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 eight German novels and novellas which are both engaging but still relatively easy to read for beginners and intermediate German learners.

Many of these were also adapted into movies, TV series or radio plays. I’ve linked these and other resources whenever available.

Note: While none of these novels are specifically designed for learners, they are still among the more accessible (modern) 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.

(Not Just) For Kids

First of, let’s take a look at some classic German novels for children and youth which I think may still be interesting for adult readers. Many of these works make do with shorter sentences and a generally more straightforward syntax, so they can be a solid entrypoint into reading full-length books in German.

Timm Thaler oder Das verkaufte Lachen – James Krüss (1962)

Timm Thaler oder Das verkaufte Lachen (Timm Thaler or the sold laughter) is a 1962 children’s novel by German author James Krüss. It tells the story of a boy who trades his laughter to a wealthy Baron in exchange for the ability to win any bet he makes. The popular story was subsequently adapted into a 13-part German children’s television miniseries in 1979, an animated series, movies, and many other adapations.

kindle edition Kindle: via Amazon

epub edition ePub: via buecher.de

🔎 Free preview: via mytolino.com

📺 TV series: Youtube

 

Die unendliche Geschichte – Michael Ende (1984)

The Neverending Story (German: Die unendliche Geschichte) is a fantasy novel by German writer Michael Ende which was later adapted into TV series and films of worldwide acclaim

The novels begins with a lonely boy named Bastian and the strange book that draws him into the mysterious world of Fantastica which is under threat by “The Nothing”. Only a human can save the enchanted kingdom by giving its ruler, the Childlike Empress, a new name. But the journey to her tower is paved with peril, leading past dragons, monster and magical beings. Once Bastian begins his quest, he may never return. As he is drawn deeper into Fantastica, he must find the courage to face increasingly terrifying threats and his own undiscovered thruths.

kindle edition Kindle: via Amazon

epub edition ePub: via buecher.de

🔎 Free PDF preview: via buecher.de

🎬 Movie Trailer (1984): YouTube

 

Momo – Michael Ende (1973)

Another famous novel by Michael Ende, Momo deals with the concept of time and how it is used in modern society. The full title in German translates to “Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brings the stolen time back to the people”. The book is also simply known as Die grauen Männer (The Grey Gentlemen).

Momo is illiterate and cannot count, and she doesn’t know how old she is. She is famous in the neighbourhood because she has the extraordinary ability to listen. Simply by being with people and listening to them, she can help them solve their problems.

kindle edition Kindle: via Amazon

epub edition ePub: via buecher.de

🔎 Free ePub preview: via mytolino.com

🎬 Movie Trailer (1986): YouTube

 

Classic German Novels (And Novellas)

Next up, let’s have a look at some literary classics. The vocabulary and syntax here is obviously more challenging than in the books presented above. These are by no means books for absolute beginners but instead for those beginning their journey reading the great German classics. (If these are too difficult check out alternative editions of these classics in simplified Germna)

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 accessible for German learners.

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

🎧 Audiobook: Youtube

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

pdf edition PDF: Google

🎧 Audiobook: Youtube

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 buecher.de

pdf edition PDF: via stefanzweig.de

🎧 Audiobook: Youtube

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

🎧 Audiobook: Youtube

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

🎧 Audiobook: Youtube

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?