German-language literature

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The term German-language or German literature refers to literary works in German from the German-speaking area of the past and present. German-language literature also includes non-poetic works with special literary demands, i.e. works from other disciplines such as historiography , literary history , social sciences or philosophy . The genre can also vary, so diaries or correspondence are also regarded as literature.

Schematic overview

Epochs of German Literature
Expressionismus (Literatur) Realismus (Literatur) Romantik Aufklärung (Literatur) Barock (Literatur) Spätmittelalter Hochmittelalter Literatur in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus Innere Emigration Naturalismus Junges Deutschland (Literatur) Junges Deutschland (Literatur) Empfindsamkeit Renaissance-Humanismus Renaissance Postmoderne Impressionismus (Literatur) Weimarer Klassik Literatur der Weimarer Republik Literatur der Weimarer Republik Heimatkunst Heimatkunst Vormärz Biedermeier Sturm und Drang Sturm und Drang Trümmerliteratur Symbolismus (Literatur) DDR-Literatur

Fin de siècle

Early Middle Ages (around 750–1100)

Old High German poetry as a marginal entry in a Latin codex : The all-round poem from the end of the world Muspilli from the 9th century

The Old High German literature begins Old High German texts with the written tradition. The writing was primarily done by displacing Latin scripts, which were now written in Old High German. Although heroic songs are a typical genre of non-scripted cultures, unknown authors from the Fulda monastery wrote the Hildebrand song in Old High German in the 9th century . On the other hand, the Merseburg magic spells , which were probably recorded by a monk at the beginning of the eighth century, are considered the oldest text in German .

The oldest preserved Old High German written records date back to the 8th century and can be found in connection with the Church's use of the vernacular as Missionierungs aid and as an aid to understanding of Latin texts, such as glossaries as the Codex Abrogans , which is considered the oldest surviving book in German language . Early literary evidence in German can also be found in the monastery literature , even though this was originally a Latin epic. Examples are the two great Biblical epics of the 9th century, the old Saxon Heliand , still in the old alliance , and the Gospel book of Otfrid von Weißenburg , in the new, forward-looking final rhyme . Around the year 1000, Notker translated and commented on philosophical texts of antiquity in St. Gallen at a high philological level into Old High German. He can be considered the first great German prose author.

In the 11th century, mainly religiously instructive and admonishing texts were written in early Middle High German rhyming verses . This first phase of clergy poetry was determined by the fact that religion wanted to influence the lay nobility . The text types were whole historical representations, such as the Ezzolied (around 1065), legends seal, as the Annolied (in 1077), Old and New Testament Bibelepik (Genesis, Exodus, Jesus' life), dogmatic statements, eschatological seals and Marie seal .

High Middle Ages (around 1100–1250)

Around the middle of the 12th century, literature became more diverse: topics were taken up that had previously been found unworthy of writing. There were also more different forms, such as courtly poetry , entertaining narratives. Spiritual poets took a new interest in individual people and their life story, which led to legendary poems such as Albers Tundalus and Veldekes Servatius .

At that time the one more secular (non-ecclesiastical) poetry received a boost, namely the historical epic . For the first time she came to rank and name as poetry. The most important work, the Imperial Chronicle with around 17,000 verses, tells the episodic story of the Roman Empire from the founding of Rome to Conrad III . The Roland song by Pfaffen Konrad describes the fight of Charlemagne and his paladins against the Saracens in Spain and Roland's death after a betrayal. With the Roland song and the Alexander the priest Lamprecht , the influence of French materials and design methods became noticeable for the first time, which would shape German-language literature for the next decades and centuries.

Wolfram von Eschenbach; Author's picture in the Manessische Liederhandschrift

In the decades after 1150, a "heyday" of German-language literature began. A cultivated literary practice based on the Romansh-language model spread at individual courts of the feudal nobility: so-called court literature . In poetry, the developed minstrelsy (courtly love) and Sang award seal, with its main representatives Heinrich von Morungen , Reinmar the old and Walther von der Vogelweide . For the courtly epic, contemporaries already considered the Eneasroman by Heinrich von Veldeke , who came from the Lower Rhine to the Landgrafenhof in Thuringia and completed his work there around 1185, to be the founding act . After that, numerous court epics in Middle High German were created based on French-language models ( Chrétien de Troyes ) . The best known are Erec and Iwein ( Hartmann von Aue ), Tristan and Isold ( Gottfried von Strasbourg ), Parzival ( Wolfram von Eschenbach ). Apart from this “modern” narrative culture, the anonymously handed down heroic epic Nibelungenlied remains .

Late Middle Ages (around 1250–1500)

At the end of the Middle Ages, printing with movable type proved to be revolutionary . Finally, parchment could be replaced as a writing material by cheap paper . At the transition to the modern age stands Johannes von Tepl's The Plowman from Bohemia .

Early modern times (humanism and reformation) (around 1450–1600)

Coming from Italy, humanism , the attitude of the Renaissance , spread in Germany. People turned to ancient ideas and therefore often wrote in Latin, even if a German audience was to be addressed. A separation by language is therefore not very useful.

Early writers such as Niklas von Wyle and Heinrich Steinhöwel were particularly concerned with the translation of new Latin texts from Italian humanism into German and sought to reform the German written language. Well-known representatives of the next generation were Conrad Celtis , Erasmus von Rotterdam , who worked in Basel, and Johannes Reuchlin , although they mostly wrote their works in Latin and initially had little influence outside the world of scholars and social elites. Unlike Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523) with his rebellious poems or Sebastian Brant (1458–1521), who wrote his successful ship of fools in German.

Hans Sachs

The most momentous movement was the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther (1483–1546) . Luther knew how to spread his ideas in legible German. The most outstanding event on the German book market of the 16th century was certainly the publication of his translation of the Bible in 1522 and 1534. It contributed significantly to the spread of today's German.

In addition to humanism and reformation of earning Meistersang that Fluctuating seal and the Shrovetide play at least a mention, especially their best-known representatives of the Nuremberg Hans Sachs (1494-1576) and Georg Wickram (1505 - before 1562). Another notable author of the 16th century is the Strasbourg Johann Fischart (1546–1590), his best-known work is the monkey-heurlich Naupengeheurliche Geschichtklitterung .

A common genre of the time was the popular book . It was created anonymously, and because it picked up on popular topics, it was widespread. Examples are the Historia by D. Johann Fausten and the stories about Till Eulenspiegel .

Baroque (around 1600-1720)

During the Baroque period, literature turned more towards the German language. Politically, the epoch was shaped by the sectarian division and the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). The range of baroque literature is very wide: from courtly poetry to folk-oriented novels, from the imitation of ancient models to personal adventure poetry , from affirmation of life to the vanitas motif. An opportunity poetry is created.

Andreas Gryphius

Numerous poetry and language societies were founded during the Baroque period , the most famous of which was the Fruitful Society . By Martin Opitz (1597-1639) was in his book by the German Poeterey the (1624) Alexandrians recommended for the German-language poetry and long remained the main meter . Petrarkism and the shepherd's idyll made their way into German literature with some delay , including Opitz students Paul Fleming (1609–1640) and Simon Dach (1605–1659). The most important representatives of shepherd poetry were the poets of the Nuremberg Pegnese Flower Order Georg Philipp Harsdörffer , Johann Klaj and Sigmund von Birken .

Important lyrical forms of the epoch are the sonnet , the ode and the epigram , the lyric can be roughly divided into religious, mostly evangelical, and secular. Religious poetry wrote Friedrich Spee of Langenfeld (1591-1635), the hymns poet Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), Johann Rist (1607-1667), Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) and the mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624). Among the more secular poets, the sonnets by Andreas Gryphius (1616–1664) and Christian Hofmann von Hofmannswaldau (1617–1679) should be mentioned.

The drama of the Baroque period is manifold: On the one hand there was the Jesuit theater, which was performed in Latin, especially in the southern, Catholic area. Since the audience did not understand the language, the focus was on visual effects. It was similar with the initially foreign touring theaters . The baroque opera and the courtly drama were intended for a different audience . The baroque opera was highly valued as a total work of art. In courtly drama the principle of the class clause applies , authors include Daniel Casper von Lohenstein (1635–1683) (e.g. Cleopatra , Sophonisbe ) and Gryphius with three comedies and five tragedies (e.g. Chatharina von Armenia , Leo Armenius , Carolus Stuardus ).

Baroque novels are the shepherd's novel , the state novel , the courtly gallant novel and the most influential: the picaro or picaresque novel, which comes from Spanish . In particular, Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (around 1625–1676) stands out with his Simplicissimus and other Simplician writings . Simplicissimus 'adventures during the Thirty Years' War are the most important picaresque novel outside of Spain. The most important representative of the state novel is the birch pupil Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig and Lüneburg-Wolfenbüttel .

Enlightenment (around 1720–1780)

As early as 1687, Christian Thomasius , the “father of the German Enlightenment ”, gave his lectures in German instead of Latin. Well-known philosophers of this time, the Early Enlightenment, were Christian Wolff and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz . The most important literary author of the Early Enlightenment was certainly Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–1769) with his fables. The most important figure in literary life, however, was Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1766). His theoretical writings were groundbreaking, especially the attempt at critical poetry (1730), but his literary work is of secondary importance. In poetry , a normative poetics, he orientated himself on the classic French drama and kept the class clause , i.e. the rule to only portray the fates of noble people in tragedy and only to thematize the bourgeoisie in comedy. In contrast, the Swiss Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger polemicized , who saw the rational moment overrated.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Authors of the early enlightenment can also be assigned to the late baroque, an example of how questionable epochs can be. The most important poet was Johann Christian Günther (1695–1723), as well as Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680–1747), he can be ascribed to both epochs.

In addition to the enlightenment, currents also formed that put feeling in the foreground. These include the Rococo poetry by Friedrich Hagedorn , by Ewald Christian von Kleist , Salomon Gessner and others.

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803) became the model for a whole generation with his epic The Messiah (1748–1773), which indulges in feelings and states of mind. Klopstock is attributed to sensitivity .

In the field of prose, Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813) was pioneering. He designed the early Bildungsroman Geschichte des Agathon (1766/67) and mixed Rococo elements with enlightening thoughts.

The German Late Enlightenment is unthinkable without Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781). His work includes important theoretical works ( Laocoon 1766), literary criticism (with Friedrich Nicolai and Moses Mendelssohn ) and a number of important dramas. Nathan the Wise (1779) is most imbued with an enlightening spirit , in which it is to be shown by way of example that a person's worth is not necessarily linked to religion or nationality.

