German classics – a teaser

I’m always surprised when I discover that the people I know never read the books that I read in school. This is absolutely not a surprising fact by itself, it is just that in everyday life the human mind works under the assumption that what is known by oneself is also known by others.
You can see this assumption at work whenever people say, mouth wide agape: “What? You have no idea what so and so is?” Their extrapolated familiarity is just as wrong as it is natural.
So, what did I read in school? I read German classics, as I was in a classics oriented school in Germany. My school was called a Gymnasium. This place did a very good job to exercise the mind. (We also had PE, but it was not that important in the grand scheme of things. )
I read Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Brecht, Hesse, Mann, and Boell, among others. And I think they should be read more widely; not only in Germany, but also in other countries. Germany was once called the land of the poets and thinkers. These authors can show you why.
I can see the problem though, with reading them in addition to the English writers. It is never as illuminating to read an author in translation, as it is in the original language. Only, there are very few German speakers in the US. Even less who speak German at such a level that would allow reading those authors without frustration. Also, the German language does not lend itself easily to a translation that pleases the English trained mind. English language likes short sentences. There is one idea per sentence. The subject drives the action. The prose is clean.
Whereas sentences in the German language can go in a circular fashion, that look at several ideas from several perspectives, using the passive voice and connecting several grammatical constructs with the help of elaborate punctuation in such a way, that they can easily produce long winded and rather complicated structures that span over several lines of text in whatever book-related format they happen to be printed in at that particular instance.
I do greatly admire everyone who ever translated a German book into English with some degree of success.
Nevertheless, I would love for you to read some of the books that had a great impact on me.
The sorrows of young Werther and Faust by Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
Intrigue and Love, as well as Mary Stuart, and the Song of the Bell by Friedrich Schiller.
Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.
Should you only want to take a look at one of them, take Nathan the Wise. It is a seminal work on religious tolerance.
I mentioned more authors at the beginning of this blog, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with names and titles . I am sure I will come back to this topic over time. Maybe I could get you just a little bit interested in what I learned in school.


About scratchingcat

Writer, mother, friend.
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1 Response to German classics – a teaser

  1. megnorris says:

    A couple of years ago I read Siddhartha by Hesse and I have to assume it was a translation, haha, but it was still unbelievable. I have to reread it because I have forgotten a lot but at the time I remember thinking it was one of the best books I’d ever read.

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