11 Best German Authors You Need To Know

If you want to expand your literary horizons, why not look at this list of the best German authors below!

German literature has had a tremendous influence on writing across the globe. Many German writers inspire young, aspiring authors from Berlin, Germany to Asia, Africa, North America, and everywhere in between. Regardless of whether you want to study the 20th century period from Nazi Germany, works written by Jewish writers from the 19th century, or even modern German writers, take a look at some of the top German-language authors and expand your literary horizons.

Best German authors

1. Gunter Wilhelm Grass, 1927 – 2015

Grass in 2006
Gunter Grass in 2006, used with permission under the CC BY 2.0 license

Gunter Grass was a famous German playwright, poet, novelist, and illustrator. He also won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1999.

He was born in the free city of Danzig but was drafted into the German military as a teenager. And 1945, he was captured by the United States Army and released at the end of the war. After that, he worked in a mine as a stonemason. After that, he studied graphics and sculpture, eventually moving to West Berlin to study the arts.

He began writing about his experiences in World War II. It helped him give a voice to the German people who were squashed by the Nazis during the war. He became a leading voice of morality following the end of the war, and his works became some of the most popular of all time.

You should check out one of his most popular works, The Tin Drum, on Amazon.

The Tin Drum
  • Paperback with front design of the drummer and drum
  • Grass, Günter (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 592 Pages - 04/08/2010 (Publication Date) - HarperVia (Publisher)

2. Herman Hesse, 1877 – 1962

Hermann Hesse 2.jpg
Herman Hesse, date and author unknown, used with permission under CC BY SA 3.0

One of the most famous German authors of all time is Hermann Hesse. Born in a village near the edge of the black forest, he was exposed to many religious influences as a child. In addition, his family served as missionaries to India, and his experiences became integral to his writing.

Growing up, Hermann Hesse did not like the rigid nature of the German school system. He even expressed his displeasure with the system in one of his works, Unterm Rad. This story discusses the childhood of a student who faces too much pressure and subsequently spirals down a path of self-destruction. Many of his works also criticized the Nazi movement. Some of his other famous works include Siddhartha and Steppenwolf.

You can check out a copy of Siddhartha for yourself on Amazon.

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Siddhartha: A Novel
  • Hermann Hesse (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 01/01/1982 (Publication Date) - Bantam (Publisher)

3. Bertolt Brecht, 1898 – 1956

Brecht in 1954
Brecht in 1954, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W0409-300 / Kolbe, Jörg / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Bertolt Brecht is one of the most popular German playwrights and poets of the 20th century. He served in the medical corps of the German army during World War I, which impacted him deeply. As a result, he had difficulty adapting to the post-war era. 

He decided to become a teacher of religion, moving to Munich before Berlin to pursue a career in theater. In 1933, he fled the Nazi movement and exiled himself to Scandinavia. That is where he wrote some of his most famous plays, but when the Germans invaded Scandinavia, he fled to the United States. 

After the war, he returned to East Berlin, and Marxism became a prevalent theme in his works. He received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954 and gained a strong political voice despite opposition to Marxism from the West.

You can check out one of his most famous works, The Good Person of Szechwan, by purchasing it from Amazon.

The Good Person Of Szechwan (Modern Classics)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Brecht, Bertolt (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 04/10/2015 (Publication Date) - Methuen Drama (Publisher)

4. Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926

Rilke in 1900
Rilke in 1900. The author of the picture is unknown. It is available in the public domain

You may also want to check out Rainer Maria Rilke, a famous novelist, and poet. Born in Bohemia, he grew up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even though his childhood was not happy, he eventually found an educational career path that suited him well. He fell in love with books and knew he wanted to become a writer.

Even before he had fully finished high school, he published his first volume of poetry, titled Life and Songs, in 1894. He spent a lot of time traveling throughout Europe, spending a lot of time in Switzerland, France, and Russia. It is evident that his travels influenced his writing, and he subsequently became one of the most famous German writers of all time.

If you want to explore the works of Rainer Maria Rilke for yourself, you may want to check out a copy of Sonnets to Orpheus on Amazon.

Sonnets to Orpheus
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Rilke, Rainer Maria (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 142 Pages - 06/03/2014 (Publication Date) - North Point Press (Publisher)

5. Franz Kafka, 1883 – 1924

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka: Pictures of a Life by Klaus Wagenbach (1984), p. 209sourced to Klaus Wagenbach Archiv, Berlin, picture is available in the public domain

Even though Franz Kafka might have lived a short life, it was incredibly influential. He spent most of his life living in Prague, not far from Austria or Germany. He is known as a short story writer but is most famous for the grotesque absurd nature of his works. Unfortunately, many of his works were published after he passed away, making it hard to assign his work to a specific time period in literary history.

You may want to check out a few of his works for yourself. One of his most famous works is called The Metamorphosis. You can find this book on Amazon.

The Metamorphosis (First Edition) (Norton Critical Editions)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Kafka, Franz (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 233 Pages - 07/30/2015 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

6. Heinrich Boll, 1917 – 1985

Böll in 1981
Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F062164-0004 / Hoffmann, Harald / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Heinrich Boll is a prominent German author who made a name for himself following World War II. He is widely seen as one of the most influential German authors of the 20th century, and he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972, one of his crowning achievements.

He also got heavily involved in politics, with many of his works taking sides as World War II drew to a close and the Cold War began. Some of his works have even been turned into movies, such as Views of a Clown and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. 

You might also want to check out The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum for yourself by picking up a copy on Amazon (even if you have already seen the move).

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
  • Heinrich Böll (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/01/1976 (Publication Date) - McGraw-Hill (Publisher)

7. Michael Ende, 1929 – 1995

Next, you may want to check out Michael Ende’s works, a German author known for writing children’s novels; however, he also wrote several books for adults. His unique writing style has made an impact on children across multiple generations.

His children’s books have sold millions of copies, and many have been turned into movies. He was born in Garmisch-Parenkirche just before the start of World War II. He moved to Munich when he was 6 because his father was pursuing a career in art. Unfortunately, his father’s pictures were labeled dangerous and subsequently banned by the Nazi government. As a result, his father was forced to continue his career in secrecy.

Even though Michael Ende was drafted to serve in the German military at the end of WWII, he threw his papers away and decided to join the resistance movement instead. His experiences would inform his writing, and he grew to understand the importance of the freedom of information. You can check out one of his best works, Neverending Story, on Amazon.

The Neverending Story
  • Hardcover Book
  • Ende, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 03/01/1997 (Publication Date) - Dutton Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

8. Bernhard Schlink, Born 1944

Schlink in 2018
Schlink in 2018. Ps45md – Own work. Used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Next, you might also want to check out Bernhard Schlink. Before his career as a writer, he was already a successful lawyer. During his legal career, he published his first novel, Selbs Justiz. He wrote this book with his good friend, Walter Popp, in 1987. 

His most famous work, ‘The Reader’, was published in 1955. The book won numerous awards and was subsequently translated into 39 languages. It was also turned into a movie in 2008. You might want to check out a copy of The Reader for yourself. You can find it on Amazon.

The Reader
  • Bernhard Schlink (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 218 Pages - 11/28/1997 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

9. Patrick Suskind, Born 1949

Patrick Suskind is a popular contemporary German writer. He was born in 1949 and studied in Munich. He began writing his first work there but moved to Paris shortly after he finished school. Even though he leads a relatively withdrawn life, he is still one of the most popular German writers of all time. He says that the French cities Inspire him and often serve as a backdrop for his novels.

You will see 18th century France permeating throughout many of his works. Many of his works are placed in historical context, and he uses a lot of exposition and character development to generate his point of view. It leads to a unique writing style that has become popular across multiple generations.

One of his most famous works is ‘Parfume, The Story of a Murderer’. While it has already been turned into a popular movie, you should also check out the book. You can find it on Amazon.

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
  • Patrick Suskind (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 255 Pages - 02/13/2001 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

10. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749 – 1832

Goethe in 1828, by Joseph Karl Stieler
Goethe in 1828, by Joseph Karl Stieler, available in the public domain

Without a doubt, one of the greatest German authors of all time is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He leaves behind an amazing legacy as a philosopher, critic, and government official; however, he is best known for his writing.

He became known as a writer at the age of 25 when he published The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774. Then, he was invited to the court of Karl August and served as his chief advisor. He spent most of his life in Weimar, where he wrote novels, poetry, and even plays. As a result, he is seen as a literary genius and one of the best writers in not only Germany but the entire world.

His most famous work, titled Faust, took him approximately 60 years to write. This is a beautiful drama that inspired the next generation of writers, including Kafka, Beckett, and Nietzsche.

If you want to check out Faust for yourself, pick up a copy on Amazon.

Faust: Parts I & II
  • von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 488 Pages - 01/20/2015 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

11. Thomas Mann, 1875 – 1955

Thomas Mann in 1929
Thomas Mann in 1929, from the Nobel Foundation, available in the public domain

Thomas Mann lived in Germany during both World War I and World War II. As a result, he had a front-row seat as Germany evolved during the first half of the 20th century. After his father passed away in 1891, Mann moved to Munich. He lived there until 1933. As Hitler rose to power, he spent a lot of his time lecturing against fascism, explaining the dangers of Nazi policy.

During this time, he also showed sympathy for socialism and communism, as he believed it was the best way to preserve human rights. In 1933, he moved to Switzerland and was warned that he should not return to Munich, as Adolph Hitler was rising to power. He moved to the United States and lived there for around 10 years, but subsequently returned to Zurich in 1952. He never returned to Germany.

He wrote a number of popular books during his career, including The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice. Buddenbrooks, published in 1924, was arguably his best work, as it earned him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929. You can pick up a copy of Buddenbrooks for yourself on Amazon.

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family
  • Thomas Mann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 731 Pages - 06/28/1994 (Publication Date) - Vintage International (Publisher)

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