Regarded as the greatest literary figure in Germany's modern era, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a statesman and writer. Apart from writing poetry and prose, he also wrote treatises on color, anatomy, and botany. Thanks to his literary genius, Goethe was made part of the Duke's privy council in Weimar and he implemented several reforms at the University of Jena.
German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. He explored individuals’ search for authenticity, self-knowledge, and spirituality in his works. An intense and headstrong person from childhood, he developed an early interest in reading. He started writing as a young man and became an influential author in the German-speaking world.
Friedrich Schiller was a German poet, physician, philosopher, playwright, and historian. Schiller is best remembered for his friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the two discussed issues concerning aesthetics. Schiller's discussions with Goethe paved the way for a period, which came to be known as Weimar Classicism. Friedrich Schiller is also widely regarded as Germany's most prominent classical playwright.
German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, and poet Friedrich Nietzsche has had a profound influence on modern intellectual history. He held the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel. His work spanned philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction. He suffered from numerous health problems from a young age and died at the age of 55.
Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, political scientist, and revolutionary socialist. Along with Karl Marx, Engels helped develop Marxism, which has had a profound impact on fields like philosophy and anthropology. Engels is credited with helping Marx publish Das Kapital, a foundational theoretical work in politics, economics, and materialist philosophy. He also co-authored influential political documents like The Communist Manifesto.
Heinrich Heine was a German poet, literary critic, and writer. He is known internationally for his lyric poetry, which was popularized by composers like Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann who adapted Heine's lyric poetry into art songs. Heinrich Heine's radical political views forced the German authorities to ban his works, which only added to his popularity.
E. T. A. Hoffmann was a German author, jurist, artist, composer, and music critic. His stories served as an inspiration and laid the foundation for The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach. The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is also based on Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffmann is among the most influential authors of the Romantic Movement.
Part of the Young Germany movement, German dramatist and author Georg Büchner was a revolutionary and a master of Expressionist plays. Born to an army doctor, he studied medicine but also simultaneously participated in pamphleteering for social issues. He is remembered for works such as Danton’s Death and Woyzeck.
Franz Halder, the son of an army officer, became the Chief of General Staff of the German army, replacing General Ludwig Beck. He later became the Commander in Chief but was replaced due to disagreements with Hitler. He later testified against major Nazi officials in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.
Part of the legendary folklorist duo known as the Brothers Grimm, Jacob Grimm gave to the world Grimm’s Fairy Tales, along with his younger brother, Wilhelm Grimm. The son of a lawyer, he, too, had initially studied law. He also contributed immensely to Germanic linguistics, with his Grimm's law.
German author Karl May is best remembered for his travel and adventure tales, which narrate stories set in the Middle East and other lands. His best-known works include The Treasure in the Silver Lake. He developed his love for literature after reading voraciously while in prison for fraud.
German lyric poet and dramatist Friedrich Hölderlin was a significant figure of German Romanticism. Initially pushed to join a Christian ministry by his mother, he later ditched the idea and was inspired by Greek mythology. He later suffered from schizophrenia and spent 36 years in a tower, later named the Hölderlinturm.
Wilhelm Grimm was a German anthropologist and author. He is best remembered as one half of the popular literary duo, the Brothers Grimm. Along with his elder brother Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm published a collection of fairy tales in 1812. It was later translated into English and came to be known as Grimms' Fairy Tales.
German anti-Semitic völkisch poet, playwright, journalist, publicist, and political activist Dietrich Eckart, one of Adolf Hitler's earliest mentors who Hitler acknowledged as the spiritual co-founder of Nazism, founded German Workers' Party, the precursor of Nazi Party. Eckart was the original publisher of the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter, and lyricist of Sturmlied, the de facto anthem of the Sturmabteilung.
Best known for his adventure tales and chronicles of rural Mexican society, German author B. Traven was a living enigma, as his real name remains unknown. Some believe he was the German revolutionary Ret Marut. His work The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was later made into an Academy Award-winning film.
Philipp Mainlander was unfortunately born out of marital rape and was later forced by his father to train to be a merchant. However, while working in Italy, he devoted himself to writing. His works include the iconic The Philosophy of Redemption. He eventually committed suicide by hanging.
