In the 20th century the following events occurred: the First World War (1914-18); the Second World War (1939-45) and the Holocaust (Shoah); and the Cold War between the USA and the USSR which led to the division of Germany. Germany began the 20th century as an Empire under the rule of Kaiser Wilhelm II. In November 1918 Germany had a Revolution which led to the abdication of the Kaiser and the creation of the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic existed from 1918-1933, and the Third Reich existed from 1933-1945. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) [die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, BRD] and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) [die Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR] were both formed in 1949. The reunification of Germany took place in 1990. For an introduction to German history in this period, see Mary Fulbrook, A Concise History of Germany, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). For an introduction to Austrian history in this period, see Stephen Beller, A Concise History of Austria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
In order to give a very broad picture, for the sake of convenience we can divide the century into two halves, and we can divide literary production into three genres (poetry, prose fiction, drama), although in practice many writers work across genres:
In the first half of the 20th century the main literary form was modernism. Modernism comprised several literary movements including naturalism, symbolism, aestheticism, Expressionism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism and Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). Modernism began as a movement in the second half of the 19th century in France with Baudelaire (poetry), Flaubert (the novel), and in Norway with Ibsen (drama), although some 19th-century German-language writers are considered as important precursors of modernism, for example Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner and Heinrich Heine. In the last decades of the 19th century, German-language writers began to engage with international movements such as naturalism, symbolism and aestheticism. The first modernist movement originating in Germany was Expressionism, which began as a movement in art and literature in the first decade of the 20th century. However, according to Walter H. Sokel (see reading list below, p. 34), the first fully Expressionist drama was To Damascus (1898) by the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. By far the best guide to European literary modernism is still Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930, ed. by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane [first publ. 1976] (London: Penguin, 1991).
The most respected German dramatist of this period is Brecht (also a great poet and novelist).
Other German-language dramatists of this half-century include (in alphabetical order):
Ernst Barlach, Wolfgang Borchert, Marieluise Fleisser, Anna Gmeyner, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ödön von Horváth, Georg Kaiser, Klabund (=Alfred Henschke), Oskar Kokoschka, Arthur Schnitzler, Reinhard Sorge, Carl Sternheim, Ernst Toller, Frank Wedekind and Carl Zuckmayer.
The three most respected German-language novelists of this half-century are Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann and Robert Musil.
Other German-language writers of fiction of this half-century include (in alphabetical order):
Peter Altenberg, Lou Andreas-Salomé, Vicki Baum, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Hermann Broch, Max Brod, Elias Canetti, Veza Canetti, Hans Carossa, Hedwig Courths-Mahler, Marie Eugenie Delle Grazie, Alfred Döblin, Robert Faesi, Hans Fallada, Robert Flinker, Anna Gmeyner, Oskar Maria Graf, Georg Hermann, Hermann Hesse, Hans Henny Jahnn, Franz Jung, Ernst Jünger, Erich Kästner, Hermann Kesten, Irmgard Keun, Klabund (=Alfred Henschke), Paul Leppin, Heinrich Mann, Klaus Mann, Erika Mitterer, Leo Perutz, Erik Reger, Erich Maria Remarque, Franziska zu Reventlow, Luise Rinser, Joseph Roth, René Schickele, Arthur Schnitzler, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Anna Seghers, Gabriele Tergit, Kurt Tucholsky, Hermann Ungar, Clara Viebig, Robert Walser, Jakob Wassermann, Franz Werfel, Arnold Zweig and Stefan Zweig.
The most respected German-language poet of this period is Rainer Maria Rilke.
Other German-language poets of this half-century include (in alphabetical order):
Johannes Baader, Johannes R. Becher, Franz Richard Behrens, Gottfried Benn, Rudolf Borchardt,, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Bröger, Theodor Däubler, Albert Ehrenstein, Robert Faesi, Stefan George, Claire Goll, Yvan Goll, Alexander Xaver Gwerder, Raoul Hausmann, Georg Heym, Kurt Heynicke, Jakob van Hoddis, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Huelsenbeck, Mascha Kaléko, Paul Klee, Wilhelm Klemm, Gertrud Kolmar, Siegfried Lang, Else Lasker-Schüler, Rudolf Leonhard, Alfred Lichtenstein, Oskar Loerke, Ernst Wilhelm Lotz, Rosa Marbach, Erika Mitterer, Christian Morgenstern, Karl Otten, Max Pulver, René Schickele, Kurt Schwitters, Ernst Stadler, August Stramm, Georg Trakl, Franz Werfel, Alfred Wolfenstein, Paul Zech, Albin Zollinger.
German-language philosophers of this period are Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The most important psychoanalysts are Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. The most important social and cultural theorists are Max Weber, Siegfried Kracauer, Theodor Lessing, Carl Schmitt, Georg Simmel, and Joseph Schumpeter.
Literary critics of this period include: Walter Benjamin, Karl Kraus, Georg Lukács, Kurt Tucholsky.
Journalists of this period include: Josef Ackermann, Maximilian Harden, Herbert Ihering, Alfred Kerr, Egon Erwin Kisch, Siegfried Kracauer, Karl Kraus, Theodor Lessing, Franz Mehring, Carl von Ossietzky, Franz Pfemfert, Joseph Roth, René Schickele, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Gabriele Tergit, Kurt Tucholsky.
Diarists of this period include: Anne Frank [in Dutch], Harry Kessler, Victor Klemperer, Thea Sternheim.
In the second half of the 20th century there are a multiplicity of literary forms including modernism; theatre of the absurd; documentary literature; post-dramatic theatre; magic realism; and postmodernism.
