Learning German with textbooks and worksheets only gets you so far. After a while, you need to start putting the pieces together by speaking to people, watching German movies, reading blogs and newspapers or German short stories. Once you feel comfortable reading shorter pieces, it’s time to progress to book-length reading materials. Today, I’d like to present five German novels and novellas which are both great stories and relatively easy to read for beginners and intermediate German learners.

As a bonus, many of these classic German novels are available as audiobooks and partly available on Youtube, so you can get a first impression of the stories by listening to the narrated editions embedded below.

Note: While none of these novels are specifically designed for learners, they are still among the more accessible (modern) literary classics. If you’re looking for German stories that include vocabulary and are written with the learner in mind, take a look at our German learning library.

Die Verwandlung – “Metamorphosis”, by Franz Kafka

First published in 1915 and considered one of the most important 20th century works of fiction, this German novella by Franz Kafka is still studied in schools and universities worldwide. Contrary to many older German literary classics, Kafka’s prose is relatively simple and easy to read for German learners due to its clear (i.e. relatively short) sentences and lack of overly complicated vocabulary.

kindle edition Kindle: via gutenberg.org

epub edition ePub: via gutenberg.org

read this german novel online HTML: via gutenberg.org

pdf edition PDF: via freilesen.de

vocabulary: 1, 2, 3 via Quizlet

Homo Faber. Ein Bericht, by Max Frisch

Published in 1959, this German novel by Swiss author Max Frisch is about a successful engineer called Walter Faber, who prefers facts to feelings, logic to love and empirical data to emotions. He fares quite well with this rational approach to life until he’s faced with a chain of stupefying coincidences that force him to reevaluate his entire worldview.

Written in modern German from a first-person perspective, this novel is a great way to start can be a good starting point for German students interested in full-length reading material which is neither too challenging nor too shallow. Homo Faber is considered a modern German classic and was also made into a movie by German director Volker Schlöndorff starring Sam Shepard.

kindle edition Kindle: via Amazon

epub edition ePub: via bücher.de

read online HTML: via gabrieleweis.de

pdf edition PDF: Google

vocabulary: reading comprehension quizflashcards via Quizlet

Die Schachnovelle – “The Royal Game”, by Stefan Zweig

This novella, written between 1938 and 1941 in Brazilian exile, is Stefan Zweig’s last and most famous work. At its heart is the confrontation of a Gestapo prisoner with the psychological ramifications of his situation on the background of a passenger steamer full of affluent travelers and their superficial attitude.

The protagonist, Dr B, put in solitary confinement by the Nazis obsesses about chess in order to maintain his sanity. He plays against himself and is developing a split personality which leads to a breakdown. Now officially declared “insane”, he’s released, but when he finds himself travelling on a passenger steamer together with the world chess champion Czentovic, he’s forced to stare into the abyss once again.

This novella is suitable for German learners due to its brevity, basic vocabulary and sentence structures.

get this german novel as kindle edition Kindle: via feedbooks

epub edition ePub: via feedbooks

pdf edition PDF: via feedbooks

vocabulary: text comprehension quiz

Der Richter und sein Henker – “The Judge and His Hangman”, by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Originally published in a Swiss weekly journal as a serial novel between 1950 and 1951, this mystery novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is a classical detective story with a crime at its center and a search for the perpetrator.

This German novel is required reading in many German schools, and it’s also appropriate for intermediate German learners looking for suitable reading material, due to its relatively straightforward plot and plain language.

kindle edition Kindle: via Amazon

epub edition ePub: via bücher.de

pdf edition for this german novel PDF: Google

vocabulary: text comprehension quiz

Das Parfum. Die Geschichte eines Mörders – “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”, by Patrick Süskind

This 1985 historical/mystery/coming-of-age novel by German author Patrick Süskind is about a murderer with a supernatural sense of smell. Born with no body scent in 18th-century Paris, protagonist Baptiste Grenouille is stalking and killing virgins, hunting for the “perfect scent”.

Translated into 48 languages and sold more than 20 million times, Das Parfum is one of the most sucessfull German novels of the 20th century.

While Süskinds narrative style may sometimes be a bit ornate, this novel can be a good way for German learners to expand their vocabulary without sentence structure and plot being too difficult too follow.

kindle edition Kindle: via Amazon

epub edition ePub: via bücher.de

pdf edition PDF: Google

vocabulary: flashcards via Quizlet

How To Get Free German Novels

All of the above suggestions are considered literary classics. If you’re looking for more contemporary German novels, take a look at this article and find out how to download tons of German novels for free onto your tablet, ereader, smartphone or desktop.

Combine these free German ebooks with interactive dictionaries on Android or iOS and you’ll learn tons of new words in no time! Who needs textbooks, anyway?