German language literature

German language literature

German literature comprises those literary texts written in the German language.

This includes literature written in Germany itself as well as German-language Swiss and Austrian literature, and to a lesser extent works of the German diaspora.

German literature of the modern period is mostly in Standard German, but there are some currents of literature influenced to a greater or lesser degree by dialects (e.g. Alemannic).

An early flowering of German literature is the Middle High German period of the High Middle Ages.
Modern literature in German begins with the authors of the Enlightenment (such as Herder) and reaches its "classical" form at the turn of the 18th century with Weimar Classicism (Goethe and Schiller).


Periodization is not an exact science but the following list contains movements or time periods typically used in discussing German literature. It seems worth noting that the periods of medieval German literature span two or three centuries, those of early modern German literature span one century, and those of modern German literature each span one or two decades. The closer one nears the present, the more debated the periodizations become.

* Medieval German literature
** Old High German literature (750-1050)
** Middle High German literature (1050-1300)
** Late medieval German literature/Renaissance (1300-1500)
* Early Modern German literature (see Early Modern literature)
** Humanism and Protestant Reformation (1500-1650)
** Baroque (1600-1720)
** Enlightenment (1680-1789)
* Modern German literature
** Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century German literature
*** "Empfindsamkeit" / Sensibility (1750s-1770s)
*** "Sturm und Drang" / Storm and Stress (1760s-1780s)
*** German Classicism (1729–1832)
**** Weimar Classicism (1788-1805) or (1788-1832), depending on whether one marks the end of this period with Schiller's death (1805) or with Goethe's (1832)
*** German Romanticism (1790s-1880s)
*** Biedermeier (1815-1848)
*** Young Germany (1830-1850)
*** Poetic Realism (1848-1890)
*** Naturalism (1880-1900)
** Twentieth-century German literature
*** 1900-1933
**** Fin de siècle (ca. 1900)
**** Symbolism
**** Expressionism (1910-1920)
**** Dada (1914-1924)
**** New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit)
*** 1933-1945
**** National Socialist literature
**** Exile literature
*** 1945-1989
**** By country
***** Federal Republic of Germany
***** German Democratic Republic
***** Austria
***** Switzerland
***** Other
**** By thematic or group
***** Post-war literature (1945-1967)
***** Group 47
***** Holocaust literature
** Contemporary German literature (1989-)

graph of works listed in Frenzel, "Daten deutscher Dichtung" (1952). Visible is medieval literature overlapping with Renaissance up to the 1540s, modern literature beginning 1720, and the baroque period separating the two, from 1550 to 1700.

Middle Ages

Medieval German literature refers to literature written in Germany, stretching from the Carolingian dynasty; various dates have been given for the end of the German literary Middle Ages, the Reformation (1517) being the last possible cut-off point.

Old High German

The Old High German period is reckoned to run until about the mid-11th century, though the boundary to Early Middle High German (second half of the 11th century) is not clear-cut.

The most famous work in OHG is the "Hildebrandslied", a short piece of Germanic alliterative heroic verse which besides the "Muspilli" is the sole survivor of what must have been a vast oral tradition. Another important work, in the northern dialect of Old Saxon, is a life of Christ in the style of a heroic epic known as the "Heliand".

Middle High German

Middle High German proper runs from the beginning of the 12th century. In the second half of the 12th century, there was a sudden intensification of activity, leading to a 60-year "golden age" of medieval German literature referred to as the "mittelhochdeutsche Blütezeit" (1170-1230). This was the period of the blossoming of MHG lyric poetry, particularly Minnesang (the German variety of the originally French tradition of courtly love). One of the most important of these poets was Walther von der Vogelweide. The same sixty years saw the composition of the most important courtly romances. These are written in rhyming couplets, and again draw on French models such as Chrétien de Troyes, many of them relating Arthurian material, for example, "Parzival" by Wolfram von Eschenbach. The third literary movement of these years was a new revamping of the heroic tradition, in which the ancient Germanic oral tradition can still be discerned, but tamed and Christianized and adapted for the court. These high medieval heroic epics are written in rhymed strophes, not the alliterative verse of Germanic prehistory. For example, the "Niebelungenlied".

