15 Interesting Books Set in Germany

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Germany makes a rich setting for both fiction and nonfiction. Many classic spy and war novels are set in Germany, and although this list is heavy with both genres, I also tried to include some other options.

I lived in Germany for three years in a time period that straddled the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall, so this list is near and dear to my heart. Without further ado, let’s take a look at a list of books that take place in Germany.

1. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré

The list begins with John le Carré’s classic cold war spy novel.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“In the shadow of the newly erected Berlin Wall, Alec Leamas watches as his last agent is shot dead by East German sentries. For Leamas, the head of Berlin Station, the Cold War is over. As he faces the prospect of retirement or worse—a desk job—Control offers him a unique opportunity for revenge. Assuming the guise of an embittered and dissolute ex-agent, Leamas is set up to trap Mundt, the deputy director of the East German Intelligence Service—with himself as the bait. In the background is George Smiley, ready to make the game play out just as Control wants.”

2. Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

Here’s one of those options that isn’t a spy or war novel.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“A forested property on a Brandenburg Lake outside Berlin lies at the heart of this darkly sensual, elegiac novel. Encompassing over one hundred years of German history, from the nineteenth century to the Weimar Republic, from World War II to the Socialist German Democratic Republic, and finally reunification and its aftermath, Visitation offers the life stories of twelve individuals who seek to make their home in this one magical little house.”

BTW, elegiac means “relating to or characteristic of an elegy.” Helpful, right?

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A modern classic, I read The Book Thief with my daughters when it was assigned while they were in grade school. It’s a real tearjerker that shows what it was like for German civilians during WWII.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.”

4. This House is Mine by Dörte Hansen

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“All her life Vera has felt like a stranger in the old and drafty half-timbered farmhouse she arrived at as a five-year-old refugee from East Prussia in 1945, and yet she can’t seem to let it go. Sixty years later, her niece Anne suddenly shows up at her door with her small son. Anne has fled the trendy Hamburg, Germany neighborhood she never fit into after her relationship imploded. Vera and Anne are strangers to each other but have much more in common than they think. As the two strong-willed and very different women share the great old house, they find what they have never thought to search for: a family.”

5. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque/Translated by Arthur Wesley Wheen

A World War I classic!

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

“Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . . if only he can come out of the war alive.”

6. The Air Raid Killer: A Novel by Frank Goldammer

This is an interesting concept. Although it takes place during WWII, it’s a detective novel.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“In the final days of the Nazi regime, with the historic city of Dresden on the brink of destruction, terrifying rumors spread about the Fright Man, a demonic killer who exploited the cover of a nighttime air raid siren to mutilate and kill a young nurse. Just as seasoned detective Max Heller begins investigating, the Fright Man kills again…

“The investigation seems hopeless. Desperate refugees flood the streets, all of Heller’s resources are depleted, and his new boss is a ruthless SS officer. And like so many others, Heller and his wife, Karin, survive on meager rations while fearing for the lives of their sons at the front. But as tensions mount and enemy firebombs decimate the city, dangerous new clues come to light―and the determined Heller pursues a violent and twisting path to unmask a monster.”

7. Address Unknown by Katherine Taylor

This novel sounds interesting because of its historical context.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“In this searing novel, Kathrine Kressmann Taylor brings vividly to life the insidious spread of Nazism through a series of letters between Max, a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco, and Martin, his friend and former business partner who has returned to Germany in 1932, just as Hitler is coming to power.

“Originally published in Story magazine in 1938, Address Unknown became an international sensation. Credited with exposing the dangers of Nazism to American readers early on, it is also a scathing indictment of fascist movements around the world and a harrowing exposé of the power of the pen as a weapon.”

8. The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding

Another book about a house, although this one is nonfiction. Sounds like a good way to learn some German history.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“In the summer of 1993, Thomas Harding traveled to Germany with his grandmother to visit a small house by a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. It had been her “soul place,” she said―a holiday home for her and her family, but also a refuge―until the 1930s, when the Nazis’ rise to power forced them to leave.

“The trip was his grandmother’s chance to remember her childhood sanctuary as it was. But the house had changed, and when Harding returned once again nearly twenty years later, it was about to be demolished. It now belonged to the government, and as Harding began to inquire about whether the house could be saved, he unearthed secrets that had lain hidden for decades. Slowly he began to piece together the lives of the five families who had lived there: a wealthy landowner, a prosperous Jewish family, a renowned composer, a widow and her children, a Stasi informant. All had made the house their home, and all but one had been forced out.”

9. Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi

Description courtesy of Amazon

“Trudi Montag is a Zwerg—a dwarf—short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share—from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he’s a girl, to the Jews Trudi harbors in her cellar.

“Ursula Hegi brings us a timeless and unforgettable story in Trudi and a small town, weaving together a profound tapestry of emotional power, humanity, and truth.”

10. Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters

Here’s a lighter option for us mystery fans, part of Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss series.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“A missing masterwork in wood, the last creation of a master carver who died in the violent tumult of sixteenth century Germany, may be hidden in the medieval castle in the town of Rothenburg. The prize has called to Vicky Bliss, drawing her and an arrogant male colleague into the forbidding citadel and its dark secrets. But the treasure hunt soon turns deadly. Here, where the blood of the long forgotten stains ancient stones, Vicky must face two perilous possibilities: either a powerful supernatural evil inhabits the place… or someone frighteningly real is willing to kill for what Vicky is determined to find.”

11. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada/Translated by Michael Hofmann

This one sounds compelling!

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“It presents a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decides to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front. With nothing but their grief and each other against the awesome power of the Reich, they launch a simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has an enraged Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in.

“In the end, it’s more than an edge-of-your-seat thriller, more than a moving romance, even more than literature of the highest order—it’s a deeply stirring story of two people standing up for what’s right, and for each other.”

12. Journey to Munich: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

Here is one for Maisie Dobbs fans.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“”It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

“The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

“Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . .”

13. A Letter from Munich: A Jack Bailey Novel by Meg Lelvis

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“Germany, 1930s. In the peaceful village of Dachau, Ariana lives with her family, ordinary German citizens, during the Third Reich. Ariana and her sister, Renate, come of age amidst the growing horrors.

“Munich, 2012. Hard-nosed ex-cop, Jack Bailey, is determined to locate Ariana Schröder, who wrote a WWII wartime love letter to his father decades ago. Jack and his brother think the letter may hold the key to his past drunken abusiveness.

” Jack’s friend, Sherk, invites him to visit his native Munich, where Jack learns more than he bargained for, including a shocking disclosure. Back in Chicago, should he reveal family secrets and put his father to rest? From the Dachau death train to the camp’s liberation by the Americans, a tale unfolds, connecting two people in an unforgettable, ever-changing story.”

14. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Okay, Germany is one of multiple settings for this story, but the book is too good to leave off the list.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

“In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.”

It’s a fantastic, imaginative novel. To learn more about it, read my review of All the Light We Cannot See.

15. Munich: A Novel by Robert Harris

Rounding out my list is another suspenseful WWII novel.

Description courtesy of Amazon:

“Hugh Legat is a rising star of the British diplomatic service, serving at 10 Downing Street as a private secretary to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Paul von Hartmann is on the staff of the German Foreign Office–and secretly a member of the anti-Hitler resistance. The two men were friends at Oxford in the 1920s, but have not been in contact since. Now, when Hugh flies with Chamberlain from London to Munich, and Hartmann travels on Hitler’s train overnight from Berlin, their paths are set on a disastrous collision course. And once again, Robert Harris gives us actual events of historical importance–here are Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini, Daladier–at the heart of an electrifying, unputdownable novel.”

What do you think of the list? Did anything catch your eye? What books set in Germany would you add?

Special thanks to Michaela for doing a lot of the research!

9 thoughts on “15 Interesting Books Set in Germany

  1. Wow! Great fiction list just when I have switched to a non-fiction track. I’ve only read five so I have ten excellent books to choose from. I lived in West Berlin for a year fifty years ago. (OMG, I can’t believe it was so long ago.) Where did you live when in Germany? I assume you were there with the military as I also was. I worked in a sub-basement of the American half of Tempelhof Airport while my husband was a military spy of sorts on a rubble heap in the southwestern part of the American sector. Have you read any of the books on this list Michelle? I do not know which ones to choose and definitely do not have time for all of them. The ones I’ve read include Doerr, Winspear, Helgi, Zusack and Remarque. Was The Book Thief really on an elementary school reading assignment? Seems like a very heavy lift for that age but a remarkable book with a young protagonist. Oh, and my current non-fiction list includes one you absolutely must read Michelle – Livewired by Eagleman – about the remarkable capacity of the brain to re-wire itself and the exciting devices actually in existence to extend the brain’s ability to “plug and play” new modules that can alter or supplement our body’s plan.
    new email – msdasolove@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Deb!

      I lived in Kaiserslatern when I was in the Army. I also lived in Worms when I was a little baby (my dad was stationed there when he was in the Army), but I don’t really count that since I don’t remember it. 🙂 That must have been fascinating to live in West Berlin. I visited once before and after the wall came down and it was so interesting to experience.

      I’ve only read The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See, and maybe the Vicky Bliss novel (I read quite a few of Elizabeth Peters’ books when I was younger). Personally, I’m really interested in reading The House by the Lake. It’s nonfiction so it would fit your current genre.

      And thanks for recommending Livewire. I’ll check it out.

      Like

      • Yes, Berlin was an interesting place to live. Wish I had kept a diary the year we were there. Lots of adventures in a great location. The nude beach on a city park lake was quite a surprise for a young woman from the hills of WV. I read a lot of WW II books when we lived there. I have not been back since the wall came down. I had tentatively picked the two books set in Berlin – Visitation and the non-fiction one you picked. Thanks again for the category list! Deb

        Like

  2. It was great to be reminded about some old favorites: Stones from the River; All the Light We Cannot See; The Book Their. I hadn’t thought about them all being set in Germany. And, of course, John LeCarre. Glad to see some new books on this list, too – lots for the future – thank you!

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  3. Pingback: Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez | Book Thoughts from Bed

  4. Another book for the the list: The Women in Castle by Jessica Shattuck. Here’s the Amazon description:

    “Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold

    Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined – an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times notable book The Hazards of Good Breeding.”

    The book provides a stark picture of what life was like for civilians–especially women–at the end of the war. It also highlights how most civilians turned a blind eye to what was happening around them as the Nazis took power and established concentration camps. I have German relatives, so this one really hit home for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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