German Sample Essay

Remember when you were in middle school and you had to learn to write a five-paragraph essay?

Remember learning about thesis statements, opening paragraphs, conclusions and proving your point?

You remember? Good. Because now it’s time to learn how to do it all in German.

But don’t close this tab in panic! Although essays in many foreign languages are structured differently than in English, German essays are actually quite similar to their English equivalents. (Phew!)

And it’s very important to learn how to write and structure an argument in German if you’re planning to study there someday, or even if you’re simply interested in taking a class at the Goethe Institute or another German-language school at some point.

So read on to discover everything you need to know about writing essays auf Deutsch.


What Are German Essays Like?

  • They are structured similarly to English essays. Remember above when I mentioned the five-paragraph English essay with a beginning, middle and end? Good news: German essays contain those same parts. When you’re writing a German essay, you’ll want to include an opening paragraph with your argument, three supporting paragraphs that further your argument, and a conclusion. German and English are often surprisingly similar, and essay structure is no exception.
  • German essays are more to the point. Although German essays and English essays are structured similarly, German essays—just like German speakers—tend to be more blunt and to the point. You won’t need to dance around your conclusions or obfuscate in German: just say what you mean.
  • German punctuation is different. Germans have different rules for punctuation than English speakers. For example, Germans introduce a direct quote with a colon instead of a comma. They use quotes instead of italics for the names of books, movies and newspapers. And they set off relative clauses beginning with dass (that) with a comma, unlike in American English. Understanding these differences between English and German punctuation will ensure you don’t give yourself away as a non-native speaker through punctuation marks alone!

4 Successful Strategies for Writing an Essay in German

Are you ready to start writing? Use these four strategies to wow your teachers and write the perfect German essay.

1. Write down a list of words that you want to incorporate.

When you’re getting ready to write your essay, make sure to make a list of words that you want to incorporate.

You should look at any new activity as an opportunity to learn and master new vocabulary. Instead of using the same words that you use in your everyday German speech, use this essay as an opportunity to introduce new words into your German lexicon.

Besides, incorporating academic words that help you craft and shape your argument can make your essay sound more professional and polished.

Here are some examples of words that might help you craft and shape your argument: 

  • einerseits (on the one hand)
  • Am Anfang(at the beginning)
  • schließlich (in conclusion)

Find more good words to use in your essay here.

2. Do your research.

After you’ve chosen your words for the essay, it’s important to spend some time doing research on your essay topic.

As with everything else, you should look at the research portion of the essay-writing process as an opportunity to learn more about Germany—this time, about German culture, history, politics or travel. Chances are if you’re writing your essay for a language-learning class, you’ll be assigned a topic pertaining to one of these aspects of German life, so use this as a chance to learn more about Deutschland.

Deutsche Welle offers information and resources about German history, while news magazine Der Spiegeloffers a look at German culture and politics, and other newspapers such as Berliner Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung offer another perspective on politics and daily life in Germany.

3. Make an outline using transition words.

After you’ve completed your research, make an outline of your major points, making sure to incorporate transition words.

There’s nothing clunkier than an essay that doesn’t flow naturally from one point to the next. Besides, thinking about how your arguments and points interact with each other will help you organize your essay and make sure you get your point across. (Do they support each other? Counter each other? How exactly do they function to further your argument?)

Examples of transition words:

  • zur gleichen Zeit (at the same time)

4. Don’t write it in English and then translate into German.

When you’re writing your essay, make sure you avoid the oh-so-tempting practice of writing it in your native language and then translating it into German.

This is a bad idea on several levels. Writing an essay in English and then translating it into German often results in stilted, poorly formed sentences and unnatural constructions. For example, remember that German word order is different from English. If you write “He didn’t read the book,” a one-to-one literal translation would be Er hat gelesen nicht das Buch. But the correct translation is actually Er hat nicht das Buch gelesen. In this example, translating word for word leads to errors.

