The ups and the downs of early-mid German literature lead from Germanic tribes and their sin, death and the devil focus, to the ‘courtly love’ era of the late 1100s and early 1200s, to deep love, death and corruption of the Baroque era. They had it all, but more was yet to come – in fact the pinnacle of German literature and Germany’s answer to Shakespeare & co. as well as late 19th and 20th century authors who left their profound influence on even today’s world.
Weimarer Classicism: This period owes its name to Goethe and Schiller’s residence at Weimar and revolves around these two key figures in Germany’s literary history, but you can read more about these two in Infosheet 1…
Romanticism: The romantic period in Germany developed late compared to its counterpart in England, and, as the name suggests, was characterised by romantic works of literature, however, the German authors of this period, unlike the English ones, also brought humorous themes into their works. Whilst romance was the core theme of this period, some notable authors also brought strong cases of violence and heavy drama into their works.
Realism and Naturalism: After Goethe’s death, the focus of German literature yet again changed. A new group of younger writers wanted to have a direct impact on politics and society and their morals. The key literary forms of this period were pamphlets, essays, journalism and satire, and many of these authors, by agitating politicians, were actually prohibited from publishing their works in Germany and even imprisoned. The last two decades of the 19th century again brought upon changes in German literature with a movement towards naturalism – there was a newfound concern for social problems, particularly those of the lower class, and the nature of the human psyche.
German Modernism: The beginning of this century was made up of a combination of literary movements including expressionism, neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity), and Dada with expressionism being the best known. Expressionism was a powerful response to World War 1 concerning itself with the chaos and suffering of modern life. Literary works focused on images of war, oppression and illness.
Post-1945: The post-war literature from the area which became West Germany was strongly influenced by other European literature and American literature. The period saw many stage dramas written and performed tackling difficult topics which had emerged due to the war. Over the next two decades the themes of war and politics were heavily present throughout German literature.
Postmodernism and Reunification: The last decades of the 20th century were influenced by international postmodernism – a movement which attempted to appeal to both a popular and more sophisticated readership. Works included parodies, revisions of fairy tales, and ironic representations of contemporary feminism. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, writers again moved towards heavier topics, such as tensions in politics and society. There were stories of self-discovery, guilt, desires and violence.
Congratulations for making it all the way to the present day!
In the past two decades German literary works have focused on a variety of different topics. Whilst there are still many works being published on political and social problems, and reflections on the war, there are popular German writers in all genres – whether you’re into romance, comedy, drama, mystery – there’s sure to be something for everyone to enjoy!
Images and information retrieved from: