Hugendubel bookstore in München Stachus

Germany’s Bestselling Books of 2020: Serious Themes and Escapism

In News by Hannah Johnson

The 2020 pandemic-year German bestsellers reflect readers’ interest both in engaging with current affairs and in the welcome diversion of great stories.

Hugendubel bookstore in München Stachus

Hugendubel bookstore in München Stachus. Image: Hugendubel / Schwitzke GmbH

Also today in news from Germany, see our report on 2020’s industry revenues.

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

German Reading in 2020
During the 2020 lockdowns and challenges caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, German readers turned both to books that explore the serious issues shaping this extraordinary year, and to stories that helped them escape the difficulties of the contagion and its effects.

On December 30, the German book trade magazine Börsenblatt released its annual list of the year’s top-selling books in fiction and nonfiction, which include a strong showing of thrillers, issue-driven nonfiction, and humor.

You can review Publishing Perspectives‘ previous years’ reporting on Germany’s bestselling books here: from 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016.

The German Booksellers and Publishers Association has also released news of its “Book Market 2020” report, showing that the pandemic did indeed have an impact on the book industry. Our report on that is here.

Germany’s Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers of 2020

Top 3 2020 fiction bestsellers in Germany

  1. Sebastian Fitzek: Der Heimweg (The Way Home), Droemer
  2. Delia Owens: Der Gesang der Flusskrebse (Where the Crawdads Sing), Hanserblau (translated from English by Ulrike Wasel and Klaus Timmermann)
  3. Ken Follett: Kingsbridge – Der Morgen einer neuen Zeit (The Evening and the Morning), Lübbe (translated from English by Dietmar Schmidt and Rainer Schumacher)
  4. Charlotte Link: Ohne Schuld (Without Guilt), Blanvalet
  5. Dirk Rossmann: Der neunte Arm des Oktopus (The Ninth Arm of the Octopus), Lübbe
  6. Elke Heidenreich: Männer in Kamelhaarmänteln (Men in Camel Hair Coats), Hanser
  7. Robert Seethaler: Der letzte Satz (The Last Movement), Hanser Berlin
  8. Volker Klüpfel, Michael Kobr: Funkenmord (Bonfire Murder), Ullstein
  9. Renate Bergmann: Dann bleiben wir eben zu Hause! (Let’s Just Stay Home!), Ullstein Taschenbuch
  10. Joachim Meyerhoff: Hamster im hinteren Stromgebiet (Hamsters in the Backwater), Kiepenheuer & Witsch

Thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek again tops the fiction bestseller list, a spot his books have occupied since 2018, with The Way Home, published in October 2020 about a women being followed home by a menacing man.

Two translations, both from English and by familiar authors, made the Top 10 list: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. Owen’s book came in at No. 10 on the 2019 fiction list, and Follett last made Germany’s Top 10 in 2017 when A Column of Fire was published.

The list also includes a strong showing of thrillers with Without Guilt by Charlotte Link, The Ninth Arm of the Octopus by Dirk Rossmann, and Bonfire Murder by Volker Klüpfel and Michael Kobr. Link, Klüpfel, and Kobr are frequent names on Germany’s bestseller lists. Rossmann, the founder of the eponymous national drugstore chain, wrote his Octopus thriller as a way to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change.

On the more literary side of the list, Men in Camel Hair Coats by literary critic and TV presenter Elke Heidenreich offers readers “short stories about clothing and love,” according to the publisher’s copy. Robert Seethaler, whose novel A Whole Life was shortlisted for the Booker International Prize in 2016, makes the 2020 bestseller list with The Last Movement about the end of composer Gustav Mahler’s life.

Adding humor to the list, “online grandma” personality Renate Bergmann, a character conceived by Torsten Rohde, provides ways to stay busy at home during the pandemic lockdown in Let’s Just Stay Home!. And Joachim Meyerhoff reflects on an existential stay in intensive care through the lens of comedy in Hamsters in the Backwater.

Germany’s Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers of 2020

Top 3 2020 nonfiction bestsellers in Germany

  1. Barack Obama: Ein verheißenes Land (A Promised Land), Penguin (translated from English by Sylvia Bieker, Harriet Fricke, Stephan Gebauer, Stephan Kleiner, Elke Link, Thorsten Schmidt, and Henriette Zeltner-Shane)
  2. Ferdinand von Schirach, Alexander Kluge: Trotzdem (Regardless), Luchterhand
  3. Maja Göpel: Unsere Welt neu denken (Rethinking Our World), Ullstein
  4. Mary L. Trump: Zu viel und nie genug (Too Much and Never Enough), Heyne (translated from English by Christiane Bernhardt, Pieke Biermann, Gisela Fichtl, Monika Köpfer, and Eva Schestag)
  5. Michelle Obama: Becoming, Goldmann (translated from English by Harriet Fricke, Tanja Handels, Elke Link, Andrea O’Brien, Jan Schönherr, and Henriette Zeltner)
  6. Richard David Precht: Künstliche Intelligenz und der Sinn des Lebens (Artificial Intelligence and the Meaning of Life), Goldmann
  7. Bas Kast: Der Ernährungskompass (The Diet Compass), C. Bertelsmann
  8. Monika Gruber, Andreas Hock: Und erlöse uns von den Blöden (Deliver Us From Stupidity), Piper
  9. Barack Obama: A Promised Land, Viking UK (English-language edition)
  10. Campino: Hope Street, Piper

Both Obamas are among Germany’s Top 10 nonfiction bestsellers this year. The first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoir, A Promised Land, is No. 1 on the list in its German translation and at No. 9 in its UK English edition. Becoming by Michelle Obama is on the list for a third year. In 2020, Becoming was the fifth bestselling nonfiction book in Germany. In 2019, it was at No. 3, and in 2018, it was No. 1.

Also reflecting German readers’ interest in American politics, Mary L. Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man about her uncle, Donald Trump, comes in fourth on the nonfiction list.

Two books about the COVID-19 pandemic made the Top 10 list. Regardless, written in the form of conversations between literary writers Ferdinand von Schirach and Alexander Kluge, explores the fragile balance of pandemic restrictions and civil liberties. Taking a lighter approach, Deliver Us From Stupidity by Monika Gruber and Andreas Hock gives readers, according the publisher, “an entertaining journey through the present, that proves: laughter helps!”

In addition to wanting to understand the pandemic, German readers put two books onto the nonfiction list that explore critical issues in society today and argue that change is needed to sustain ourselves: Rethinking Our World by economist Maja Göpel and Artificial Intelligence and the Meaning of Life by philosopher Richard David Precht.

Making the nonfiction list for a third year is nutrition book The Diet Compass by Bas Kast. According to the publisher, rights have been sold into 20 languages and territories.

And coming in at No. 10 is Hope Street by Campino, the lead singer of punk rock band Die Toten Hosen. It’s a memoir about his German-English family and his favorite sports team, FC Liverpool.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the German book market is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.