Notorious for starting the World War II and holocaust, Germany was historically known as "Land der Dichter und Denker" (country of poets and thinkers) for its innumerable writers, musicians, scientists, philosophers, and actors.
Focused, precise, efficient, creative, and thought to be a bit reserved, the Germans are famous for the contributions they have made to the world. In fact they have achieved much and contributed even more in almost all walks of life. Famous German people from ancient times include philosophers and thinkers on whose views our modern society was shaped and built. There are scientists and inventors, without whom, we might have never had the industrial revolution. There are poets, authors, and musicians who have enriched our culture immeasurably. Today, Germany has extremely prominent politicians, athletes, fashion designers, supermodels, and actors under its banner.
To compile a list of acclaimed and influential Germans who have made exemplary contribution in their respective fields is a colossal task in itself. Here I have tried to make a short list of the most famous ones from different fields.
* The list has been sorted according to alphabetical order
- Adolf Hitler
- Albert Einstein
- Angela Merkel
- Anne Frank
- Arthur Schopenhauer
- August Ferdinand Möbius
- Boris Becker
- Claudia Schiffer
- Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit
- Dr. Josef Mengele
- Ferdinand Porsche
- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
- Gottlieb Daimler
- Gunter Grass
- Heidi Klum
- Immanuel Kant
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Johannes Brahms
- Johannes Gutenberg
- John Jacob Bausch & Henry Lomb
- Karl Benz
- Karl Lagerfeld
- Karl Marx
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Martin Luther
- Michael Schumacher
- Nelly Sachs
- Nicolaus Copernicus
- Otto von Bismarck
- Paul van Dyk
- Pope Benedict XVI
- Rudolf Dassler & Adolf Dassler
- Rudolf Diesel
- Steffi Graf
- Wilhelm Grimm & Jacob Grimm
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart **
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) — Nazi Leader
Notorious for his role in World War II and despised for his cruel treatment of the Jews, Hitler is quite a controversial figure. Born in Austria on April 20, 1889, his initial inclination was to be an artist. In fact, he adored Wagner’s operas and enjoyed watching circus and movies, especially comedies. He was a teetotaler and a vegetarian, but was addicted to amphetamine. After being defeated by the Allies, Hitler committed suicide with Eva Braun, his wife, in Berlin on April 30, 1945.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) — Theoretical Physicist
This legendary Nobel laureate is German by birth and is best known for his Theory of Relativity. His equation for Mass-Energy Equivalence is considered to be one of his most famous works. He was a citizen of three countries (Germany, Switzerland and USA) and was offered the presidency of Israel. He was a vocal socialist, anti-Nazi pacifist, and was opposed to nuclear testing and the atomic bomb.
Angela Merkel (1954-Present) — Politician
Germany’s first female chancellor, she is regarded as a very competent leader. She was named as The World’s Most Powerful Woman by Forbes and the 2nd Most Powerful Person right behind Barack Obama. Loved and hated equally, Merkel is considered the informal head of the European Union, and often called ‘The Decider’ for her incisive role in the European Debt Crisis. The very practical and stern Angela also has a funny side and loves to mimic her contemporaries.
Anne Frank (1929-1945) — Diarist
Born on June 12, 1929 in an upper middle-class German-Jewish family in Frankfurt, Anne is famous for her memoirs “The Diary of a Young Girl”. The book describes her life during the 2 years she spent in a secret annex in one of Amsterdam’s derelict building, hiding from the Nazis. The publishing of the diary threw light on the inhumane treatment and atrocities suffered by the Jews at the hands of Nazis, and it still inspires and agitates people from all corners of the world.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) — Philosopher
A great German pessimist philosopher, Schopenhauer was born on Feb 22, 1788 in Danzig, Germany. He had a powerful impact on the psychology, literature and philosophy of that era, influencing eminent figures like Nietzsche, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Arthur wrote in a simple language, which was quite unusual for the subject of philosophy, and thought about the tragedies and concerns of real life. Schopenhauer was the first thinker of European origin who studied the Eastern teachings of the Upanishads and Buddhism, which had a deep influence on his mind, along with the works of Plato and Kant.
August Ferdinand Möbius ( 1790-1868) — Mathematician
Möbius was a brilliant mathematician in his own right. He is best known for his discovery of the Möbius strip, a strip of paper twisted in such a way that it has a single side. He was also a renowned theoretical astronomer and most of his mathematical works concentrate on geometric theories.
Boris Becker (1967-Present) — Tennis Player
Boris Becker is a six-time Grand Slam Singles Champion and the youngest player ever to win Wimbledon Men’s Singles Championship. He is quite fondly remembered for his on-court antics, especially The Becker Shuffle, and his trademark serve. He retired in 1999 and is now a commentator for BBC, occasionally appearing for TV shows and ad campaigns.
Claudia Schiffer (1970-Present) — Supermodel
Claudia Schiffer is well-known for being the face of Chanel and has achieved immense fame by modeling for Guess jeans and Versace. She has appeared in over 500 magazine covers and walked the runway for almost all the major designers in the 90s. The gorgeous model is said to be a very professional and efficient woman with an acute sense of business. A UK-Goodwill ambassador, Schiffer is one of the few models to stay away from drugs, and has been anti-drug since the very beginning of her career.
Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) — Physicist
Daniel, orphaned at the age of 15, was apprenticed to a merchant who brought him to Amsterdam. Here he developed an interest in thermometers, but had to hide from the Dutch authorities who wanted him shipped off to The East India Company. He developed the Fahrenheit scale and reliable thermometers with alcohol and mercury. His studies led to a better understanding of the boiling and freezing points of water; he also developed a method for supercooling water. His other discoveries include the Hydrometer and Thermobarometer.
Dr. Josef Mengele (1911-1979) — Physician
The infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, often called the “Angel of Death” was a German officer and a physician in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. His torture of the Jewish and Gypsy children was unimaginably barbaric and had up to 400,000 victims. Ironically, his experiments in eugenics, have helped researchers understand genetics and hereditary diseases better.
Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) — Engineer
Founder of Porsche, the prestigious automobile brand, he is also the designer of Volkswagen Beetle and Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK. Fascinated by electricity he designed the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid, world’s first hybrid car. He was a Nazi Schutzstaffel activist, designing Tanks used by Germany during the Second World War.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) — Philosopher
Nietzsche, along with Soren Kierkegaard, is noted for being the harbinger of the philosophy of Existentialism, which is basically about rejecting abstractions, stressing instead on concrete reality, particularly factors like the freedom of the individual. He was an outspoken atheist and often criticized Christianity and its idea of afterlife. In ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, Nietzsche’s first book, he showcased the foundations of art and a theory of Greek drama, which had far-reaching effects on philology as well as literary theory. Some of his other works are, ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, ‘Human, All Too Human’ and ