Learn German the hard way!
February 16, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm hoping to start learning German again (I spent a solid 8 years in middle/high school doing my best to avoid learning a single word), and would like to get the ball rolling again by trying to read a book in German. Does anyone have any suggestions for a fairly basic, but entirely adult ( as opposed to young adult) book that would keep me interested/not destroy my will to learn?

Ideally I'd like something originally written in German, with a trustworthy translation easily available in English. I've been flirting with the idea of reading anything by Thomas Mann, but I get the feeling that I'd give up after a page.
posted by domakesaypat to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Something originally written in German would be great, but I'd offer a different suggestion: Get Asterix comics in both German and English, or maybe Tintin (Tim, in Germany). Simple blocks of text with graphical cues and an enjoyable puzzle and plot line.

(This worked wonders as a beginning point for me when I was an exchange student in Germany with practically no understanding of German. I was fluent by the end of the year - even more so than many of the students who knew a little already.)
posted by Picklegnome at 10:46 AM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: hmmm,

Entirely adult?, I found that Siddhartha by Herman Hesse was not too difficult in German, as he seems to be copying Hemmingway's direct style some (at least in the German, I've never read a translation).

I know you want to stay away from young adult, but I'd also suggest Die Roten Matrosen by Klaus Kordon.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:55 AM on February 16, 2009

Siddhartha also has the advantage of being freely available online in both German and English.

I also recommend Der Vorleser, which is the basis of the movie The Reader. You can buy a German copy online or (probably) from your local college textbook store. An English translation is available. It's a good choice if the plot interests you. It's not very long, and Schlink's style is not too complicated.

I would not recommend Thomas Mann except perhaps Buddenbrooks. The leitmotifs might provide a kind of linguistic anchor, giving you something recognizable on practically every page. I didn't care for the story, though, but there's no accounting for taste.
posted by jedicus at 11:24 AM on February 16, 2009

I was going to suggest Asterix. Also The Little Prince in German. Rilke is fairly readable as well (prose, although the poetry is also nice, but more challenging for a beginner).
posted by nax at 11:29 AM on February 16, 2009

Yeah I read a lot of Hesse when I was learning German. The lack of realism and the broadness of its ideas means that you don't have to know a lot of words like doorknob, lintel, shoelace, etc. I also read a lot of Max Frisch plays, like Andorra. Dialogue is almost always easier than description.
posted by creasy boy at 11:30 AM on February 16, 2009

Best answer: Don't forget podcasts so you can hear it as well. There are podcasts of German news being read slower than usual.
posted by Gungho at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2009

If you're into funny / humor stories try something by Max Goldt ("Die Kugeln in unseren Köpfen", "Quitten für die Menschen zwischen Emden und Zittau" or "Ä"). They're mostly short stories, very entertaining to read, accessible, and very often good examples for actual German language use.

And while some people have an intense dislike for his writing I'd alternatively recommend Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre ("Soloalbum").

Oh, and Tommy Jaud ("Vollidiot") is also pretty good...
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:17 PM on February 16, 2009

We read a whole bunch of Hermann Hesse, which I'm kind of fond of. The vocabulary is simple enough that a third or fourth year German student should be able to read it. Not at home, so I can't remember the title exactly, but there's a compilation called - Children Are Civilians Too - or something like that, which is probably my favorite. The short story "Die Schwarze Schaf" (The Black Sheep) is the best of the bunch, I'd say.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:22 PM on February 16, 2009

Seconding Max Goldt - he's brilliant. Translations of his entertaining short pieces are available at The "German Joys" Max Goldt Treasury.
posted by The Toad at 3:14 PM on February 16, 2009

If you do want to try some Thomas Mann, I'd go for the short stories, because it seems everything else he's written clocks in at six or seven hundred pages minimum.

This is the tome I carried around when I studied there for a year (could only find it on German Amazon, sorry).

If I remember correctly, most of the stories are between 8 and 25 pages, give or take. There are enough famous ones (notably der Tod in Venedig) that you could find online translations of quite easily.
posted by liverbisque at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2009

Also, I've found Kafka's style fairly easy to get through. If you haven't already, die Verwandlung is a classic.
posted by liverbisque at 3:27 PM on February 16, 2009

Best answer: Der Spiegel has a daily summary of news that comes every morning right to your inbox. It's a great way to get the news and practice German. And if you don't have time to translate, well you can always try again tomorrow.
posted by kamelhoecker at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2009

I would recommend Deutsche Erzahlungen" - German Stories - A Bilingual Anthology translated and edited by Harry Steinhauer, University of California Press 1984, ISBN 0-520-05054-1

It has side-by-side short stories by Goethe, Mann, Kafka, Boll, etc.

You can find it on Amazon.
posted by Parsnip at 6:26 AM on February 17, 2009

Sorry to be late to the party but there is this whole line of Dual Language Books in German, where there is the German text on the lefthand page and the English translation on the righthand page.

Some are shown here

Another one here
posted by kosmonaut at 1:24 PM on February 17, 2009

I found Erich Maria Remarque's "Arc d' Triumph" to be a fully readable book even if it was depressing.
posted by cotterpin at 12:30 AM on February 18, 2009

Seconding Kafka. His language is brilliant and without flourish and embellishments at all. Especially his parables feel like small diamonds of language.
posted by Glow Bucket at 8:08 AM on January 29, 2010

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