German-language dramatists of the second half of the 20th century include (in alphabetical order): Thomas Bernhard, Thomas Brasch, Tankred Dorst, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Max Frisch, Gert Jonke, Peter Hacks, Peter Handke, Christoph Hein, Rolf Hochhuth, Heinar Kipphardt, Franz-Xaver Kroetz, Erika Mitterer, Heiner Müller, Peter Turrini, Peter Weiss. In the mid-20th century the radio play was another popular medium, and many authors wrote radio plays including Ingeborg Bachmann, Heinrich Böll, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Günter Eich.
German-language novelists and writers of shorter fiction of this period include (in alphabetical order): H. G. Adler, Ilse Aichinger, Jean Améry, Alfred Andersch, Ingeborg Bachmann, Konrad Bayer, Jurek Becker, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Bichsel, Heinrich Böll, Werner Bräunig, Günter de Bruyn, Hermann Burger, Heimito von Doderer, Milo Dor, Anne Duden, Hubert Fichte, Max Frisch, Barbara Frischmuth, Gerhard Fritsch, Franz Fühmann, Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Marlen Haushofer, Christoph Hein, Stefan Heym, Wolfgang Hilbig, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Uwe Johnson, Hermann Kant, Marie Luise Kaschnitz, Walter Kempowski, Alexander Kluge, Wolfgang Koeppen, Helga Königsdorf, Ruth Kraft, Siegfried Lenz, Erich Loest, Libuše Moníková, Irmtraud Morgner, Erik Neutsch, Helga M. Novak, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Brigitte Reimann, Klaus Schlesinger, Bernhard Schlink, Arno Schmidt, Peter Schneider, Angelika Schrobsdorff, W. G. Sebald, Anna Seghers, Verena Stefan, Erwin Strittmatter, Karin Struck, Patrick Süskind, Uwe Timm, Johannes Urzidil, Martin Walser, Peter Weiss, Oswald Wiener, Christa Wolf, Unica Zürn, Gerhard Zwerenz.
German-language poets of this period include (in alphabetical order): Erich Arendt, H. C. Artmann, Rose Ausländer, May Ayim, Ingeborg Bachmann, Wolfgang Bächler, Kurt Bartsch, Jürgen Becker, Uwe Berger, Wolf Biermann, Johannes Bobrowski, Nicolas Born, Thomas Brasch, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Paul Celan, Hilde Domin, Anne Duden, Günter Eich, Adolf Endler, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Elke Erb, Erich Fried, Gerhard Fritsch, Eugen Gomringer, Helmut Heißenbüttel, Stephan Hermlin, Wolfgang Hilbig, Peter Huchel, Ernst Jandl, Norbert Conrad Kaser, Rainer Kirsch, Sarah Kirsch, Thomas Kling, Alfred Kolleritsch, Günter Kunert, Reiner Kunze, Mani Matter, Friederike Mayröcker, Christoph Meckel, Karl Mickel, Helga M. Novak, Peter Rühmkorf, Nelly Sachs, W. G. Sebald, Unica Zürn.
German writers of documentary literature during this period include: Heimrad Bäcker, Hubert Fichte, Rolf Hochhuth, Heinar Kipphardt, Alexander Kluge, Günter Wallraff, Maxie Wander, Peter Weiss.
German-language autobiographies and memoirs published in this period include those by: H. G. Adler, Jean Améry, Elias Canetti, Valeska Gert, Sebastian Haffner, Walter Kempowski, Ruth Klüger, Heiner Müller, Bernward Vesper.
German-language philosophers and literary theorists in this period are Theodor Adorno, Günther Anders, Hannah Arendt, Hans Blumenberg, Peter Bürger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Wolfgang Iser, Friedrich Kittler, Niklas Luhmann, Herbert Marcuse.
Literary critics in this period include: Karl Heinz Bohrer, Hellmuth Karasek, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Sigrid Weigel.
Travel writers of this period include: Katharina von Arx, Hubert Fichte.
West German journalists in this period include: Rudolf Augstein, Gerd Bucerius, Hubert Fichte, Eike Geisel, Ernst Klee, Ulrike Meinhof, Günther Nonnenmacher, Frank Schirrmacher, Alice Schwarzer.
East German journalists in this period include: Lily Becher, Kurt Julius Goldstein, Rudolf Herrnstadt, Heinz Knobloch.
If the writer you are looking for is not on this page, then he or she may be on the 21st century page instead, e.g. Elfriede Jelinek, Rainald Goetz.
Graham Bartram (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Modern German Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
David Bathrick, The Powers of Speech: The Politics of Culture in the GDR (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995)
Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane (eds.), Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930 [first publ. 1976] (London: Penguin, 1991)
Raymond Furness and Malcolm Humble, A companion to twentieth-century German literature (New York and London: Routledge, 1997)
Andreas Huyssen, Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015)
Peter Gay, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2001)
Axel Goodbody and Dennis Tate (eds.), Geist und Macht: Writers and the State in the GDR (Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1992)
Katrin Kohl and Ritchie Robertson (eds.), A History of Austrian Literature 1918-2000 (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2006)
David Midgley, Writing Weimar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
Georgina Paul, Perspectives on Gender in Post-1945 German Literature (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009)
Stuart Parkes, Writers and Politics in Germany, 1945-2008 (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2008)
Walter H. Sokel, The Writer in Extremis: Expressionism in Twentieth-Century German Literature (New York, Toronto and London: McGraw-Hill, 1964)
J. P. Stern, The Heart of Europe: Essays on Literature and Ideology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992)
Ingo R. Stoehr, German literature of the twentieth century: from aestheticism to postmodernism (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2001)
R. Hinton Thomas and Wilfried van der Will, The German Novel and the Affluent Society (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968)
Theodore Ziolkowski, Dimensions of the Modern Novel: German Texts and European Contexts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969)