German literature
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The German people have made many noteworthy cultural contributions. However, the antecedents of contemporary German art, music, and literature are so thoroughly embedded in the broader European intellectual traditions as to defy most attempts to separate any specifically German cultural roots. A visitor, for example, can see abundant evidence of early medieval art and architecture in the many splendid cathedrals, monasteries, and castles of Germany, but these follow the same styles and style periods that are be found in other European countries—Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, and so on. German literature and music were similarly part of the larger European culture.

From the beginnings of Germany in the 9th century through the Middle Ages, classical Latin was the language of literature and theology in the country. In the 12th and 13th centuries, a vernacular literature appeared, particularly of heroic epics told by wandering minstrel poets. Gottfried von Strassburg wrote Tristan und Isolt (1210) and Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote Parzival (about 1210), both of which dealt with Christian themes from the French Arthurian cycle. The two most important epics of the Middle Ages, the Nibelungenlied (about 1200-1210) and the Gudrunlied (about 1210), are based on pagan Germanic traditions. Two important events—the construction of a printing press using movable type around 1450 by German printer Johannes Gutenberg and the translation of the Bible into German in 1521 by religious reformer Martin Luther—had a profound impact on Western culture as a whole.

They also opened new possibilities for a specifically German literature, because they founded a uniform High German language above the regional dialects, and made it accessible to all who could read. Religious unrest and the Thirty Years’ War put an end to most German literary efforts until a revival occurred in the 18th century.

One of the first writers to stand out beyond Germany was 18th-century dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, whose play Nathan the Wise (1779; translated 1781) argued for religious toleration. Philosopher and literary critic Johann Gottfried von Herder was an important contemporary of Lessing. The revival of German literature was marked by two great literary movements,

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Encarta
classicism and romanticism, which were united in the works of Germany’s greatest poets, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. The lyrical poetry and novels of Goethe and his drama Faust (1808-1832; translated 1834) and the plays and poems of Schiller brought together classical form and the romantic emotions that marked much of the literature to come. The great inspiration for this golden age of German literature was classical antiquity, which was considered admirable for its balance and perfection. The romantics, on the other hand, often used German folk materials, such as medieval history and the fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers. Ancient Greek poetry inspired the romantic poems of Friedrich Hölderlin. The brothers August Wilhelm von Schlegel and Friedrich von Schlegel edited Athenaeum, which was the chief journal of the romantic movement, translated Shakespeare, and produced literary works based on classical antiquity.

In the mid-1800s the new literary schools of naturalism and symbolism developed. Naturalism regarded human behavior as controlled by instinct, social and economic conditions, and biological factors; it rejected free will. Naturalist playwright Gerhart Hauptmann explored hereditary factors that shaped the individual, while the work of symbolist poet Rainer Maria Rilke was marked by mystic lyricism and imagery. Austrian playwright and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal created aesthetic moods. Great German novelists of the early 1900s include Thomas Mann, author of The Magic Mountain (1924; translated 1927) and other famous novels, and Alfred Döblin, who is best known for his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929; translated 1931). The most influential expressionist writer was Franz Kafka, whose novels and short stories present a world of oppression and despair.

Social criticism was also a common theme in the early 1900s; it provided the primary focus for the novelist Robert Musil and the playwrights Arthur Schnitzler and Frank Wedekind. In 1929 Erich Maria Remarque published the antiwar novel Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), with grimly realistic portraits of World War I. Writers like Hermann Hesse, author of Siddhartha (1922; translated 1951), drew on Indian philosophy and religion. The narrative epic theater of see Bertolt Brecht during the 1920s in Berlin specifically attacked capitalist, bourgeois society. German writing, like many German arts, suffered when the Nazi Party (see National Socialism) took control of Germany in 1933; led by Thomas Mann, many creative minds fled the country and went into exile. After World War II a new generation of German writers, which called itself Group 47, examined themes of overcoming the Nazi experience. Novelists Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, and Uwe Johnson led this group. Playwrights Peter Weiss and Peter Handke and poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan made important contributions to German literature in the late 20th century. Encarta
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