Es ist ein großer Unterschied, ob ich lese zum Genuss und Belebung oder zur Erkenntnis und Belehrung.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-
German Literature belongs to the most comprehensive and sophisticated works worldwide. They represent a significant part of German culture and life. Common sense values and virtues had already been brought to paper by German thinkers and philosophers before the nation came into existence. Most writings have existed longer than the nation itself. Therefore, it is impossible to cover every single aspect. For this reason, this section offers only a very brief overview of the epochs and works in German Literature.
LITERATURE IN THE MEDIEVAL TIMES
(500 - 1500)
German literature in medieval times was characterized by writings that covered religious topics and faith. Furthermore, there was a narrative tradition rather than
actual writings. Sagas and myths were told by singers who traveled from town to town. The Old High German consisted of many dialects, and the people often had trouble understanding another
dialect outside of their immediate geographical region. Old High German was replaced by Middle High German, a more unified German language.
In medieval times, some of the most important literary works are the "Songs of the Nibelungs," the oldest written form of the saga of a hero named Siegfried and his love for the king's daughter Kriemhild, and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal. Both are heroic legends that emphasize chivalric virtues, and thanks to the German composer Richard Wagner who adopted Parzifal for his play "Parsifal" the story still gains a large audience. The author of the "Songs of the Nibelungs" may remain unknown, but it is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces in medieval times period.
RENAISSANCE AND HUMANISM
(1350 - 1600)
Renaissance is a French borrowing and means that ideas are rediscovered in new birth. In this case, the ideas of the Greek and Roman ancient times. The historical
period had an impact on arts, architecture, and literature. Furthermore, the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg in 1458 falls into this period. The letterpress led to a circulation of
literary works all across Europe. Most writings originated from humanism, a philosophical movement of the 15th and 16th centuries. Humanists promoted the idea that education should fully support
the development of the intellectual horizon. The authors focused on ancient times and placed the human being as a self-determined individual in their works. Influential German writers were Hans
Sachs and Johannes von Tepl.
(1600 - 1720)
German poets understood writings as an application of rules which everyone could learn. Baroque is characterized by works that include strong contrasts or antithetic
such as day and night or this life and afterlife. These contrasts are reflected in the periods guiding themes "Carpe Diem" (Seize the day) and "Memento mori"
(Remember that you have to die). Important writers are Johann Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Martin Opitz and Paul Fleming.
(1680 - 1800)
Common-Sense and reason are central elements of the enlightenment period. The works mainly claimed a free society in which every individual has the same rights and duties. The literature period has its original roots in France and Great Britain. René Descartes's reflection "cogito ergo sum" (I think. Therefore, I am) became one of the philosophical principles of enlightenment. The most important German author of this period was Immanuel Kant, whose essay "What is Enlightenment" (1748) was the name giver of this period. He argued that people should dare to use their minds rather than letting others think for them. Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Other influential writers were Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, author of the play "Nathan the Wise" (1779), Christoph Gottscheld, and Karl Phillip Moritz.
STURM UND DRANG
(1770 - 1789)
The Sturm und Drang period has its name from a written play named Sturm und Drang by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger. More influential, however, were the works "The Sorrows of Young Werther" (1774), "Prometheus" (1774), and "Ganymed" (1774) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Also, Friedrich Schiller played an essential role in shaping the literary period. One important work is "The Robbers" (1781). The period was characterized by a rejection of political and social constraints. Furthermore, emotions and sentimentalism are important features.
(1786 - 1832)
The period of classical literature in Germany was highly shaped by Goethe and Schiller and their departure from Sturm und Drang. In Weimar, they developed a new artistic sense, namely the ideals of antiquity. Essential works are Schiller's "Don Karlos" (1787) and "Wallenstein" (1799), Goethe's "Faust I" (1808), and "Faust II" (1832). Another German author who contributed to classical literature was Friedrich Hölderlin.
(1795 - 1848)
Romanticism is a longing for remoteness, the orientation on nature, and the medieval age. Writers of the period wanted to preserve legends, myths, and sagas in a changing world, influenced by science and progression. Nature was the place in which a focus was put on the mysteriousness. Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm are among Joseph von Eichendorff and E.T.A. Hoffmann the most important authors of Romanticism.
(1848 - 1890)
Realism sought to depict the life of ordinary people objectively while at the same time embellishing reality in a more aesthetic form. Therefore, Realism doesn't
mean to bring reality unfiltered to paper but to carve out the truth in objects. Writers showed how reality could be, not how it was. That is why Realism often bears the name "Poetic Realism."
Even though political turmoils and changes shattered the world, writers avoided such topics. They concentrated on problems the ordinary man had to cope with, namely industrialization and the
living environment of the working class, urbanization, unemployment, alcohol addiction, and prostitution. The German Revolution of 1848/49 marks the beginning of this period. Realism sought to de
Influential writers were among others Theodor Storm, Theodor Fontane, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Gottfried Keller, Friedrich Hebbel, Gustav Freytag and Paul Heyse.
(1880 - 1900)
The period has its name from the Latin word "natura" which means nature. Writers of this period put great stress on a detailed description of reality. They used scientific methods such as an investigation to deduce regularities. Also, they depicted scenes from everyday life and focused on aesthetically challenging objects such as factories and taverns. They accentuated hardships, diseases, and addictions. Naturalism can be seen as a protest movement within the literature, and their works were often met with refusal, such as in the case of emperor Wilhelm II who showed great disgust after he had seen "The Weavers" (1892), a play by Gerhart Hauptmann. Other influential writers were Arno Holz, Karl Schönherr and Johannes Schlaf.
(1905 - 1925)
The period is characterized by authors who expressed their experience realms to their audience. Their works are often shaped by feelings of isolation, melancholy, and disunity. Writers of Expressionism were, among others Alfred Döblin, Georg Heymn, Georg Kaiser, and Paul Zech.
LITERATURE UNDER NATIONAL SOCIALISM
(1933 - 1945)
German literature under National Socialism is not seen as a literary era
by most scholars even though it complies with all features of a distinctive period. This resulted from the fact that most writings are ignored because of their ideology. The works put great
stress on the Aryan ideology, namely ethnic community, Germanness, obedience, and loyalty. The language was easily understandable and memorable. The writers put the heroic German as a role model
often in the center of their works. Accepted German literature was seen as a sword of the mind, and the best works were introduced at the Weimar Book Fair. The most influential writers were,
among others, Hans Johst, Eberhard Wolfgang Möller, Ernst Guido Kolbenheyer, Emil Strauß, Hans Grimm and Heinrich Anacker. Above them was Hitlers book "Mein Kampf".
MODERNISM AND POSTMODERN ERA
These periods are named like that because literary scholars didn't find an appropriate name so far. Too many features were shaping Modernism and are shaping Post Modernism today. Famous writers are Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Kurt Tucholsky, Berthold Brecht, Günther Grass and Friedrich Dürrenmatt.