There’s another, less tangible reason why it’s not a good idea to write in English and translate to German. Sure, in the example above, you could just remember that you need to change the word order when translating into German. But isn’t it better to adapt your brain so that German word order seems fluid and natural? Learning to think and write off-the-cuff in German is an essential step towards fluency, and devising sentences in German, instead of sentences in translation, will help you learn to do that.

So, simply start writing the essay in German. Look up any words you’re not sure of and double-check any grammatical constructions that you’re not familiar with. After you finish writing, ask a German-speaking friend to look over the essay to make sure it sounds natural.

An Example of a German Essay

Now that we’ve explored four strategies for writing top-notch German essays, let’s take a look at an example. A popular topic in Europe right now is World War I, since the war was taking place a hundred years ago. World War I doesn’t get very much play in the States, but for Europe, World War I was a devastating example of the dangers of modern technological warfare and the horrors of violence.

Let’s take a look at an example opening paragraph and outline of an essay about the effect of World War I on German government and life.

Opening paragraph:

Der Erste Weltkrieg war ein totaler Krieg, der Deutschland völlig veränderte. Dieser Krieg hat 1914 angefangen, und 1918, als der Krieg zu Ende kam, waren die deutsche Gesellschaft, Regierung und Kultur nicht mehr erkennbar. Am Anfang hat der Erste Weltkrieg altväterliche Ideen und Systeme verstärkt. Am Ende hat dieser Krieg dagegen diese altväterlichen Dinge zerstört.

(The First World War was a total war that completely changed Germany. This war began in 1914 and in 1918, when the war came to an end, German society, government and culture were no longer recognizable. At the beginning, the First World War strengthened old-fashioned ideas and systems. However by the end, this war destroyed these old-fashioned things.)

Notice that this opening paragraph is not very different at all from the first paragraph of an English essay. You can use the same structure you’ve always used to write your German essay, leaving you free to focus on grammar and vocabulary. Notice also the use of phrases such as Am Anfang (at the beginning) and Dagegen (however). Words like these can help you make a point and counterpoint in your opening paragraph (or anywhere in your essay, for that matter).


I. Am Anfang (at the beginning):

– Dieser Krieg hat Deutschland vereint. (This war united Germany)
– Menschen hatten ein patriotisches Gefühle. (People had a patriotic feeling)
– Menschen dachten, dass der Krieg bald zu Ende kommen würde. (People thought that the war would soon come to an end).

Notice that these points employ words like dachten (thought). Written German often relies on Präteritum, a form of the past tense that’s rarely used in spoken Deutsch. It’s often called “literary past tense” for this reason. Check out this guide to the Präteritum to include this tense in your essay.

II. Andrerseits (on the other hand):

– Bald gab es kein mehr Essen. (Soon there was no more food)
– Menschen wurden krank und desillusioniert. (People became sick and disillusioned)
– Es gab Proteste und Unruhen (There was protest and unrest).

Like in an English essay, your second and third paragraphs can include supporting points or counterpoints that contribute to the overall theme of your piece. The word Andrerseits (on the other hand) is an ideal transition word to show that you’re moving into another section of your essay.

Also notice that this essay will rely on vocabulary words that the average language learner might not have come across in his or her learning. After all, who learns the words for “disillusioned” and “unrest” in their intermediate German class? But don’t be daunted by the fact that your essay might include eclectic vocabulary. Instead, use this as an opportunity for more learning.

III. zum Schluss (in conclusion):

– Der Kaiser hat abgedankt. (The Emperor abdicated)
– Eine Republik wurde geboren (A Republic was born)
– Die alten Werte waren weg. (The old values were gone)

Once again, abgedankt (abdicated) is an example of the literary past tense (and an example of a word that you probably haven’t come across in your previous German studies!)

IV. Schließlich (finally)

– Der Erste Weltkrieg hat Deutschland verändert. (the First World War completely changed Germany)

Again, like in an English essay, you should use this paragraph to summarize your main point.

Writing an essay in a foreign language might seem like a daunting task, but follow these four strategies and you’ll be well on your way to arguing your point auf Deutsch.


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Experience German immersion online!

Below you'll find a sampling of my coursework and the major papers I've written over the course of my studies, both as a graduate student in German Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and also as an undergraduate at Pomona College, California. Many of the papers are in English, but some are in German -- feel free to run them through a Google Translator to make them even more incomprehensible!

The papers marked with a blue ribbon are the ones I feel demonstrate the best of my writings. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those papers written in German from my early undergraduate years -- please recall that I'd only had three years of highschool German when I started writing those, so forgive any horrendous errors. I'd like to think my German has improved exponentially since then.

Please feel free to read and -- if you wish -- to cite or quote these papers in any way you wish, but remember that they are my own work, and I ask that you respect the copyright on them. If you have any questions or comments, let me know!
Unten sehen Sie eine Auswahl der schriftlichen Arbeiten und Referate, die ich im Laufe meines Studiums geschrieben habe, als Doktorandin in Germanistik an der Universität Wisconsin-Madison, so wie auch als Studentin an Pomona College in California. Viele dieser Arbeiten sind auf Englisch geschrieben, andere aber auf Deutsch -- Sie könnten natürlich den Google-Übersetzer benutzen, um sie noch unverständlicher zu machen!

Die Arbeiten, vor denen ein blaues Auszeichnungsband steht, sind diejenigen, die meines Erachtens von der höchsten Qualität sind. Am anderen Ende des Spektrums sind die Arbeiten, die aus meiner frühen Studienzeit stammen -- ich hatte zu der Zeit nur drei Jahre lang Deutsch gelernt, also verzeihen Sie die vielen Sprachfehler. Ich hoffe, dass meine Deutschkenntnisse sich seit damals viel verbessert haben.

Sie dürfen ruhig alle Arbeiten lesen und -- wenn Sie wollen -- sie auch gerne zitieren. Ich bitte nur, dass Sie das Urheberrecht beachten und mich als ursprüngliche Autorin anerkennen. Teilen Sie es mir bitte mit, wenn Sie Fragen oder Bemerkungen haben.