Sturm und Drang (around 1767–1786)

The youthful reaction to the Enlightenment, which was perceived as restrictive and emotionally cold, was the brief period of "Sturm und Drang". The mostly young men who were against all forms of tyranny did not want paternalism in artistic matters either. A “genius”, so the idea, doesn't have to stick to rules. They wrote about the problems that preoccupied them, preferring the here-and-now to the ancient world.

In the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe showed a man who dies of an excess of emotions and an unhappy love. In Friedrich Schiller's (1759–1805) drama Die Räuber , a young man rebels against his father and the authorities. The dramas by Jakob Lenz (1751–92) thematize the oppressive situation of young intellectuals, such as the Hofmeister . In addition to the dramas, the poetry was also important, in it emotion and pathos could express themselves.

The "Sturm und Drang" did not last long, most of the protagonists continued to develop. Schiller and Goethe founded the German classical period, Lenz, on the other hand, laid the foundation for realistic and modern forms of literature with his works - to which the contemporary public often had no access - and thus exerted a decisive influence on later artists such as Georg Büchner and Gerhart Hauptmann or Bertolt Brecht .

Weimar Classic (around 1772–1805)

Wieland around 1805

The beginning of the Weimar Classic is often set with the arrival of Christoph Martin Wieland in Weimar in 1772, the first from the eponymous "Weimar Four Stars": Wieland - Herder - Goethe - Schiller . Often it is narrowed down and only related to 'Goethe and Schiller' and then dated accordingly later. Its end with Schiller's death (1805) is only a stopping date. All four oriented themselves towards or after a Sturm und Drang phase towards humanistic ideals, partly with classical use of ancient themes and patterns. “Classic” itself is a positive term for this epoch.

Goethe in Italy in 1787

Goethe's drama Iphigenie auf Tauris deals with overcoming prejudices and is an example of the humanistic ideal of the classical period. Goethe's oeuvre is very broad, his later phase († 1832) is no longer considered to be “classical” in the narrower sense.

Friedrich Schiller wrote numerous of his ballads ( Die Bürgschaft ), theoretical works ( On naive and sentimental poetry ) and a number of historical dramas ( Wallenstein , Wilhelm Tell ) during this time . In his poetry, too, he took up philosophical questions (for example while walking ).

Other authors, who are sometimes counted as classics, are regarded as forerunners such as Karl Philipp Moritz (1757–1793) or Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) pointing towards the romantic . Moritz's autobiographical novel Anton Reiser is considered the first psychological novel in the German language; Hölderlin's anthemic poetry represents a high point in this genre.

Jean Paul (1763–1825), who wrote mainly satirical novels, and Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811), whose subject is often the individual who struggles with social constraints or breaks up because of them, do not belong to the classical period , for example in the novella Michael Kohlhaas .

Romanticism (around 1799-1835)

The romantic epoch is mostly divided into early romantic , high romantic , late romantic and post-romantic ; In particular, however, it is not very easy to define time and personnel.

ETA Hoffmann - self-portrait

From a literary theoretical perspective, the early romantic period can be described as the most exciting phase. The authors who were friends and who worked in Jena , such as the brothers August Wilhelm (1767–1845) and Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829), Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder (1773–1798), Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853) and Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772 –1801), who worked under the pseudonym Novalis , broke with many conventions: For example, they mixed poems and ballads, little fairy tales etc into their novels; they often referred to Goethe's works ( Werther , Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years ). This corresponds to Friedrich Schlegel's concept of a “progressive universal poetry” that not only connects the most diverse genres and areas of knowledge with one another, but also thinks about itself and contains its own criticism. The most important creative element of this “reflection poetry” appears to be irony , which expresses that the ideal state that art should bring into view according to “classical” theory is beyond human imagination, and that the images by means of which the artists achieve this state trying to portray is not to be trusted. On the other hand, we can never be sure of the diverse meanings and breaks in meaning of literary works and therefore we might do well to venture into the risk of lies that art enters into. The literary fragment is another means of representation valued by the Romantics, in which art reflects its own "failure" and is differentiated from the "classical" concept of the harmoniously self-contained work, in which the ideal state is "reflected".

Achim von Arnim (1781–1831) and Clemens Brentano (1778–1842) are considered to be representatives of the High Romanticism or Heidelberg Romanticism . Under the title Des Knaben Wunderhorn you published a collection of German folk songs. And it was her wife and sister Bettina von Arnim (1785-1859) who with her volume Goethe's Correspondence with a Child - published in 1835 - not least contributed to Goethe's popularity in Germany, but also repeatedly contributed to the social and political grievances in Germany her work has thematized ( poor book , this book belongs to the king , especially its appendix, as well as the Poland brochure ).

The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm also belong to this era with their collection of folk tales . One can also assign the middle triangle to this epoch.

Probably the best-known late romanticist is ETA Hoffmann (1776–1822), who psychologically turned romantic irony with stories such as descriptions of the life of the cat Murr and the Sandman and thus prepared a modern, no longer idealistically founded poetics. The poet Joseph von Eichendorff (1788–1857) also belongs to the late Romantic period .

Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) often takes an ironic stance on romanticism and its motifs and should most likely be counted as early realism.

Biedermeier (around 1830–1850) and Vormärz (around 1840–1850)

The literary movements between the “art period” of Classical and Romanticism on the one hand and bourgeois realism on the other cannot be subsumed under a single epoch. One uses the historical or art-historical terms of the Biedermeier and Vormärz .

Nikolaus Lenau

Other authors are counted, if not for realism, then for Biedermeier. Best known as poets are: Nikolaus Lenau (1802–1850), Eduard Mörike (1804–1875), Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866), August von Platen (1796–1835) and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797–1848) . Her prose includes Die Judenbuche and Adalbert Stifter (1805–1868) and Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854).

Dramatists who belong more or less to the Biedermeier era are Franz Grillparzer (1791–1872), Johann Nepomuk Nestroy (1801–1862) and Ferdinand Raimund (1790–1836). Grillparzer wrote tragedies in the spirit of the Weimar Classic, Nestroy and Raimund represented the Viennese folk piece .

Georg Buechner

Authors, who are counted to the Vormärz, got involved politically and brought the political poem to a bloom. Many of them were in the loose group Young Germany , such as Georg Herwegh (1817–1875), Heinrich Laube (1806–1884), Karl Gutzkow (1811–1878) and Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876). Heinrich Heine ( Die Harzreise , Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen ), Ludwig Börne (1786–1837) and Georg Büchner (1813–1837) ( Woyzeck ), who died young, were also of a similar spirit .

Poetic Realism (1848–1890)

Theodor Fontane

In poetic or bourgeois realism, the authors avoided the major socio-political problems and turned to the closer, local homeland with its landscape and its people. At the center of all novels, dramas and poems is the individual. The stylistic characteristic of many works of poetic realism is humor, which creates a distance from what is actually unbearable and outrageous in reality. In doing so, he charges against individual errors and weaknesses in the social fabric, but does not turn against the system as a whole.

The preferred generic form was initially the novella . Later examples are about The Amulet (written 1872) by the Swiss Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825–1898) and Der Schimmelreiter (written 1886–1888) by Theodor Storm (1817–1888). In the drama, only Friedrich Hebbel (1813–1863) (for example with Maria Magdalena ) is remembered. Later stepped up to the amendment nor the novel . These include Gustav Freytag (1816–1895) and Wilhelm Raabe (1831–1910).

The two greats of bourgeois realism are the Swiss Gottfried Keller (1819–1890), who was in close correspondence with Theodor Storm, among others, and Theodor Fontane (1819–1898). Keller wrote the Bildungsroman Der Grüne Heinrich as well as the novella cycles Züricher Novellen and Die people von Seldwyla , which include Romeo and Juliet in the village . Fontane, who had started out as a journalist, wrote novels such as Frau Jenny Treibel and Effi Briest . He expanded his vision from a central character to a social novel.

In Austria, village motifs can be found in Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), Ludwig Anzengruber (1839–1889) and, after the end of the era, Peter Rosegger (1843–1918).

Naturalism (1880-1900)

Gerhart Hauptmann

Naturalism was a new art and literature movement that relentlessly wanted to uncover the conditions in all areas of society. What had been frowned upon as a subject by mid-century realists became the main subject of this literary movement. Regardless of the traditional limits of so-called good taste and bourgeois conceptions of art, excerpts of reality should be reproduced as much as possible with a congruence between reality and image. A major stylistic innovation was that colloquial language, jargon and dialect were introduced. The individual hero, who is free to choose, is no longer the focus of the stories and dramas, but rather the person determined by a collective or by origin, milieu and circumstances of the time.

In contrast to Russian or French literature, there are no significant naturalistic novels in the German-speaking world. Arno Holz (1863–1929) created poetry and short prose ( Papa Hamlet ) together with Johannes Schlaf (1862–1941 ). Holz 'equation “Art = Nature - x” is well known, where x strive for zero if possible, so art should be nothing more than a representation of reality. More important is the contribution by Gerhart Hauptmann (1862–1946), who found international recognition with dramas like the Webern . Frank Wedekind (1864–1918) can be seen on the edge of naturalism . His drama Spring Awakening already points in the direction of the fin de siècle with its pubescent-erotic theme .

From the turn of the century to 1933

What is often referred to as Classical Modernism begins with naturalism and symbolism . This time is characterized by a pluralism of styles, the juxtaposition of different currents. Most authors can be classified into at least one of these styles.


The term “avant-garde” was of particular importance in Classical Modernism. This era began at the end of the 19th century with French symbolism, with poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé , Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud . The most important representatives of German symbolism are Stefan George (1868–1933), Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929) and Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926). Symbolism pursues a completely different program than the approximately simultaneous naturalism described above. Symbolist poetry is elitist and attaches great importance to beauty and form. A related art direction is Art Nouveau , the period is known as Fin de Siècle .

The centers of German literature were Berlin and Vienna, and accordingly, “Berlin Modernism” and “ Viennese Modernism ” are often used . These suffered a sudden breakdown with the outbreak of the First World War .

Modern epic

Parallel to these currents, which were programmatically directed against tradition, prose works were created that took up the old forms and developed them further; Mention should be made of Rainer Maria Rilke with his novel The records of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), Heinrich Mann (1871–1950) (who may be considered a pioneer of Expressionism in the early work), Thomas Mann (1875–1955) (with artificial Great novels and stories playing through motifs), Hermann Broch (1886–1951), Robert Musil (1880–1942), Franz Kafka (1883–1924) and Hermann Hesse (1877–1962).


The folk art was a literary movement in German-speaking countries of about 1890 to 1910. It was created in direct connection to the naturalism. The main propagandist of the new movement was the writer and literary historian Adolf Bartels , who first used the term "Heimatkunst" in an article in the journal Der Kunstwart in 1898 . Together with Friedrich Lienhard he disseminated the new views in the short-lived magazine Heimat , which appeared in Berlin .

The new movement should move away from the subject of the big city and in the direction of home and people. The broad concept of “home” means not only rural, but also urban life, since the city can also be home. Like naturalism, from which she adopted some techniques, she was supposed to criticize her in addition to her love for her homeland, which she did not succeed in consistently. In more recent studies it was found that the local art movement anticipated some of the basic ideas of the later ecological movement .

With its conservative, anti-modernist attitude, it was a forerunner of Nazi blood-and-soil literature .

Expressionism (around 1910-1920) and avant-garde

The Expressionism is considered the last great literary movement in Germany. Like symbolism, it is an avant-garde literary current. The avant-garde is novelty and theory-oriented literature, it appears with an anti-bourgeois gesture. This reached a high point in Dadaism , which snubbed the educated bourgeois audience with nonsense literature. Influences also come from surrealism and futurism . These directions experienced a caesura in Germany through National Socialism and Europe-wide through the Second World War, and in a certain sense even their non-literary break.

Jakob van Hoddis ' poem End of the World from 1911, whose few lines “seemed to transform us into other people,” as Johannes R. Becher put it, is considered the initial spark of Expressionist poetry . Gottfried Benn , who has just completed his medical training, caused a sensation with the narrow volume Morgue , which brought poems in prose to topics that have so far been barely or not at all presented (for example, mortuary, birth in the delivery room and prostitution).

Other important authors of Expressionism were Alfred Döblin , Albert Ehrenstein , Carl Einstein , Salomo Friedlaender , Walter Hasenclever , Georg Heym , Heinrich Eduard Jacob , Ludwig Rubiner , Else Lasker-Schüler , August Stramm , Ernst Toller , Georg Trakl and Alfred Wolfenstein .

New Objectivity

After Expressionism, a sober, realistic attitude increasingly set in, which was collectively known as New Objectivity. Topicality, realism and impartiality were the main demands on the contemporary literature. In the field of drama, Ödön von Horváth , Bertolt Brecht and the director Erwin Piscator should be mentioned, for the epic, among others, Erich Kästner , Anna Seghers , Erich Maria Remarque and Arnold Zweig , as well as Marieluise Fleißer , Irmgard Keun and Gabriele Tergit . The practical value of poetry was strongly emphasized, whereby traditional forms such as the sonnet could regain popularity. Erich Kästner, Joachim Ringelnatz , Kurt Tucholsky and Mascha Kaléko achieved great fame with their poems.

National Socialism and Exile Literature

On January 30, 1933, power over the German Reich was handed over to the National Socialists . In the same year public book burnings took place in the empire . Independent literature and literary criticism was no longer possible. This did not apply to the German Republic of Austria until the Anschluss in 1938, books were also burned here. The regime promoted blood-and-soil poetry , and there was also more or less ideology-free entertainment literature . Known opponents of the regime were threatened with death if they did not go into exile and Jakob van Hoddis was killed. Some writers stayed in the country (e.g. BG Benn), although they were in opposition to National Socialism, they are counted among the so-called Inner Emigration . They were condemned to silence, wrote for the drawer or on non-political topics, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from genuinely non-political authors. Well-known names of those who remained in the Reich are Gottfried Benn , Ernst Jünger , Erich Kästner, Ehm Welk , Gerhart Hauptmann , Heimito von Doderer , Wolfgang Koeppen , Josef Weinheber , Mirko Jelusich , Franz Koch , Victor Klemperer and Robert Hohlbaum . In addition, the following members of the poets' academy: Will Vesper , Wilhelm Schäfer , Agnes Miegel , Emil Strauss and Rudolf G. Binding as well as the "secondary and non-partisan" Börries Freiherr von Münchhausen , Hans Grimm , Erwin Guido Kolbenheyer , Werner Beumelburg , Hans Friedrich Blunck and Hanns Johst .

Bertolt Brecht

1,500 authors known by name went into exile, often over winding stations, and many committed suicide ( Stefan Zweig , Kurt Tucholsky ). Centers of German exile literature emerged in many countries around the world, including German-speaking Switzerland, which was particularly important for playwrights. In view of the mass of writers, almost everyone of high standing went into exile, one can hardly speak of a thematically or stylistically uniform exile literature. Authors who remained productive in exile included Thomas and Heinrich Mann , Bertolt Brecht , Anna Seghers , Franz Werfel and Hermann Broch . Others, such as Alfred Döblin , Heinrich Eduard Jacob or Joseph Roth , found it difficult or impossible to find their way around. After the war, some of them stayed abroad and some returned. After Elias Canetti had emigrated from Vienna to London as a result of the Austrian Anschluss , he received the Nobel Prize for Literature as a British citizen. It is noticeable that many could no longer follow up on their achievements in the interwar period and in exile.

Literature after 1945

After the end of the Second World War, people spoke of a literary zero point. The “ rubble literature ” described a collapsed world, but soon the idea was to catch up on developments in world literature that had not been developed. Only now, more than twenty years after his death, was Franz Kafka discovered. Group 47 was formed in West Germany , and its loosely associated members set the tone in post-war literature. The Viennese group practiced innovative forms of poetry.

With the emergence of new German states, different conditions arose for literature. In the following, the German literature of the FRG, the GDR, Austria and Switzerland are presented separately, but the differences should not be overestimated: After all, it is a common language and, with the exception of the GDR, a common market.