Hailed as an early leader of liberal Christianity, Lutheran philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher was also an eminent biblical scholar and theologian. Best remembered for his works on hermeneutics and theory of translation, he also had a great impact on the evolution of higher criticism and became known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity.
Enamoured by the ideas of French and German philosophers, Ferdinand Lassalle initially aspired to be a lecturer. He later joined the socialist cause and spearheaded Germany’s social democratic movement. He also introduced terms such as the iron law of wages and concepts such as Lassallism, or achieving socialist ideals through the state.
One of the most influential 19th-century classicists, Theodor Mommsen donned many hats and was at the same time a historian, a philologist, a legal scholar, and an archaeologist. His legendary A History of Rome won him a Nobel Prize in Literature. He had also fathered 16 children.
Though a staunch socialist and Marxist, Eduard Bernstein was also one of the biggest critics of Marxist theory and thus gained the nickname The Father of Revisionism. He spotted many loopholes in Karl Marx’s tenets, such as the eventual collapse of the capitalist economy. He also represented Brandenburg in the Reichstag.
Better known as the father of Rammstein lead singer Till Lindemann, Werner Lindemann was a children’s poet and author. Born to farmers, Werner grew up to join the German Army and then dabbled in editing and freelance writing. He lived at the Drispeth Artist's Colony, founded by him.
Jean Paul was a German writer best remembered for his humorous stories and novels. While many of his fans hold him in high regard, his critics treat his work with indifference. Due to such a disparity, Paul holds an unusual position in German literary history. Robert Schumann admired Jean Paul's works, which served as an inspiration to the former's Papillons.
Dissatisfied with his army career, Heinrich von Kleist had also studied law and math but quit studies later to devote himself to writing. Part of German Romanticism, he penned iconic plays such as The Schroffenstein Family and Hermann’s Battle. He eventually shot himself and his lover Henriette in a murder-suicide.
Nobel Prize-winning German author Gerhart Hauptmann initially trained and worked as a sculptor but later deviated to poetry and drama. Known for works such as The Weavers and Before Dawn, he is considered one of the pioneers of literary naturalism. His novel Atlantis inspired a Danish silent movie.
Protestant theologian David Strauss was 12 when he joined a seminary to study theology. Known for his works such as Das Leben Jesu, or The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, he criticized the Gospels and the miracles associated with Christ, thus inspiring future studies on the historical Jesus.
The pioneer of German realist fiction, Theodor Fontane started as a journalist before venturing into a writing career at the ripe age of 58. He had also briefly been an apothecary, following in his father’s footsteps. His novels such as Effi Briest talk about the plight of women.
Alfred Doblin was a German novelist, essayist, and doctor. He is considered one of the most important figures of German literary modernism. A prolific writer with a career spanning more than half a century, he wrote novels, dramas, screenplays, and radio plays across a range of genres. Despite the popularity he once enjoyed, he is believed to be under-recognized.
Lyric poet Stefan George was a significant part of the 19th-century German Aestheticism. While studying in Paris, he was influenced by Symbolists. He established the George-Kreis school of literature and launched its popular journal, Blätter für die Kunst. He also exhibited homosexual tendencies in his love poems dedicated to Maximin.
Felix Hoffmann was a German chemist best remembered for re-synthesizing diamorphine, which was later popularized as heroin. Hoffmann is also known for synthesizing aspirin, although it is still unclear whether he synthesized it on his own or under the direction of Arthur Eichengrün. In 2002, Felix Hoffmann was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame.
German author and philosopher Paul Rée, whose writings influenced much of his friend Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, was born to affluent Jewish parents. While he initially studied philosophy and law, Rée later became a physician. He died while hiking on the Swiss Alps, though some feel he had committed suicide.
While German mathematician Felix Hausdorff initially wished to become a musician, parental pressure led him to choose math. Considered one of the pioneers of modern topology, he made major contributions to set theory and functional analysis. He died of suicide, along with his wife and sister-in-law, instead of moving to a Nazi camp.