Graduate Work
German 948: Seminar on Heinrich Heine
 Poetics and Polemics of Heine's Bäder von Lucca: The Heine-Platen Conflict (English)
Art History 350: 19th Century Painting in Europe
 Heine and the French Painters of 1831 (English)
German 940: Lyrik-Seminar
 Rilke's "Blaue Hortensie": Cycling into the Eternal (English)
 Referat: Symbol und Symbolismus (Deutsch)
 Thesenpapier: Symbol und Symbolismus (Deutsch)
German 711: The History of Homosexuality in Germany
 Literaturstreit: Stefan George and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (English)
 Referat on Martha Vicinus' "They Wonder to Which Sex I Belong" (English)
 Referat on Carroll Smith Rosenberg's "Relations Between Women in 19th Century America" (English)
Music 928: Words and Music
 Realism in Language and Music: Kurt Weill's Street Scene (English)
 Anton Webern and Stefan George, "Ihr tratet zu dem Herde" (English)
Music 415: Classical and Romantic Eras
 Brahms' German Requiem: (Mis)Conceptions of the Mass (English)
German 947: German Opera
 Oscar Wilde's Salome: A Symbolist Drama (English)
German 711: Brecht, Weill, Eisler
 Musik und Misuk in den frühen Brechtopern (Deutsch)
 Referat: Amerikanismus im Mahagonny-Songspiel (Deutsch)
German 948: Seminar on Thomas Mann
 Criticism, Complaint, and Controversy: Thomas Mann and the Proponents of Inner Emigration (English)
German 704: Romanticism, Restoration and the Vormärz
 The Importance of Ambiguity in Tieck's Der blonde Eckbert (English)
 Article Review: Citations from Shakespeare in Hoffmann's Kater Murr (English)
 Referat: Heine's Atta Troll and Deutschland, ein Wintermärchen (English)
 Conference Proposal: A Summer's Tale, A Winter's Dream (English)
 Final Exam: (English)
           Summarizing Statement
           Keyword: Revolution
           Literature as an Autonomous Realm
           Keyword: Nature
           Heinrich Heine and Bettine von Arnim
           Narrative Structure in Hoffmann's Kater Murr
           Review of Theodore Ziolkowski's German Romanticism and its Institutions
Art History 352: German Art of the 19th Century
 Book Review: Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape by Joseph Leo Koerner (English)
Art History 452: Europe 1880-1914
 Odilon Redon's "I Am Still the Great Isis" (English)
 Prospectus for Redon Paper (English)
 Analysis: Redon's Lithograph "I Am Still the Great Isis" (English)
 Article Precis: Carol Zemel on Van Gogh (English)
 Article Comparison: Cezanne (English)
German 632: Autobiographie und Biographie
German 948: Seminar in Aesthetics
 Sensory Perception and Rational Thought in Herder’s Concept of Man (English)
 Presentation on Winckelmann, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works (English)
German 948: Seminar on Johann Gottfried Herder
 Language and Style in Herder's Journal meiner Reise (English)
 Referat: Johann Gottfried Herder, Alte Volkslieder (Deutsch)
 Thesenpapier: Johann Gottfried Herder, Alte Volkslieder (Deutsch)
German 703: Enlightenment
 Referat: Herders Journal meiner Reise (Deutsch)
 Thesenpapier: Herders Journal meiner Reise (Deutsch)
German 940: German Comedy from the 18th to the 20th Century
 Lenz' Hofmeister als Tragikomödie des Sturm und Drang (Deutsch)
 Referat: Lenz' Anmerkungen übers Theater (Deutsch)
 Konflikt und komische Lösung in Lessings Minna von Barnhelm (Deutsch)
 Komödientheorie in den kritischen Werken Gottscheds und Lessings (Deutsch)
 Wahrheitssuche und komische Elemente im Zerbrochnen Krug (Deutsch)
German 706: Weimar Republic, Fascism, Exile
German 711: Film and Literature
 Lulu: Sensuality on Stage and Screen (English)
 Referat: F.W. Murnau's Faust (Deutsch)
German 655: German Film
 Traditional and Innovative Strategies in Leontine Sagan's Mädchen in Uniform (English)
 Expression and Character in the Movements of Cesare from Wiene's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (English)
 Madeleine's Silence, Smile, and Musical Communication in Romanze in Moll (English)
 Conventional and Innovative Narrative Techniques in Kluge's Yesterday Girl (English)
German 947: Seminar on the Grotesque
German 636: 20th Century German Prose Fiction
 Metafiction and the Modern German Novel (English)
 Referat: Uwe Johnson, Mutmassungen über Jakob (Deutsch)
 Funktionen des Erzälhlens (Deutsch)
German 707: Post-War Literatures 1945-1989
German 632: German Literature After 1945
 Sprache, Stil, und Thematik in Wolfgang Koeppens Tauben im Gras (Deutsch)
German 612: Survey of German Literature, 1750-present
German 939: Bilbliography and Methods
German 611: German Literature of the Middle Ages
 Midterm: Parzival as a Journey Leading to Recognition (English)
German 650: History of the German Language
 Midterm: Miscellaneous Short Answers and Identifications (English)
German 651: Middle High German
German 755: Gothic
 Gothic Nominal Declension (cowritten with Mike Lind) (English)
 Gothic Take-Home Essays: Diphthongs, Grimm's Law, Syntax, and Devoicing (English)
 Gothic Final Essaychen: Quality of Non-Codex Source Materials (English)
German 755: Old High German
German 671: Phonetics
German 720: Theory of College Teaching
 Short Report on the Grammar-Translation Method (English)
 Selected Lesson Plans: Teaching First Semester German (English)
German 722: College Teaching
 The Role of the Computer in the Foreign-Language Classroom (English)