Federal Republic of Germany

Immediately after 1945, the horror of the war and the situation of those returning home were presented. A newly discovered form of this was the short story, for example by Heinrich Böll . After the onset of the German economic miracle , the focus was on the present, for example in the novels by Wolfgang Koeppen , Siegfried Lenz , Christine Brückner and Martin Walser . An important poet of the time was Günter Eich , who also wrote radio plays , a genre that was very popular at the time. From 1952 to 1956 Werner Riegel's and Peter Rühmkorf's magazine Between the Wars appeared , and Rühmkorf, who made his debut there, became a memorable lyrical author for two generations. Concrete poetry came from a. by Eugen Gomringer and Helmut Heißenbüttel . Günter Grass , winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature , wrote Die Blechtrommel , a picaresque novel that dealt with recent German history and also achieved high international renown.

Authors who can relate to a particular direction difficult, are the experimental Arno Schmidt , Uwe Johnson and the roman Nouveau embossed Ror Wolf . Wolfgang Hildesheimer wrote absurd dramas at a time when the theater landscape was still shaped by Bertolt Brecht .

Starting in 1962, was formed around the magazine pardon the New Frankfurt School v. a. FW Bernstein , Robert Gernhardt and FK Waechter , who not only became stylistic innovators as poets. The NFS's best-known novelist is Eckhard Henscheid .

With the Vietnam War and the 1968 movement, people remembered the political poem ( Hans Magnus Enzensberger , Erich Fried ) and the political drama ( Peter Weiss , Rolf Hochhuth ). The opposite tendency was the “ New Subjectivity ”, the preoccupation with private issues (including Jürgen Theobaldy ). The outstanding German-speaking pop and underground lyricist of the 1960s and 70s was Rolf Dieter Brinkmann .

In the 1980s Botho Strauss (drama) and Ulla Hahn in the poetry and later Durs Grünbein came out.

German Democratic Republic

The GDR defined itself as a "literary society" (the term comes from Johannes R. Becher ), it fought against the "poetry hostility" of the West and against the ghettoization of a high culture. Democratization should be carried out at the level of production, distribution and reception. However, the concept of democratization was taken ad absurdum by the censorship, since the state tried to instrumentalize literature and use it for its own purposes, i.e. that is, to be used for those of real socialism.

A literature based on Socialist Realism was funded, and a plan based on this became known as the “ Bitterfeld Way ”. In the 1970s, as in the FRG, there was a tendency towards “new subjectivity”. Many authors had to or were allowed to leave the GDR, such as Wolf Biermann , Jurek Becker , Reiner Kunze , Günter Kunert , Sarah Kirsch and even earlier Peter Huchel and Uwe Johnson . Among the authors who are close to the system, above all Hermann Kant and Stephan Hermlin should be mentioned, Volker Braun , Christa Wolf , Heiner Müller , Irmtraud Morgner and Stefan Heym or Wolfgang Hilbig kept more or less great distance from the state .


1902 Theodor Mommsen (DE)
1908 Rudolf Eucken (DE)
1910 Paul Heyse (DE)
1912 Gerhart Hauptmann (DE)
1919 Carl Spitteler (CH)
1929 Thomas Mann (DE)
1946 Hermann Hesse (CH / DE)
1966 Nelly Sachs (DE / SE)
1972 Heinrich Böll (DE)
1981 Elias Canetti (UK / CH)
1999 Günter Grass (DE)
2004 Elfriede Jelinek (AT)
2009 Herta Müller (RO / DE)
2019 Peter Handke (AT)

After the Second World War, the Viennese group around Gerhard Rühm and HC Artmann, as well as authors such as Albert Paris Gütersloh and Heimito von Doderer, tried to find links to the modern tradition that had been buried under Austrian fascism and the era of National Socialism .

The affinity for the language game is a constant in Austrian literature; Ernst Jandl and Franzobel are among the better-known representatives . Important poets were Friederike Mayröcker and Christine Lavant .

The poet Paul Celan lived in Vienna for a few months in 1947/48, but then settled in Paris. Erich Fried emigrated to Great Britain.

Literature in Austria flourished in the 1960s and 70s, when the German literary landscape was permanently changed with authors such as Peter Handke , Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard . Important contemporary authors such as Ruth Aspöck , Sabine Gruber , Norbert Gstrein , Elfriede Jelinek , Christoph Ransmayr , Werner Schwab , OP Zier , Robert Menasse , Eva Menasse , Arno Geiger , Robert Seethaler and Paulus Hochgatterer also work in this tradition .


Unlike in Germany or Austria, there was no fundamental turning point in German literature in Switzerland in 1945. The most important Swiss-German authors are Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Max Frisch . Both wrote novels and dramas, Frisch more intellectual, Dürrenmatt more pointed and grotesque. Other well-known Swiss authors who were often overshadowed by the two great ones include Peter Bichsel , Thomas Hürlimann , Hugo Loetscher , Adolf Muschg and Urs Widmer . The most important literary association in Switzerland was the Olten group , which existed from 1971 to 2002.

