Famous German Poets

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Germany has been the pothole of Europe’s technological, political, literary and spiritual development. And most of it has been due to its highly creative, focussed and efficient nationals who have led the country to become one of the most advanced countries on the western hemisphere. Germans are considered amongst the world’s most disciplined and hard-working people. Talking about German literature, the country is home to some of the most profoundly talented and gifted writers, novelists, poets and diarists. Such is the contribution of German poets and authors that no amount of reading of world literature can be termed complete without having read works by German writers. Talking specifically about German poets, the country takes pride in having greats like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Schiller, Gottfried Benn, Bertolt Brecht and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff amongst its list of magnificent poet. Each of them and many more have created magic with their verses, ballads, sonnets and elegies. With this section, explore some of the most accomplished and proficiently talented German poets. Their compelling piece of work would leave you hungry for more!
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 1 
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(Novelist Best Known for 'The Sorrows of Young Werther', the First Novel of The Sturm Und Drang Movement)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
8
Birthdate: August 28, 1749
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Goethe House, Frankfurt, Germany
Died: March 22, 1832

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.

 2 
Rainer Maria Rilke
(Austrian Poet and Novelist Known for His Poetry Collections ‘Duino Elegies’ and ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’)
Rainer Maria Rilke
4
Birthdate: December 4, 1875
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Prague, Czech Republic
Died: December 29, 1926

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.

 3 
Bertolt Brecht
(Theatre Practitioner, Playwright, and Poet Known for His Plays: ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and ‘Life of Galileo’)
Bertolt Brecht
6
Birthdate: February 10, 1898
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Augsburg, Germany
Died: August 14, 1956

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.

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 4 
Hermann Hesse
(Poet, Novelist & Painter Who Won the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature)
Hermann Hesse
5
Birthdate: July 2, 1877
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Calw, Germany
Died: August 9, 1962

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. 

 5 
Max Ernst
(Primary Pioneer of the 'Dada Movement' and 'Surrealism' Known for His Work 'A Week of Kindness')
Max Ernst
5
Birthdate: April 2, 1891
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brühl, Germany
Died: April 1, 1976

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.

 6 
Friedrich Schiller
(Playwright and Poet Known for His Works 'The Robbers', 'Don Carlos' and 'Mary Stuart')
Friedrich Schiller
7
Birthdate: November 10, 1759
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Marbach am Neckar, Germany
Died: May 9, 1805

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.

 7 
Heinrich Heine
(German Poet & Literary Critic Know for His Works 'Germany. A Winter's Tale' and 'Buch der Lieder')
Heinrich Heine
4
Birthdate: December 13, 1797
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Düsseldorf, Germany
Died: February 17, 1856

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.

 8 
Günter Grass
(German Novelist & Nobel Prize Laureate, Best Known for His 1959 Novel, 'The Tin Drum')
Günter Grass
4
Birthdate: October 16, 1927
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Free City of Danzig, Poland
Died: April 13, 2015

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.

 9 
Johann Gottfried Herder
(Philosopher, Theologian, Poet, and Literary Critic)
Johann Gottfried Herder
4
Birthdate: August 25, 1744
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Morąg, Poland
Died: December 18, 1803

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.

 10 
Novalis
(German Romantic Poet and Philosopher Known for His Poems ‘Hymns to the Night’ and ‘Spiritual Songs’)
Novalis
4
Birthdate: May 2, 1772
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Wiederstedt, Germany
Died: March 25, 1801

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.

 11 
Friedrich Hölderlin
(German Poet and Philosopher Best Known for His Novel 'Hyperion')
Friedrich Hölderlin
3
Birthdate: March 20, 1770
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Lauffen am Neckar, Germany
Died: June 7, 1843

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.

 12 
Dietrich Eckart
5
Birthdate: March 23, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Germany
Died: December 26, 1923

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.

 13 
W. G. Sebald
(One of the Greatest German Authors Known for His Works: 'Vertigo', 'The Emigrants' & 'Austerlitz')
W. G. Sebald
5
Birthdate: May 18, 1944
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Wertach, Germany
Died: December 14, 2001

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.

 14 
Erich Kästner
(Known Primarily for His Humorous, Socially Astute Poems and the Children’s Book 'Emil and the Detectives')
Erich Kästner
3
Birthdate: February 23, 1899
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Dresden, Germany
Died: July 29, 1974

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.

 15 
Nelly Sachs
(German-Swedish Poet and Playwright, Known for His Play ‘Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels')
Nelly Sachs
5
Birthdate: December 10, 1891
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Schöneberg, Berlin, Germany
Died: May 12, 1970

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.

 16 
Götz von Berlichingen
(Imperial Knight, Mercenary, Poet)
Götz von Berlichingen
4
Birthdate: 1480 AD
Birthplace: Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Died: July 23, 1562
Also known as Götz of the Iron Hand, German knight Götz von Berlichingen had begun fighting for the Holy Roman Empire even before coming of age. A cannon-fire injury led to his right hand and wrist to be amputated, but he continued fighting with a prosthetic arm.
 17 
Walter Kaufmann
(Philosopher)
Walter Kaufmann
3
Birthdate: July 1, 1921
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Died: September 4, 1980
 18 
Georg Büchner
(German Dramatist and Writer of Prose and Poetry)
Georg Büchner
3
Birthdate: October 17, 1813
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Riedstadt, Germany
Died: February 19, 1837

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.

 19 
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
(German Visual Artist and Poet)
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
3
Birthdate: July 12, 1874
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Swinoujscie, Poland
Died: December 14, 1927

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.

