5 famous German poets you should know

5 famous German poets you should know

Poetry has been practised for centuries, with some even believing the art form predates literacy itself. This year, to mark World Poetry Day, we celebrate the best of German poetry - from revered classics to modern-day geniuses. Add these names to your reading list! 

German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe, the king of German poetry, was born in Frankfurt in 1749 and was a multi-talented poet, playwright, novelist, scientist and even acted as a diplomat. His work is regarded as among some of the greatest poetry in the world and is still hugely influential to this day. 

Much of Goethe’s work was carried further thanks to several German classical composers, who set the pieces to music, such as Beethoven and Wagner. Goethe's works saw success within his lifetime, granting the literary heavyweight stardom among the aristocracy of Germany and beyond.

Friedrich Schiller

If Goethe is the king of German poetry, then Schiller is at least the prince. Schiller was born just 10 years after Goethe, not far away in Marbach am Neckar in Baden-Württemberg, but didn’t live nearly as long as his friend and colleague Johann. The pair worked together and built a complex friendship, with their literary contributions from this time eventually leading to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism.

One of Schiller’s most famous works was An die Freude (Ode to Joy), which became the basis for Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Much like Goethe, Schiller’s work was used many times in the classical music community, with composers such as Schubert and Brahms setting several poems to music.

Bertolt Brecht German poet Bertolt Brecht

As appears to be a theme with Germany’s poets, Bertolt Brecht was a multi-talented creator, best known for co-writing The Threepenny Opera alongside Kurt Weill. Brecht was born in Augsburg in Bavaria in 1896 and was a staunch Marxist, leading him to live in exile during the Nazi rule in Germany. 

Brecht returned to Berlin after the war and founded the Berliner Ensemble with his wife Helene Weigel. The Augsburger wrote hundreds of poems throughout his lifetime, many of which were heavily influenced by French poetry and folk ballads. 

Hans-Ulrich Treichel

Hans-Ulrich Treichel is one of Germany’s great living poets, still producing incredible work to this day. Until recently, he also taught at the German Literature Institute Leipzig.

Treichel came to prominence after the success of his first novel Der Verlorene (Lost) and has since a range of poems, prose, essays and Opera Libretti. He studied philology, philosophy and political science at the Free University of Berlin, where he later earned a doctorate in 1983.

Lisel Mueller

The late Lisel Mueller sadly passed away in 2020, but her legacy as a literary genius lives on! The German-born American won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1997, making her the only German-born poet to be awarded that prize so far. 

She was born in Hamburg in 1924, where her father was an anti-Nazi educator and was eventually dismissed for attempting to educate other teachers on the dangers of Nazi ideology. Her mother also worked in education, as a primary school teacher. Eventually, the family was forced to leave Germany as political refugees and emigrated to the United States, where Mueller lived until her death.

Poetry in Germany

Naturally, these are only a small sample of some of Germany’s great poets and literary heroes. There are still many great German writers for you to discover yourself. Happy World Poetry Day!

Thumb image credit: zabanski /



Emily Proctor

Former Editor at IamExpat Media.

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