How many books set in Germany have you read? The sheer breadth of literature is staggering, so this list of books set in Germany aims to capture just a selection of stories which span the country’s complex history and vast geography. The following novels are listed in chronological order and include everything from classics through to modern tales. 🇩🇪
There are books set in Germany by Nobel Prize winning authors; including The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, The Tin Drum by Günter Grass and Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll. You’ll also find modern bestsellers (many of which have film adaptations) including All The Light We Cannot See, Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief and The Reader.
Books Set In Germany: The Shortlist
If you want to skip the longer list below, these are my personal picks for books set in Germany:
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
Books Set In Germany
by Theodor Fontane, 1895
Fontane’s enchanting seventeen-year-old heroine, Effi, is married off to Geert von Innstetten, an austere, workaholic civil servant twice her age. Set in Bismarck’s Germany, this luminous and moving tale of a socially suitable but emotionally disastrous match, shifts from childhood idyll in Brandenburg, to a remote Baltic port and back to Imperial Berlin.
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories
by Franz Kafka, 1915
Note: Kafka was an Austrian-Czech writer and this story takes place indoors; so the setting is never quite disclosed, though it is often assumed to be Prague. However, Berlin played a significant role in Kafka’s life and the Metamorphosis was originally published in Leipzig, Germany; making it worthy of a mention.
Virtually unknown during his lifetime, Franz Kafka is now one of the world’s most widely read and discussed authors. His nightmarish novels and short stories have come to symbolize modern man’s anxiety and alienation in a bizarre, hostile, and dehumanized world. This vision is most fully realized in Kafka’s masterpiece, The Metamorphosis a story that is both harrowing and amusing, and a landmark of modern literature.
The Magic Mountain
by Thomas Mann, 1924
Note: This one is by a German author, but set in Switzerland; and is widely considered to be one of the most influential pieces of German literature.
In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, a community devoted exclusively to sickness, as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.
by Hermann Hesse, 1927
Steppenwolf is a poetical self-portrait of a man who felt himself to be half-human and half-wolf. This Faust-like and magical story is evidence of Hesse’s searching philosophy and extraordinary sense of humanity as he tells of the humanization of a middle-aged misanthrope. Yet this novel can also be seen as a plea for rigorous self-examination and an indictment of the intellectual hypocrisy of the period. As Hesse himself remarked, “Of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other”.
by Alfred Döblin, 1929
Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of the masterpieces of modern European literature and the first German novel to adopt the technique of James Joyce. It tells the story of Franz Biberkopf, who, on being released from prison, is confronted with the poverty, unemployment, crime and burgeoning Nazism of 1920s Germany. As Franz struggles to survive in this world, fate teases him with a little pleasure before cruelly turning on him.
All Quiet On The Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque, 1929
This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I. These young men become enthusiastic soldiers, but their world of duty, culture, and progress breaks into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.
Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the hatred that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another – if only he can come out of the war alive.
Goodbye To Berlin
by Christopher Isherwood, 1939
Here, meine Damen und Herren, is Chrisopther Isherwood’s brilliant farewell to a city which was not only buildings, streets and people, but was also a state of mind which will never come again.
In linked short stories, he says goodbye to Sally Bowles, to Fraulein Schroeder, to pranksters, perverts, political manipulators; to the very, very guilty and to the dwindling band of innocents. It is goodbye to a Berlin wild, wicked, breathtaking, decadent beyond belief and already – in the years between the wars – welcoming death in through the door, though more with a wink than an whimper.
Alone In Berlin (Every Man Dies Alone)
by Hans Fallada, 1947
This masterpiece—by a heroic best-selling writer who saw his life crumble when he wouldn’t join the Nazi Party—is based on a true story.
It presents a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decides to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front. With nothing but their grief and each other against the awesome power of the Reich, they launch a simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has an enraged Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in.
by Vladimir Nabokov, 1952
The Gift is the last of the novels Nabokov wrote in his native Russian and the crowning achievement of that period in his literary career. It is also his ode to Russian literature, evoking the works of Pushkin, Gogol, and others in the course of its narrative: the story of Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, an impoverished émigré poet living in Berlin, who dreams of the book he will someday write–a book very much like The Gift itself.
The Tin Drum
by Günter Grass, 1959
On his third birthday Oskar decides to stop growing. Haunted by the deaths of his parents and wielding his tin drum Oskar recounts the events of his extraordinary life; from the long nightmare of the Nazi era to his anarchic adventures in post-war Germany.
