Five books from Germany

Jeff, a Facebook friend, wrote on my Wall:

Which five German books should I read, before I return to Amerika [my translation]?

He seems to read German.  I will recommend: Goethe’s Faust, Rilke’s Duino Elegies or Sonnets to Orpheus, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, Franz Kafka short stories (don’t forget "Ein Landarzt,"), and Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game.  Non-fiction does seem to count for the query, although it would not crack my list of top five.  Schopenhauer tempts as well.  Do you have better ideas for him?


Jürgen Dollase's book on "Kulinarische Intelligenz" is stimulating (aside from the very end where he muses about gourmet food subsidies ); it's a passionate plea to also think about food and eating, not merely passively consuming food. Peter Sloterdijk writes philosophy which engenders controversy, but his work a pleasure to read just for the flamboyand language and great metaphors; "Luftbeben" is short and still topical. There are also numerous hefty tomes of his. Daniel Kehlmann's "Die Vermessung der Welt" is hyped and overrated, a very pleasant and fun read nonetheless. Two earlier books, "Mahlers Zeit" and "Ich und Kaminski", are small and wonderful and wonderfully witty.

Thomas Mann: Magic Mountain

And Albert Speer- The Secret Diaries from Spandau

Heinrich Böll's short stories are satires of the Wirtshaftswunder and great for understanding today's - and yesterday's - Germany.

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil might be a great read, not just for the philosophical content but for his mastery of the German language.

I decided to pull up my old From Dawn to Decadence for some recommendations. Barzun has never steered me wrong before, at least as far as content is concerned. So here are two: Klinger's Sturm and Drang and Schiller's Brigands.

My own knowledge of good German lit is sorely lacking, however.

I am German and I think your suggestions are reasonable. Goethe's Faust 1 would (obviously) be my number one choice. I like the "Michael Kohlhaas" by von Kleist and "Sansibar oder der letzte Grund" by Andersch. The only Schiller book I ever read is "Die Räuber" and it is very good literature as well. Looking at all the recommendations I have to say that you have to know the German language quite well to understand Goethe, Schiller or (especially) von Kleist but if you do it is worth to give them a try!
Ohh one thought more: Kurt Tucholsky is fun! (Needn't be a book; he wrote many good satires covering just a few pages)

For a lighter read, I recommend Erich Maria Remarque. You might have heard of All Quiet on the Western Front, but I prefer Three Comrades.

No need to slog through "Buddenbrooks" or "Zauberberg" to experience Mann's best work; just read "Tod in Venedig".

If your friend is in to philosophy or sociology, he should have a look at Nietzsche and Adorno. They are much more readable than long-winded synthesizers like Hegel, Marx, and Habermas.

For modern authors, he should try Patrik Suesskind. I really like his novella "Die Taube".

I second Ernst Jünger's The Storm of Steel (In Stahlgewittern). This book is the polar opposite of Remark's All Quiet on the Western Front. Jünger, who fought in WWI and was wounded seven times, was one tough and scary dude. I think he really captures the German militaristic culture that led to Germany's involvement in WWI.

Süskind - Das Parfüm. About the only 300+ pages book I ever read in one go.

Geez, that's a heavy list. No love for SS vet Guenter Grass? Katz und Maus is good and quite short. If you want to read what Germans are reading, get Der Schwarm, one of those airport 700 page potboilers about environmental catastrophe. Authors name escapes me.

Max Frisch, "Homo Faber"

I haven't read Juenger's "In Stahlgewittern", but I did start one of his other books, "Waeldchen 125". I gave up after the first couple of chapters convinced me that the author was a dangerous lunatic. Which certainly could be a reason for reading it--the guy wasn't Remarque, for sure.

Widerstand und Ergebung. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The best book I have ever read in German was "Der Fremde Freund" by Christoph Hein.

Arthur Schnitzler's "Spiel in Morgengrau" is a perfect little book.

Theodor Storm's "Schimmelreiter" is quite entertaining.

Es muss nicht immer Kaviar sein by Johannes Mario Simmel is relatively recent and very good.

Schiller: Don Carlos
Goethe: Faust I
some Kafka
Mann: Buddenbrooks
some Tucholsky
Dürrenmatt: Die Physiker ("The Physicists")
Böll, at least Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral ("Anecdote for the Decline of the Working Morale")

Poetry: Goethe, Heine, Rilke, Ringelnatz, *Kästner*, Brecht, Bachmann, Enzensberger

recent: Juli Zeh: Spieltrieb (to be enjoyed with a grain of salt)

Thomas Bernhard, The Loser or Correction

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