Early Modern period

German Renaissance and Reformation

* Sebastian Brant (1457–1521)
* Thomas Murner (1475–1537)
* Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560)
* Sebastian Franck (1500–1543)
* Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski (1503–1572)

Baroque period

The Baroque period (1600 to 1720) was one of the most fertile times in German literature. Many writers reflected the horrible experiences of the Thirty Years' War, in poetry and prose. Grimmelshausen's adventures of the young and naïve Simplicissimus, in the eponymous book Simplicius Simplicissimus, became the most famous novel of the Baroque period. Andreas Gryphius and Daniel Caspar von Lohenstein wrote German language tragedies, or "Trauerspiele", often on Classical themes and frequently quite violent. Erotic, religious and occasional poetry appeared in both German and Latin.

Modern period

18th century

The Enlightenment

* August Friedrich Wilhelm Crome
* Johann Gottfried Herder
* Paul Heinrich Dietrich von Holbach
* Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
* Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel
* Immanuel Kant
* Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
* Moses Mendelssohn
* Carl Leonhard Reinhold
* Christian Thomasius
* Christian Jacob Wagenseil
* Christian Felix Weiße
* Christoph Martin Wieland
* Christian Wolff
* Friedrich Nicolai
* Christian Garve


"Empfindsamkeit" / Sensibility (1750s-1770s)
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–1769), Sophie de La Roche (1730–1807). The period culminates and ends in Goethe's best-selling "Die Leiden des jungen Werther" (1774).

"Sturm und Drang"

"Sturm und Drang" (the conventional translation is "Storm and Stress"; a more literal translation, however, might be "storm and urge", "storm and longing", or "storm and impulse") is the name of a movement in German literature and music taking place from the late 1760s through the early 1780s in which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in response to the confines of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements. The philosopher Johann Georg Hamann is considered to be the ideologue of Sturm und Drang, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a notable proponent of the movement, though he and Friedrich Schiller ended their period of association with it, initiating what would become Weimar Classicism.

German Classicism

Weimar Classicism (German “"Weimarer Klassik"” and “"Weimarer Klassizismus"”) is a cultural and literary movement of Europe, and its central ideas were originally propounded by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller during the period 1788–1832.

19th century


German Romanticism was the dominant movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. German Romanticism developed relatively late compared to its English counterpart, coinciding in its early years with the movement known as German Classicism or Weimar Classicism, which it opposed. In contrast to the seriousness of English Romanticism, the German variety is notable for valuing humor and wit as well as beauty. The early German romantics tried to create a new synthesis of art, philosophy, and science, looking to the Middle Ages as a simpler, more integrated period. As time went on, however, they became increasingly aware of the tenuousness of the unity they were seeking. Later German Romanticism emphasized the tension between the everyday world and the seemingly irrational and supernatural projections of creative genius. Heinrich Heine in particular criticized the tendency of the early romantics to look to the medieval past for a model of unity in art and society.
* Heinrich Heine
* G.W.F. Hegel
* E.T.A. Hoffmann
* Friedrich Hölderlin
* Heinrich von Kleist
* Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg)
* Friedrich Schlegel
* August Wilhelm Schlegel
* Friedrich Schleiermacher
* Ludwig Tieck
* Ludwig Uhland
* Joseph von Eichendorff

Biedermeier and Vormärz

Biedermeier refers to work in the fields of literature, music, the visual arts and interior design in the period between the years 1815 (Vienna Congress), the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and 1848, the year of the European revolutions and contrasts with the Romantic era which preceded it. Typical Biedermeier poets are Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Adelbert von Chamisso, Eduard Mörike, and Wilhelm Müller, the last two of which have well-known musical settings by Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert respectively.

Young Germany ("Junges Deutschland") was a loose group of Vormärz writers which existed from about 1830 to 1850. It was essentially a youth movement (similar to those that had swept France, Ireland and originated in Italy). Its main proponents were Karl Gutzkow, Heinrich Laube, Theodor Mundt and Ludolf Wienbarg; Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Börne and Georg Büchner were also considered part of the movement. The wider circle included Willibald Alexis, Adolf Glassbrenner and Gustav Kühne.

Realism and Naturalism

Poetic Realism (1848-1890)

Naturalism (1880-1900)

20th century

1900 to 1933

* Fin de siècle (ca. 1900)
* Symbolism
* Expressionism (1910-1920)
* Dada (1914-1924)
* New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit)

Nazi Germany

*National Socialist literature: see Blut und Boden, Nazi propaganda Under the Nazi regime, some authors went into exile ("Exilliteratur") and others submitted to censorship ("internal emigration", "Innere Emigration")
*"Innere Emigration": Gottfried Benn, Werner Bergengruen, Hans Blüher, Otto Dix, Hans Heinrich Ehrler, Werner Finck, Gertrud Fussenegger, Ricarda Huch, Ernst Jünger, Erich Kästner, Volker Lachmann, Oskar Loerke, Erika Mitterer, Walter von Molo, Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, Richard Riemerschmid, Reinhold Schneider, Frank Thiess, Carl von Ossietzky, Ernst Wiechert
* in exile: Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Hermann Broch, Alfred Döblin, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bruno Frank, A. M. Frey, Anna Gmeyner, Oskar Maria Graf, Heinrich Eduard Jacob, Hermann Kesten, Annette Kolb, Siegfried Kracauer, Emil Ludwig, Heinrich Mann, Klaus Mann, Thomas Mann, Balder Olden, Rudolf Olden, Robert Neumann, Erich Maria Remarque, Ludwig Renn, Alice Rühle-Gerstel, Otto Rühle, Alice Schwarz-Gardos, Anna Seghers, B. Traven, Bodo Uhse, Franz Werfel, Arnold Zweig, Stefan Zweig.

1945 to 1989

* Post-war literature (1945-1967); Group 47; Holocaust literature (Anne Frank, Edgar Hilsenrath)
* Literature of East Germany: Wolf Biermann, Sarah Kirsch, Günter Kunert, Reiner Kunze see|Heinrich Mann Prize
* Postmodern literature: Oswald Wiener, Hans Wollschläger, Christoph Ransmayr, Marlene Streeruwitz

Nobel Prize laureates

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to German language authors twelve times (as of 2007), or the third most often after English and French language authors (with 27 and 13 laureates, respectively).

*1902 Theodor Mommsen
*1908 Rudolf Christoph Eucken
*1910 Paul Heyse
*1912 Gerhart Hauptmann
*1919 Carl Spitteler
*1929 Thomas Mann
*1946 Hermann Hesse
*1966 Nelly Sachs
*1972 Heinrich Böll
*1981 Elias Canetti
*1999 Günter Grass
*2004 Elfriede Jelinek

Contemporary literature

*Science-Fiction: Andreas Eschbach, Frank Schätzing.
*Peter Schmidt
*"pop literature": Dietmar Dath, Christian Kracht, Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre, Rainald Goetz.
*migrant literature: Feridun Zaimoglu, Wladimir Kaminer, Rafik Schami
*Poetry: Marcel Beyer, Uwe Kolbe, Thomas Kling (1957-2005)
* [ Literaturport (in German): audio clips of contemporary literature, many read out by the authors themselves]

ee also

* German-speaking Europe
* Standard German
* Swiss literature
* Austrian literature
* Alemannic literature
* History of German
* list of German-language authors, list of German-language playwrights
* list of German-language poets
* list of German-language philosophers.
* History of literature
* Projekt Gutenberg-DE

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