Billiards at Half-Past Nine
by Heinrich Böll, 1959
Heinrich Böll’s well-known, vehement opposition to fascism and war informs this moving story of Robert Faehmel. After being drawn into the Second World War to command retreating German forces despite his anti-Nazi feelings, Faehmel struggles to re-establish a normal life at war’s end. He adheres to a rigorous schedule, including a daily game of billiards. When his routine is breached by an old friend, now a power in German reconstruction, Faehmel is forced to confront both public and private memories.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
by John Le Carré, 1963
In this classic, John le Carre’s third novel and the first to earn him international acclaim, he created a world unlike any previously experienced in suspense fiction. With unsurpassed knowledge culled from his years in British Intelligence, le Carre brings to light the shadowy dealings of international espionage in the tale of a British agent who longs to end his career but undertakes one final, bone-chilling assignment. When the last agent under his command is killed and Alec Leamas is called back to London, he hopes to come in from the cold for good. His spymaster, Control, however, has other plans. Determined to bring down the head of East German Intelligence and topple his organization, Control once more sends Leamas into the fray — this time to play the part of the dishonored spy and lure the enemy to his ultimate defeat.
by Kurt Vonnegut, 1982
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
by Thomas Keneally, 1982
Note: this one is mostly set in Poland, in and around the Krakow area. It was originally published as Schindler’s Ark.
In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womaniser, a heavy drinker and a bon viveur, but to them he became a saviour. This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of mercy.
by Philip Kerr, 1989
Bernhard Gunther, a hard-boiled Berlin detective who specializes in tracking down missing persons—mostly Jews. He is summoned by a wealthy industrialist to find the murderer of his daughter and son-in-law, killed during the robbery of a priceless diamond necklace.
Gunther quickly is catapulted into a major political scandal involving Hitler’s two main henchmen, Goering and Himmler.
by Ian McEwan, 1990
Psychological thriller set in Berlin during the Cold War, based on an actual (but little known) incident which tells of the secret tunnel under the Soviet sector which the British and Americans built in 1954 to gain access to the Russians’ communication system. The protagonist, Leonard Marnham, is a 25-year-old, naive, unsophisticated English post office technician who is astonished and alarmed to find himself involved in a top-secret operation.
Floating In My Mother’s Palm
by Ursula Hegi, 1990
Floating in My Mother’s Palm is the compelling and mystical story of Hanna Malter, a young girl growing up in 1950’s Burgdorf, the small German town Ursula Hegi so brilliantly brought to life in her bestselling novel Stones from the River. Hanna’s courageous voice evokes her unconventional mother, who swims during thunderstorms; the illegitimate son of an American GI, who learns from Hanna about his father; and the librarian, Trudi Montag, who lets Hanna see her hometown from a dwarf’s extraordinary point of view. Although Ursula Hegi wrote Floating in My Mother’s Palm first, it can be read as a sequel to Stones from the River.
by W. G. Sebald, 1992
Note: this one is about German emigrants in England and the United States.
At first The Emigrants appears simply to document the lives of four Jewish émigrés in the twentieth century. But gradually, as Sebald’s precise, almost dreamlike prose begins to draw their stories, the four narrations merge into one overwhelming evocation of exile and loss.
Written with a bone-dry sense of humour and a fascination with the oddness of existence The Emigrants is highly original in its heady mix of fact, memory and fiction and photographs.
Stones From The River
by Ursula Hegi, 1994
From the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Floating in My Mother’s Palm comes a stunning novel about ordinary people living in extraordinary times.
Trudi Montag is a Zwerg—a dwarf—short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share—from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he’s a girl, to the Jews Trudy harbors in her cellar.
by Bernhard Schlink, 1995
Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age.
In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
by Uwe Timm, 1998
If this, Uwe Timm’s enchanting novel, were a cautionary tale, the tag line would go something like this: Should you plan to be in Berlin on Midsummer Night, the time of the summer solstice – Watch Out! The narrator of Timm’s story is a writer who simply can’t get started on his next book. So he accepts a commission to write an article about potatoes. He has some interest in the subject because of an uncle who could, remarkably, from taste alone, differentiate one species of potato from another. Since one of the authorities on the subject worked in East Berlin, our hero takes off to do some research. Rushing around the newly united city, he becomes involved in a series of madcap adventures, strange entanglements, and odd, sometimes threatening encounters. Uwe Timm spins a fascinating tale here, one filled with surprise, magic, comedy, and hope.
Those Who Save Us
by Jenna Blum, 2004
For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.
Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne, 2006
Note: much of this story is set in German occupied Poland.
When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.
The Hangman’s Daughter
by Oliver Pötzsch, 2008
Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman’s son—except that the town physician’s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father’s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and there hasn’t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.
Book Of Clouds
by Chloe Aridjis, 2009
Book of Clouds is a haunting, masterfully wrought debut novel about a young woman adrift in Berlin, where a string of fateful encounters leads to romance, violence, and revelation. Having escaped her overbearing family a continent away, Tatiana settles in Berlin and cultivates solitude while distancing herself from the city’s past. Yet the phantoms of Berlin–seeping in through the floorboards of her apartment, lingering in the abandoned subterranea–are more alive to her than the people she passes on her daily walks.
The Valley of Unknowing
by Philip Sington, 2012
In the twilight years of Communist East Germany, Bruno Krug, author of a single world-famous novel written twenty years earlier, falls for Theresa Aden, a music student from the West. But Theresa has also caught the eye of a cocky young scriptwriter who delights in satirizing Krug’s work.
Asked to appraise a mysterious manuscript, Bruno is disturbed to find that the author is none other than his rival. Disconcertingly, the book is good—very good. But there is hope for the older man: the unwelcome masterpiece is dangerously political. Krug decides that if his affair with Theresa is to prove more than a fling, he must employ a small deception. But in the Workers’ and Peasants’ State, knowing the deceiver from the deceived, the betrayer from the betrayed, isn’t just difficult: it can be a matter of life and death.
All The Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr, 2014
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
The Secret Healer
by Ellin Carsta, 2015
In the fourteenth century, opportunities for women are limited to the home. But spirited young Madlen finds her calling as assistant to the city’s trusted midwife, Clara. Working alongside Clara, Madlen develops a surprisingly soothing technique and quickly becomes a talented healer.
After Clara’s tragic death, Madlen alone rushes to assist the birth of a local nobleman’s child. But rather than the joy of birth, Madlen walks into an accusation of murder and witchcraft because of her extraordinary gifts. Forced to flee her own town, she establishes a new identity in the home of her aunt.
Go, Went, Gone
by Jenny Erpenbeck, 2015
One of the great contemporary European writers takes on Europe’s biggest issue.
Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in the world of books and ideas, but now he is retired, his books remain in their packing boxes and he steps into the streets of his city, Berlin. Here, on Alexanderplatz, he discovers a new community — a tent city, established by African asylum seekers. Hesitantly, getting to know the new arrivals, Richard finds his life changing, as he begins to question his own sense of belonging in a city that once divided its citizens into them and us.
At once a passionate contribution to the debate on race, privilege and nationality and a beautifully written examination of an ageing man’s quest to find meaning in his life, Go, Went, Gone showcases one of the great contemporary European writers at the height of her powers.
The Air Raid Killer: A Novel
by Frank Goldammer, 2016
In the final days of the Third Reich, with the historic city of Dresden on the brink of destruction, terrifying rumors spread about the Fright Man, a demonic killer who exploited the cover of a nighttime air raid siren to mutilate and kill a young nurse. Just as seasoned detective Max Heller begins investigating, the Fright Man kills again…
The investigation seems hopeless. Desperate refugees flood the streets, all of Heller’s resources are depleted, and his new boss is a ruthless SS officer. And like so many others, Heller and his wife, Karin, survive on meager rations while fearing for the lives of their sons at the front. But as tensions mount and enemy firebombs decimate the city, dangerous new clues come to light—and the determined Heller pursues a violent and twisting path to unmask a monster.
The Moonlit Garden
by Corina Bomann, 2016
Lilly Kaiser had come to terms with her solitary, uncomplicated life after becoming a young widow. So when a stranger delivers an old violin to her Berlin antiques shop and tells Lilly it belongs to her, she’s completely bewildered. Why should she be the one to inherit such an exquisite instrument?
Together with her best friend, Ellen, and handsome musicologist Gabriel Thornton, Lilly sets out to explore the violin’s legacy. From England to Italy to Indonesia, she follows its winding trail.
The German Girl
by Armando Lucas Correa, 2017
Note: this one is about a family and their flee from Germany.
In 1939 before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Eleven-year-old Hannah was often taken by her mother for an afternoon treat at the tea room of the beautiful Adlon Hotel, both dressed in their finest clothes. She spent her afternoons at the park with her best friend Leo Martin. But, in an instant, that sunlit world vanished. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.
The Seed Woman
by Petra Durst-Benning, 2017
From bestselling author Petra Durst-Benning comes a sweeping emotional story of courage, triumph, and love against all odds in nineteenth-century Germany.
After a long and trying journey from her home, Hannah arrives at a charming village nestled in the foothills of the Swabian Mountains, eager to find Helmut Kerner, a traveling seed merchant she loved and lost. Enchanted by the glorious wildflowers and thriving harvests stretching as far as the eye can see, Hannah feels less like an outsider with each passing hour, until she meets Seraphine, an ethereally beautiful dreamer engaged to be married to Helmut, the father of Hannah’s unborn child.
Here In Berlin
by Cristina García, 2017
Here in Berlin is portrait of a city through snapshots, an excavation of the stories and ghosts of contemporary Berlin; its complex, troubled past still pulsing in the air as it was during the years of World War II. Critically acclaimed novelist Cristina Garcia brings the people of this famed city alive, their stories bristling with regret, desire, and longing.
What do you think of these books set in Germany?
Have some great books set in Germany that I’ve missed? Are you planning a trip to Germany soon? Are you interested in other books set in Europe? I’d love to hear about more about your travels and tips for books set in Germany in the comments below!
Looking for more reading ideas from Europe?
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