Undergraduate Papers
German 131: The Age of Goethe
 Schillers Maria Stuart als beispielhaftes idealistisches Drama (Deutsch)
 Der Dichter J. M. R. Lenz: sein Leben, seine Werke, und Büchners Darstellung (Deutsch)
German 141: Romanticism
 Heinrich Heine und die Julirevolution 1830 (Deutsch)
 Heinrich Heine and the July Revolution of 1830 (English)
German 142: Romanticism and Biedermeier
 Midterm Essays: (Deutsch)
           Der Begriff des Märchens im Goldnen Topf (Deutsch)
           Parallelen zwischen Kleist und den Romantikern (Deutsch)
           Die Darstellung der alltäglichen Welt in Tiecks Runenberg (Deutsch)
 Final Essays: (Deutsch)
           Ideologieuntergradbung der Biedermeierwerte in Hebbels Maria Magdalena (Deutsch)
           Die symbolische Aspekte und Wirkungen der schwarzen Spinne (Deutsch)
 Anselmus' Charaktereinordnung im Goldnen Topf: bürgerlich, phantastisch, oder dämonisch? (Deutsch)
German 150: Literature 1900-1945
 Midterm Essays: (Deutsch)
           Die Vorstellung der alltäglichen Welt bei Hofmannsthal und Hauptmann (Deutsch)
           Ist Hofmannsthal Symbolist? (Deutsch)
           Die Lulu-Dramen als antinaturalistische Stücke (Deutsch)
 Final Essays: (Deutsch)
           Die Darstellung der Psyche in Schnitzlers »Leutnant Gustl« (Deutsch)
           Die Verwendung der Todessymbole in Manns Tod in Venedig (Deutsch)
           Der Verlust der Sprache bei Hofmannsthal (Deutsch)
 Rilkes "Blaue Hortensie": der Wendepunkt vom Leben zum Tod (Deutsch)
German 177: Faust
 Midterm Essays: (Deutsch)
           Faust: Die Wette und der Pakt (Deutsch)
           Faust: Die Gretchentragödie und die Gelehrtentragödie (Deutsch)
           Faust: Die Rolle und Funktion von Mephisto (Deutsch)
 Dramatic Irony and Metadrama as a Vehicle for Social Criticism in Aristophanes, Plautus, and Goethe (English)
German 154: Literature and Film
 Die seelische Entfaltung Harry Hallers im Steppenwolf (Deutsch)
 Individuen als Aussenseiter in der modernen deutschen Literatur (Deutsch)
German 170: 20th Century Women Writers
 Unterschiede in den verschiedenen Ausgaben von Mädchen in Uniform (Deutsch)
Courses at Philipps-Universität, Marburg, Germany
 Todesfiguren und Motive in Thomas Manns Tod in Venedig (Deutsch)
 Die Geschwister in den Schillerdramen Die Räuber und Maria Stuart (Deutsch)
 Beobachtung und Wahrnehmung in Goethes Italienischer Reise (Deutsch)
German 130: History of the German Language
 The Development of the German Verb Classes (English)
 Swiss German Morphology (English)
Linguistics 12: Languages of the World
 The Verbal Syntax and Ergativity of Georgian (English)
Classics 14: Ancient Greek Comedy
 Thematic Relevance of Parabases in Aristophanes' The Birds and The Wasps (English)
 Dramatic Irony and Dark Humor in the Plays of Plautus (English)
 Aeschylus and Euripides Are Dead: Metadrama in Ancient Greek and Existentialist Comedy (English)
Literature 10a: World Literatures
 Imagery and Allegory in Dante's Inferno: A Virgilian Perspective (English)
 The Historical Narrativity of Herodotus (English)
 Sight, Sound, and Sensation in the Oedipus Tragedy (English)
 Interaction and Reaction in Virgil and Homer (English)
Music 52: Western Music, Medieval to Classical Periods
 Serious and Comic Opera in Eighteenth-Century Italy (English)

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