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.
Bohemian-Austrian poet and author Rainer Maria Rilke is best remembered for his numerous poetry collections and his only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. His works contain metaphors, contradictions, and elements drawn from Greek mythology. Though most of his works were in German, he had also written in French.
German playwright, poet, and theater director, Bertolt Brecht, is best known for co-writing the play, The Threepenny Opera, with Kurt Weill. Growing up in war-torn Germany in the early 20th century, he had a difficult life. A hardcore Marxist, he lived in exile during the Nazi period. He returned to Germany after the war and established a theater company.
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.
Max Ernst was a German painter, graphic artist, sculptor, and poet. A pioneer of the Dada movement, Ernst played an important role in popularizing surrealism during the early-20th century. He is also credited with inventing a couple of techniques, namely frottage and grattage. In 2005, the Max Ernst Museum was opened in his honor in Brühl, Germany.
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.
Günter Grass was a German novelist, illustrator, graphic artist, poet, playwright, and sculptor. A much revered and decorated writer, Grass was honored with the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. Over the course of his illustrious career, Günter Grass won many other awards, including the Georg Büchner Prize and the Hermann Kesten Prize.
German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder is best remembered as a significant figure of the Sturm und Drang literary movement. Born into poverty and largely self-educated till 17, he later became a disciple of Immanuel Kant and was associated with Enlightenment and Weimar Classicism. He was eventually ennobled.
Poet and philosopher Friedrich Leopold, better known as Novalis, was a significant figure of German Romanticism. He narrated the loss of his 15-year-old fiancé to tuberculosis in his Hymns to the Night. He himself died of the disease a few years later. He was also well-versed in natural sciences.
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.
Four-time Nobel Prize-nominated German author Erich Kästne is best remembered for his children’s books such as Emil and the Detectives. Initially aspiring to be a teacher, he later had stints as a journalist and a freelance author. A leading satirist, he contributed to Die Weltbühne and also headed PEN.
Nelly Leonie Sachs, internationally noted German-Swedish poet and dramatist, wrote conventional romantic poems until the rise of Nazism brought about a drastic change in her life. Forced to flee to Sweden, she began writing about the grief and yearnings of her fellow Jews, concurrently translating German works into Swedish and vice-versa. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966.
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.
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.
Born in Germany, W. G. Sebald later studied in Switzerland and England. He gained fame with his non-chronological tales of people traumatized by the ravages of war. His novels such as Vertigo and The Emigrants deal with themes of decay and memory. He died while driving around Norwich.
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.
Part of the German avant-garde movement and a prominent Dadaist, poet and artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is best remembered for her sound poetry and her posthumously published book Body Sweats. It is believed the famous urinal Fountain sculpture thought to be a work of Marcel Duchamp was actually created by Elsa.
Author, poet and dramatist Hugo Ball was also a harsh social critic and a staunch pacifist. Known for his works like Critique of German Intelligence and The Flight from Time, he left Germany during WWI to settle down in neutral Switzerland, eventually becoming famous as the founder of the Dada movement and a pioneer in the development of sound poetry.
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.
Part of German folklore, Middle High German poet and minnesinger Tannhäuser was well-traveled and had also participated in the Sixth Crusade. His poems used the leich style and were probably parodies of the traditional genre. His life inspired ballads such as Danhauser and Richard Wagner’s three-act opera Tannhäuser.
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.
One of the rare female Expressionist authors, Else Lasker-Schüler is best remembered for plays such as Die Wupper. Known for her bohemian and eccentric lifestyle, she fled the Nazis and moved first to Switzerland and then to Jerusalem. Owing to her extravagant expenses, she died in poverty.
One of the finest German lyric poets of the Middle Ages, Walther von der Vogelweide was a regular at various royal courts. His works mostly include love songs such as Under der linden, apart from elegies and religious poems. He had also been given a small fief by Frederick II.
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.
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.
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.
Renowned German author, journalist, and satirist Kurt Tucholsky is best remembered for his cabaret songs. He initially studied law and participated in World War I before moving to France and Sweden. The Nazis revoked his German citizenship for his communist ideals. He committed suicide, though some believe he accidentally overdosed.
Middle High German poet Ulrich von Liechtenstein is remembered for his tales of virtues of knights. Born into a noble family, he was initially a page to a lady and was later knighted, too. The movie A Knight’s Tale uses Liechtenstein’s name, though the character isn’t historically similar to Liechtenstein.
German playwright Hanns Johst was an ardent supporter of the Nazi Party. His works were influenced by Expressionism. His play Schlageter was staged on Hitler’s 44th birthday to celebrate his victory after the Nazis rose to power. He also led the German poetry academy and writer’s union.
German artist and poet Wilhelm Busch is best remembered for pioneering the illustrations known as Bilderbogen, believed to have inspired the modern-day comic strip format. A qualified mechanical engineer, he later deviated to art. His best-known work remains Max und Moritz, which influenced The Katzenjammer Kids.
Considered the first German female poet and historian Hrosvitha was a Benedictine nun for most of her life. Her writings provided a woman’s perspective of the history of her era. Her works include narrative poems on Christian legends and comedies with Christian themes written in Latin.
Nobel Prize-winning author Herta Müller grew up under the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania. She was fired from her first job for not co-operating with the Romanian secret police. Her works, such as Oppressive Tango and The Passport, mirror the oppression of Germans she has witnessed in Romania.
German Romantic lyricist Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff is best remembered for his epic poem Robert und Guiscard, which highlights the French Revolution. His prose works such as Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing, revolving around themes such as love, too, gained him fame. He also worked in the civil services
Apart from being a Benedictine monk, Rabanus Maurus was also a talented author and is remembered for his 22-volume encyclopaedia On the Natures of Things. He enriched German language and literature and this gained the nickname Teacher of Germany. His works also include translations and commentaries.
Erich Mühsam was a German anti-militarist anarchist essayist, poet, and playwright. He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. He was rebellious by nature and aspired to be a writer from a young age. He eventually became involved in communist and anarchist politics. His well-known works include Die Eigenen and Im Nachthemd durchs Leben. He was murdered in 1934.
Gottfried Benn was a German poet, physician, and essayist. As an expressionist, Benn had a significant influence on German poetry before the First World War. Renowned for his literary work, Benn was nominated for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature on five occasions. In 1951, he was honored with the Georg Büchner Prize.
Ludwig Tieck was a German poet, writer, and translator. He is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement that originated in the late 18th century. He wrote numerous short stories, poems, and plays in the early Romantic tradition. In his later years, he was active as a literary critic. Poet Sophie Tieck was his sister.