German-language foreign literature

In many countries with German minorities , their own German-language literatures have emerged, which are more or less connected to the German literature of the domestic language area, but are in some cases also isolated. Such German-language foreign literature has developed in North America (German-American and German-Canadian literature), and also in several countries in South America (German-Brazilian, German-Argentinian and German-Chilean literature). Due to the German colonial past and the immigration of German settlers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are German-language literatures in Namibia and South Africa in Africa . In Europe, German-language minority literature exists in Italy ( South Tyrol ), France ( Alsace ), Belgium ( Eupen-Malmedy ), Denmark ( Northern Schleswig ), Poland ( Western Upper Silesia ), Russia ( Volga-Germans , Russian-German ) and Romania ( Romanian-German literature ) as well as in Baltic States the German Baltic literature. A hallmark of German literature abroad, especially overseas, is the publication of literary texts in calendars and yearbooks . The local German foreign press also plays an important role in the dissemination of these literatures.

Romanian German literature

The most widely read contemporary Romanian-German author who works in Romania is Eginald Schlattner . The Banat author Herta Müller is now writing in Germany .

Before that, Adolf Meschendörfer worked in Kronstadt in the first half of the 20th century.

Although most of the German-speaking people have emigrated from Romania, a new literary group Die Stafette has come together in the Banat , from which new German-speaking authors who continue the Romanian-German literature could emerge.

Contemporary German-language literature

In the 1990s, German-language literature experienced a temporary boom in debutants and young authors. These phenomena were partly controlled by the book market, which has grown enormously since 1945 and has been so large since 1990 at the latest that even good literature has a hard time getting over the threshold.

In the 1990s, the collective term pop literature included a number of younger authors who, linguistically and aesthetically, were based on pop culture in music and advertising. a. Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre , Alexa Hennig von Lange or Christian Kracht ( fiber country ) . The authors Thomas Meinecke , Andreas Neumeister and Rainald Goetz are also associated with pop literature. Christian Kracht in particular is increasingly understood and read by literary studies in a postmodern sense.

Hans Wollschläger and Walter Moers as well as the Austrians Oswald Wiener , Christoph Ransmayr and Marlene Streeruwitz are mentioned as postmodern German-speaking novelists . WG Sebald spoke up from England with sensational polemics on German post-war literature and texts that ignore or deliberately transcend genre boundaries between novels, biography and travel literature.

In addition, multicultural literatures have regained importance in the German-speaking countries since the 1990s; z. B. German-Turkish literature has established itself, the roots of which lie in the so-called intercultural or migration literature of the 1960s. As writers of Turkish origin, Feridun Zaimoglu and Osman Engin are now prominent contemporary German language authors . Representatives of other multicultural literatures, such as Wladimir Kaminer or Rafik Schami , are well-known authors in contemporary German-language literature.

Alongside Marcel Beyer , Durs Grünbein and Uwe Kolbe , one of the most important lyric poets since the late 1980s is Thomas Kling (1957–2005), who, with his often phonetically-oriented spelling, provided stimulating accents in German-language poetry. The best-known voices in German-language poetry of the 21st century include: a. Monika Rinck , Steffen Popp , Jan Wagner , Ann Cotten and Safiye Can .

Outstanding contemporary novelists include Thomas Brussig , Dietmar Dath , Arno Geiger , Thomas Glavinic , Maxim Biller , Daniel Kehlmann , Wolfgang Herrndorf , Felicitas Hoppe, Sibylle Lewitscharoff, Robert Menasse and his half-sister Eva Menasse , Martin Mosebach , Hanns-Josef Ortheil , Marion Poschmann, Ulrich Peltzer , Ralf Rothmann , Eugen Ruge , Robert Seethaler , Bernhard Schlink , Ingo Schulze , Uwe Tellkamp , Uwe Timm , Birgit Vanderbeke and Juli Zeh , Albert Ostermaier , Moritz Rinke and Roland Schimmelpfennig are among the most famous playwrights .

Current German-language literature is often accused of political indifference and of revolving around autobiographical topics from childhood. A counterpoint here is the awarding of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature to Elfriede Jelinek , who writes politically and feministically committed literature. The novel Kruso by Lutz Seiler , which won the German Book Prize 2014 , is interpreted as an example of the view away from historical events and towards the intimacy of the protagonists. However, this “refusal of clear gestures” in literature and politics is a provocation: “Poetry is resistance,” says one of the heroes of the novel. "If one avows an offensive realism in the former West, the Eastern writers hold on to the game of hide-and-seek, which was once essential for survival."

Feminist engagement is also at the core of Marlene Streeruwitz's literary works.

German-language literature also includes translations from all world languages ​​that appear in German-speaking countries; in fiction, for example, they account for half of all new publications.

German-language genre literature of the present

Among the authors who commit themselves to one genre and who also write in series are noteworthy for the German-speaking area:

See also

Portal: German literature  - overview of Wikipedia content on German literature


One-volume literary stories

  • Wolfgang Beutin u. a .: German literary history. From the beginning to the present. Metzler, Stuttgart 1979 (7th, expanded edition 2008) ISBN 3-476-02247-1 .
  • Peter J. Brenner : New German Literature History: From "Ackermann" to Günter Grass. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1996, (2nd, updated edition. 2004) ISBN 3-484-10736-7 .
  • Gerhard Fricke u. a .: History of German literature. 20th edition. Schöningh, Paderborn 1988.
  • Claus Gigl : German literary history: Abitur knowledge. Stark, Freising 1999.
  • Hilmar Grundmann : German literary history for teachers. Heinz, Stuttgart 2001. (Stuttgart theses on German studies; 394).
  • Heinrich Haerkötter : German literary history. 62nd, updated edition, Winkler, Darmstadt 2002.
  • Fritz Martini : German literary history. From the beginning to the present. 19th, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-520-19619-0 (licensed edition KOMET-Verlag, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-89836-381-3 ). Standard work
  • Helmut Nürnberger : History of German literature. 25th, completely revised edition. Bayerischer Schulbuch-Verlag, Munich 2006.
  • Hans Gerd Rötzer : History of the German literature. Epochs, authors, works. 2nd, modified and expanded edition. Buchner, Bamberg 2000.
  • Kurt Rothmann : Small history of German literature. 17th edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2001.
  • Viktor Žmegač (ed.): A short history of German literature. From the beginning to the present. Marix, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-937715-24-X .

