Essential texts in German literature?
June 12, 2008 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I want to acquire familiarity with famous works of German literature. What works would a typical person growing up in Germany have been exposed to as classics or as exemplary works?

I'm particularly interested in works that would be assigned in a Gymnasium or early university studies, akin to what American students are asked to read in high school or college Lit 101-type classes.
posted by philosophygeek to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
We can go straight to the source, actually. It's easy enough to find lots and lots of syllabuses for German high schools online. Some are light on details, but here are some excerpted specifics:

Entwicklung des Dramas z. B. Brecht: Galilei, Dürrenmatt: Physiker
„Emilia Galotti“ von G. E. Lessing
Literatur der Weimarer Klassik z. B. Goethe: Faust, Iphigenie, Italienische Reise
Gegenwartsliteratur – Bernhard Schlink „Der Vorleser“
Roman oder Drama I, z.B. Heine, Rabbi von Bacharach, Remarque, Im Westen nichts Neues, Wedekind, Frühlings Erwachen, Brecht, Mutter Courage o.Ä.

Those should give you some ideas.
posted by jedicus at 1:44 PM on June 12, 2008

Oh, also, do you read German? Knowing that will be helpful.
posted by jedicus at 1:46 PM on June 12, 2008

A german coworker of mine said that he read 1984 in senior high school, and Geothe's 'Faust'.
He's going to think more tonite - I'll update tomorrow with anything he remembers.
posted by o0dano0o at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2008

@jedicus: I do read German, although I am not yet fluent. One of my goals in reading these texts is to develop my language skills. However, I will probably also spend some time looking at English translations in order to check my own reading.
posted by philosophygeek at 2:12 PM on June 12, 2008

Okay, in that case you should be able to browse those syllabuses easily enough. Here's another Google search to work from.
posted by jedicus at 2:23 PM on June 12, 2008

Oh, there's a book that may be of some help. It's called Bildung - Alles, was man wissen muß, by Dietrich Schwanitz. It recommends the following works of European literature:

The Divine Comedy; Petrarch; Boccaccio; Don Quixote; The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest; Shakespeare; Molière; Der abenteuerliche Simplisissimus; Robinson Crusoe; Gulliver's Travels; Pamela and Clarissa; Die Leiden des jungen Werthers; Gotthold Ephraim Lessing; Schiller; Heinrich von Kleist; Faust, parts one and two; The Red and the Black; Oliver Twist; the Brontë sisters; Flaubert; War and Peace; The Brothers Karamazov; Buddenbrooks; Remembrance of Things Past; Ulysses; Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften.

Where an author's name is given, he recommends their works generally. I've tried to provide links to less well-known authors and works.

Curiously, the only theatrical work he recommends is Waiting for Godot.
posted by jedicus at 2:44 PM on June 12, 2008

Oh, wait, no, I misunderstood the table of contents. He recommends the theatrical works of Shaw, Pirandello, Brecht, Ionesco, and Beckett.
posted by jedicus at 2:52 PM on June 12, 2008

Both The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice are considered classics.

Also, anything by Elfriede Jelinek is an absolute must. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature (in the German language) in 2004.
posted by Blacksun at 3:16 PM on June 12, 2008

Learning German (in England, A-level so 17/18 years old) we read "Die Wolke", which was quite good. About a brother and sister escaping a nuclear blast. I'm not sure it's a classic, but my teacher told us that (younger) germans read it in school.
posted by gregjones at 3:21 PM on June 12, 2008

Thirding Goethe, especially Faust, and the plays of Friedrich von Schiller.

Nietzche's Also Sprach Zarathustra is fucked-the-hell-up, but an exciting read.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:12 PM on June 12, 2008

Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke (a poet who only wrote one novel, iirc).
posted by NekulturnY at 11:55 PM on June 12, 2008

Franz Kafka
Hermann Hesse
E.T.A. Hoffmann
Johann Peter Hebel
Adalbert Stifter
posted by Iridic at 8:47 AM on June 13, 2008

I went to school in Germany class 11 to 13. From what I remember, we read Kleist (Der zerbrochene Krug, some novels), Kafka (Die Verwandlung, some shorter stuff), Max Frisch (Andorra, Stiller), Goethe (Faust I and II), Joseph Roth...
posted by dhoe at 11:50 AM on June 13, 2008

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