There are many ways to learn or teach German, but my favorite approach is using stories. I can think of a number of reasons why learning German with stories is so effective, but the best one is this: because it’s fun! Learning a language can easily become a chore, so anything that takes your mind off the struggle while keeping you engaged is heaven-sent.

As opposed to the daily grind of conscious effort, by suspending our awareness of the fact that we’re learning a foreign language (which–let’s face it–is rather scary!), we can bypass mental blocks and make the process so much more efficient and enjoyable. Have you ever had the experience of being so engrossed in a novel or a short story that you completely forgot everything around you? That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

There’s only one catch: you have to find stories which are both simple enough to be understandable, i.e. appropriate for your current learning level, and interesting enough to keep you going. Finding stories that meet both criteria is often easier said than done, especially at the beginner’s level.

How To Find German Stories Which Are Simple But Not Boring

Many people’s first idea is to take a look at children’s books, another starting point may be stories written in a special simplified German style, but chances are adult learners will find these texts boring.

This is why in this article I’ve collected a few German short stories which are not just manageable for beginners and intermediate learners but also simply great literature. Most of these short stories were written in the post-war era, because after the horrors of WWII many German authors felt that their language, just like their homeland, was in desperate need of new beginnings and had to be freed from the remnants of pathos and ideology. As a consequence, these authors developed a new language which was characterized by simplicity and brevity. This is what makes these short stories an excellent way to practice German.

Please note that these stories, despite being rather accessible for literary texts, were not written for language learners, and if you’re looking for German stories with a more guided approach, i.e. including translations, exercises, etc. check out our learning library or skip to the end of this article.

(All direct links found by simple Google searches and posted for educational purposes only)

Die Küchenuhr, by Wolfgang Borchert

via uni-hamburg.de

via uni-hamburg.de

This short story is about a young man who has lost his home and family during a bombing. Through a remaining kitchen clock he remembers the care of his mother and understands his lost family life as a blissful state.

“Die Küchenuhr” is one of the most well-known short stories by Wolfgang Borchert and is often studied in German classes to introduce students to the concept of Trümmerliteratur.

germany-flag Read the short story in German here (PDF) or here (HTML). Update: here’s another PDF edition of this story, complete with exercises.

english flag Read an English translation of the short story here.

unknown Additional material: Quizlet to help you understand and practice vocabulary from this short story.

 

Der zufriedene Fischer – Eine Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral, by Heinrich Böll

In this short story by literary Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll, a fisherman and a tourist exchange their views about life and “work ethic”. Written in the middle of the German Wirtschaftswunder (economic boom) in 1963, this short story was questioning the new-found German prosperity but its content is timeless and more valid now than ever.

germany-flag Read the short story in German here.

english flag Read an English translation of the short story here (PDF) or here (HTML).

unknown a short animated LEGO video about this short story, an audio reading (starts at 0:30) via Wattenichsachs, or:

 

 

Der große Wildenberg, by Siegfried Lenz

Written in 1958 this German short story is about a man who goes to a job interview and gets entangled in the cogwheels of bureaucracy.

germany-flag Read the short story in German here.

english flag English translation of this short story not available.

unknown an audio reading on Youtube

 

Skorpion, by Christa Reinig

via dingfest

via dingfest

More a parable than a short story, this text deals with a man who feels excluded from society due to his appearance and tries to convince people to accept him while walking through a city.

germany-flag Read the short story in German here.

english flag English translation of this short story not available.

unknown an audio reading on Youtube

 

Auf der Flucht, by Wolfdietrich Schnurre

Written between 1945 and 1948, this short story by Wolfdietrich Schnurre is about a family fleeing through a barren landscape. Pained by hunger the family is looking for food, and when the father eventually finds a loaf of bred he is forced to evaluate his real motives.

germany-flag Read the short story in German here.

english flag English translation of this short story not available.

unknown an audio reading on Youtube

 

Even More German Short Stories for Beginners

collection of German short stories for beginners

If you’re looking for even more German short stories for beginners, this PDF contains 16 stories (including some of those mentioned above).

Should these stories still be too difficult, you can also take a look at my book “Café in Berlin” (or the sequel “Ferien in Frankfurt”) which is a collection of very short German short stories for beginners written in a simplified language and supported by an extended dictionary and comprehension questions. This book is designed as a stepping stone to learning German with authentic literature.

There’s also an animated video for the first and second chapter of this book, complete with German subtitles and exercises.

Which German short stories do you think are good for beginners? Write a comment!