Multi-volume literary stories

History of German literature from the beginning to the present. Founded by Helmut de Boor and Richard Newald . Beck, Munich 1971- (12 volumes planned, published volumes and partial volumes partly in a more recent version)

  • Volume 1: The German literature from Charlemagne to the beginning of courtly poetry: 770–1170. Edited by Herbert Kolb . 9th edition. Beck, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-406-06088-9 .
  • Volume 2: The courtly literature: preparation, flowering, conclusion; 1170-1250. Edited by Ursula Hennig . 11th edition. Beck, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-406-35132-8 .
  • Volume 3: German literature in the late Middle Ages.
  • Volume 4: German literature from the late Middle Ages to the Baroque.
  • Volume 5: German Literature in the Baroque Age: From Late Humanism to Early Enlightenment, 1570-1740. Edited by Volker Meid . Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58757-3 .
  • Volume 6: From Klopstock to Goethe's death.
    • Part 1: Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, early classical period: 1740–1789. Edited by Sven Aage Jørgensen ; Klaus Beans ; Per Øhrgaard . Beck, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-406-34573-5 . (Special edition 1999. Formerly under the title: Richard Newald: End of the Enlightenment and Preparation of Classics. Later also under the title: Sven Aage Jørgensen: Enlightenment, Storm and Drang, Early Classics. )
  • Volume 7: German literature between the French Revolution and the Restoration.
    • Part 1: The Age of the French Revolution: 1789-1806. Edited by Gerhard Schulz . 2nd revised edition. Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-46700-8 .
    • Part 2: The Age of Napoleonic Wars and Restoration: 1806-1830. Edited by Gerhard Schulz. Beck, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-406-09399-X .
  • Volume 9: History of German-Language Literature.
    • Part 1: 1870–1900: From the founding of the empire to the turn of the century. Edited by Peter Sprengel . Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-44104-1 .
    • Part 2: 1900-1918: From the turn of the century to the end of the First World War. Edited by Peter Sprengel. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-52178-9 .
  • Volume 10: History of German-Language Literature 1918 to 1933. Edited by Helmuth Kiesel . Beck, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-70799-5 .
  • Volume 12: History of German Literature from 1945 to the Present. Edited by Wilfried Barner . 2nd updated and expanded edition. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54220-4 .

Literary stories with primary texts

  • German literature. An outline in text and illustration . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-030022-3 (a total of 17, also individually available volumes on different epochs).

reference books

Web links

Wikisource: German texts  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Gert Hübner: Older German literature. An introduction. A. Francke Verlag, Tübingen and Basel 2006, p. 40.
  2. History of German Literature Vol. 4/1: The outgoing Middle Ages, Humanism and Renaissance 1370-1520. From Hans Rupprich. Revised by Hedwig Heger. 2nd Edition. Munich 1994; Thomas Cramer: History of German Literature in the Late Middle Ages. 3. update Edition. Munich 2000; Heinz Otto Burger: Renaissance, Humanism, Reformation. German literature in a European context. Bad Homburg vdH 1969.
  3. Markus Meumann wrote in 2008: "The nickname 'Father of the German Enlightenment', which is almost omnipresent in the more recent Thomasius literature, can be found according to the compilation by Max Fleischmann (Hg): Christian Thomasius. Leben und Lebenswerk. Halle 1931, pp. 225-248 , for the first time with Ferdinand Josef Schneider in 1928. The association of Thomasius' name with the beginning of the Enlightenment dates back to the late 18th century; a noticeable boom in this perspective can be observed since around 1860/70 . Century continues under ever more positive omens. " So Meumann, Markus: Discursive formations between esotericism, pietism and enlightenment: Halle around 1700. In: Monika Neugebauer-Wölk (Hg '): Enlightenment and esotericism. Reception - integration - confrontation. (Hallesche's contributions to the European Enlightenment). Max Niemeyer Publishing House. Tübingen 2008; P. 78. Note 4
  4. Bengt Algot Sørensen: History of German Literature 2. From the 19th century to the present. 2002, p. 220.
  5. ^ Barbara Baumann and Birgitta Oberle: German literature in epochs. 1985, p. 205.
  6. ^ Gordon A. Craig: Deutsche Geschichte 1866-1945. From the North German Confederation to the end of the Third Reich. Beck, Munich 1980, last 1999, ISBN 3-406-42106-7 , p. 707.
  7. Drügh, H. (2007) "... and I was happy to finally lose weight seriously": Christian Kracht's novel 1979 as the end of pop literature? Effective word German language and literature in research and teaching: 1.
  8. Lutz Seiler. Kruso. Summary of the reviews from NZZ and taz. - Das Kulturmagazin, accessed on November 14, 2014 .
  9. ^ According to the Association of German-Language Translators of Literary and Scientific Works , VdÜ