German Short Stories in English

The stories on this page were written by German writers or were first written in the German language. There is only one story by Heinrich Böll.

Before the Law | Franz Kafka

A man tries to gain access to the law. He waits for years, but the doorkeeper prevents him from entering. The man tries various bribes to gain entry.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories.

Action Will Be Taken | Heinrich Böll

The narrator recounts the time he was employed in Alfred Wunsiedel’s factory. Wunsiedel was obsessed with taking action, and required his employees to be constantly busy. The narrator is a man of leisure, but manages to fit in to the company culture.

Read “Action Will Be Taken”

The Attraction of Asphalt | Stefani Nellen

A mother and daughter drive up a mountain to get spring water. The mother asks her daughter how fast she could jump out of the car if they were going to have an accident.

Read “The Attraction of Asphalt”

The Bound Man | Ilse Aichinger

A man awakens on a path robbed, bleeding, and with arms and legs bound. He struggles to his feet and tries to make his way to the nearest town.

Read “The Bound Man”

The Bucket Rider | Franz Kafka

A freezing man goes to the local coal dealer to beg for a shovelful of coal.

Read “The Bucket Rider”

A Country Doctor | Franz Kafka

A doctor experiences several surreal events when he’s called out during a winter’s night to treat a sick man.

Read “A Country Doctor”

Disorder and Early Sorrow | Thomas Mann

Professor Cornelius’s oldest children plan and throw a party for their friends. Economic times are difficult, but everyone tries to keep up good appearances. The professor is concerned about things that have changed such as his children, his profession, and art and the theater.

This is a novella-length story.

Read “Disorder and Early Sorrow”

Germelshausen | Friedrich Gerstäcker

A young artist, Arnold, is out walking, when he meets a beautiful girl, Gertrud. She’s waiting for Heinrich, her love. She doesn’t expect him  until their day comes again. Arnold isn’t sure what to make of this. He accompanies her to her village.

How Old Timofei Died with a Song | Rainer Maria Rilke

Old Timofei, known as the best singer of traditional tales, becomes mute and sorrowful. His son, Yegor, marries against his wishes and moves away. Other young men want to receive the songs but Timofei stays silent.

Howleglass (Eulenspiegel) and the Merchant | Anonymous

A rich merchant encounters Howleglass and hires him as his cook and servant. Howleglass follows orders precisely.

A Hunger Artist | Franz Kafka

A hunger artist—a professional faster—puts on public fasting exhibitions. The public responds enthusiastically at first, but eventually loses interest.

Read “A Hunger Artist”

In The Penal Colony | Franz Kafka

A visiting dignitary is given a tour of a penal colony, particularly its justice/torture machine. The machine is falling out of favor, and an officer wants the visitor to speak against it to the commandant.

Read “In the Penal Colony”

The Metamorphosis | Franz Kafka

A man wakes up one morning to find he’s been transformed into a giant insect-like creature.

Read “The Metamorphosis” (novella)

Old Hildebrand (Hildebrandslied) | Anonymous

An old man and a young man meet on a battlefield. The older man asks about the younger man’s father and his people.

There are different version of this poem/story available. The original leaves off before the ending is revealed. Others have an ending added on.

Read “Hildebrandslied” (no ending)

Read “Old Hildebrand” (ending added)

The Triple Warning | Arthur Schnitzler

A youth is walking to a mountain. When he reaches the edge of a forest a voice warns he will commit murder if he passes thru it. He doesn’t see any danger, so he continues. He receives two more prophetic warnings.

Read “The Triple Warning”