If you’re a regular Babbel Magazine reader, you’ll know that we often discuss the value of supplementing your language lessons with media in that language. Whether you watch TV shows, listen to music or read books, immersing yourself in foreign-language media can really take your language learning to the next level. Our team of language experts hand-picked this list of German books to supplement your studies. Let’s dive in!
Das Wunder von Bern
Translated as “The Miracle of Bern,” Das Wunder von Bern tells the story of the incredible upset victory of the West German soccer team in the 1954 World Cup Final in Bern, Switzerland. Written by Christof Siemes, the book is based on a 2003 film of the same title, and it focuses on a soccer-loving 11-year-old boy whose father has recently returned from being held as a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union, throwing their family into disarray.
Das Wunder von Bern is a good pick for beginners, and it’s also available in an “easy language version” that’s even easier to understand if you’re just starting out. In addition to the language, the book can teach you about soccer and the history of post-WWII Germany.
Die Vermessung der Welt
This comedic novel is a fictional biography of two very real historical figures: naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. The pair sets out to measure the world, in their own eccentric ways. The book was Daniel Kehlmann’s debut novel and was very popular, selling millions of copies worldwide.
Die Vermessung der Welt (“The Measuring of the World”) is for intermediate-level learners — it doesn’t get too in-the-weeds with technical language, but it still uses tenses and vocabulary that beginners may struggle with. Although the novel is fictional, you can learn about some of the real work of these two renowned men.
Emil und die Detektive
Emil und die Detektive (“Emil and the Detectives”) is a classic German children’s book written by Erich Kästner and published in 1929. Set primarily in Berlin, the novel follows a schoolboy named Emil, who gets robbed on a train, and the group of kids who help him track down the thief. It’s been translated into at least 59 languages.
While it’s written for children in relatively easy-to-understand German, our language experts say Emil und die Detektive is best for intermediate learners. Though fictional, the book provides you with a glimpse into life in 1920s Berlin.
Max und Moritz
For those who prefer a lower commitment entry to the German language, Max und Moritz (“Max and Moritz”) might be the best bet for you, as it comes in comic strip form. The illustrated story is about two boys pulling a series of pranks is told in rhyming couplets, with a bit of dark comedy mixed in. The book was written and illustrated by Wilhelm Busch, and it was published in 1865.
The format is more easily digestible than a novel, but it’s still classified for intermediate German learners due to some of the specialized vocabulary used. You can learn a lot of German words from this story, as well as get a taste of German humor.
Written by Berlin’s well-known Russian DJ Wladimir Kaminer, Russendisko (“Russian Disco”) is a collection of short stories about young Jewish Russians living in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Published in 2000, the book is equal parts funny and poignant, and it showcases Kaminer’s love for the city.
Russendisko provides a clear advantage for learners: German is not Kaminer’s first language. Thus, it might help to learn German from someone who had to learn it himself. The stories do include a number of colloquial expressions, however, so it’s best for intermediate learners. In addition to language, you can learn about both the immigrant experience in Berlin and the city’s cultural spirit.
Published in 2010, Tshick is a more contemporary German novel, chronicling the adventures of two 14-year-old boys (one referred to as “Tschick” after his last name, Tschichatschow) who set off on a road trip in a stolen car to escape problems at home. The story, written by the late Wolfgang Herrndorf, is funny and moving, exploring the trials of adolescence and the true meaning of friendship.
The book is written in a casual style that is relatively easy to understand. It’s ideal for intermediate learners who are already familiar with some German slang and colloquialisms. For comparison, an English translation of the book was published in 2014 under the title Why We Took The Car.