 20 
Hugo Ball
(German Author, Poet, and the Founder of the Dada Movement in European Art in Zürich)
Hugo Ball
3
Birthdate: February 22, 1886
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Pirmasens, Germany
Died: September 14, 1927

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.

 21 
Philipp Mainlander
(Philosopher)
Philipp Mainlander
3
Birthdate: October 5, 1841
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Offenbach, Germany
Died: April 1, 1876

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.

 22 
Tannhäuser
3
Birthdate: 1200 AD
Birthplace: Tannhausen, Germany
Died: 1270 AD

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.

 23 
Else Lasker-Schüler
(German Poet and Playwright Famous for Her Bohemian Lifestyle in Berlin and Her Poetry)
Else Lasker-Schüler
3
Birthdate: February 11, 1869
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Elberfeld, Wuppertal, Germany
Died: January 22, 1945

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.

 24 
Werner Lindemann
3
Birthdate: October 7, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Germany
Died: February 9, 1993

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.

 25 
Walther von der Vogelweide
(The Greatest German Lyrical Poet before Goethe)
Walther von der Vogelweide
3
Birthdate: 1170 AD
Birthplace: Austria
Died: 1230 AD

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.

 26 
Heinrich von Kleist
(One of the Leading Lights of German Literary Romanticism)
Heinrich von Kleist
3
Birthdate: October 18, 1777
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany
Died: November 21, 1811

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.

 27 
Theodor Fontane
(German Novelist and Poet Who Is Considered the First Master of Modern Realistic Fiction in Germany)
Theodor Fontane
3
Birthdate: December 30, 1819
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Neuruppin, Germany
Died: September 20, 1898

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.

 28 
Gerhart Hauptmann
(Novelist, Dramatist)
Gerhart Hauptmann
3
Birthdate: November 15, 1862
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Szczawno-Zdrój, Poland
Died: June 6, 1946

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.

Wolfram von Eschenbach
3
Birthdate: 1170 AD
Birthplace: Germany
Died: 1220 AD
 30 
Stefan George
(Former poet, translator, and editor whose best- known works include Algabal and Das neue Reich)
Stefan George
3
Birthdate: June 12, 1868
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Büdesheim, Germany
Died: December 4, 1933

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.

 31 
Kurt Tucholsky
(Former journalist, satirist, writer)
Kurt Tucholsky
3
Birthdate: January 9, 1890
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Berlin, German
Died: December 21, 1935

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.

Ulrich von Liechtenstein
3
Birthdate: 1200 AD
Birthplace: Murau, Austria
Died: January 26, 1275

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.

 33 
Carl Spitzweg
(Painter)
Carl Spitzweg
3
Birthdate: February 5, 1808
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Germering, Germany
Died: September 23, 1885
 34 
Hanns Johst
3
Birthdate: July 8, 1890
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Stauchitz, Germany
Died: November 23, 1978

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.

 35 
Wilhelm Busch
(German Painter & Poet Best Known for His Drawings, Which Were Accompanied by Wise, Satiric, Doggerel Verse)
Wilhelm Busch
3
Birthdate: April 14, 1832
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Wiedensahl, Germany
Died: January 9, 1908

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.

 36 
Hrosvitha
(The First Female Poet in Germany)
Hrosvitha
3
Birthdate: 0935 AD
Birthplace: Saxony, Germany
Died: 0973 AD

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.

 37 
Herta Müller
(German-Romanian Author, Who Received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature for Her Novel 'The Hunger Angel')
Herta Müller
1
Birthdate: August 17, 1953
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Nitchidorf, Romania

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.

 38 
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
(Known for His Novel ‘Aus Dem Leben Eines Taugenichts’)
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
3
Birthdate: March 10, 1788
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Łubowice, Poland
Died: November 26, 1857

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

 39 
Rabanus Maurus
(Frankish Benedictine Monk, Theologian and Author of Encyclopaedia 'De rerum naturis')
Rabanus Maurus
3
Birthdate: 0780 AD
Birthplace: Mainz, Germany
Died: February 4, 0856

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.

 40 
August Wilhelm Schlegel
(Linguist, Translator, Sanskrit scholar, Philosopher, Poet, Literary critic, Literary historian, Romanist, Playwright, University teacher, Writer, Indologist)
August Wilhelm Schlegel
3
Birthdate: September 8, 1767
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Hanover
Died: May 12, 1845
 41 
Erich Mühsam
(Essayist)
Erich Mühsam
3
Birthdate: April 6, 1878
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: July 10, 1934

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. 

 42 
Friedrich Schlegel
3
Birthdate: March 10, 1772
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Hannover, Germany
Died: January 12, 1829
 43 
Wolfgang Borchert
3
Birthdate: May 20, 1921
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hamburg, Germany
Died: November 20, 1947
 44 
Clemens Brentano
3
Birthdate: September 9, 1778
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, Koblenz, Germany
Died: July 28, 1842
 45 
Gottfried Benn
(German Poet and Essayist)
Gottfried Benn
3
Birthdate: May 2, 1886
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Putlitz, Germany
Died: July 7, 1956

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.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger
3
Birthdate: November 11, 1929
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kaufbeuren, Germany
 47 
Walter Burkert
3
Birthdate: February 2, 1931
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Neuendettelsau, Germany
Died: March 11, 2015
 48 
Theodor Storm
3
Birthdate: September 14, 1817
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Husum, Germany
Died: July 4, 1888
 49 
May Ayim
(Poet)
May Ayim
3
Birthdate: May 3, 1960
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hamburg, Germany
Died: August 9, 1996
 50 
Ludwig Tieck
(One of the Most Versatile and Productive Writers of the German Romantic Movement)
Ludwig Tieck
3
Birthdate: May 31, 1773
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: April 28, 1853

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.