the past tense and several short lines of dialogue are included for you to see how Germans interact with each other.
4. “Aus eines Taugenichts” (The Broommaker of Rychiswyl)
“Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts” is written in somewhat of a parable format, where there’s a clear moral of the story about how money isn’t going to bring you happiness. The story follows a younger boy who eventually grows old enough to start making his own money. A local farmer suggests that he start making brooms with some extra supplies in the farm, so the boy learns about working hard, cherishing what is important and being responsible with his money.
Here’s the English version for you to jump back and see if you were able to read through the story without any problems. You’ll notice in the translation that several themes are covered to strengthen your vocabulary. For example, mentions of God, the bible and other facets of religion are sprinkled throughout the text. In addition, quite a few unique words expand your knowledge of the language, such as außerordentlich (exceptionally), Kornfelder (cornfields) and Kammerjungfer (maid).
5. “Das Bettelweib von Locarno” (The Beggar Woman of Locarno)
“Das Bettelweib von Locarno” is about a nobleman who housed a beggar woman in his estate. The woman eventually dies in that room from slipping and falling, but people start reporting that the room is haunted when the nobleman tries to sell the estate.
You’ll find a wide range of interesting new vocabulary words that help you expand your German language knowledge. For example, the following words are introduced that many beginners may not be familiar with: der Augenblick (the moment), Herzklopfen (palpitation), gespensterartig (ghost-like) and kaltblütig (cold blooded).
We recommend trying to read the story once, then look at the English translation for any words you couldn’t understand. You’ll notice that some of the sentences are longer than some beginners might be accustomed to, but the words are fairly simple, so it gives you solid practice with independent and dependent clauses.
The world of short stories presents a wonderful opportunity to quickly get through a title within a reasonable amount of time. You don’t have to completely understand the plot line before diving into the tale, and it allows you to jump through the story or even look for a quick translation online to reference some of the tougher words. Enjoy!
And One More Thing...
Want to know the key to learning German effectively?
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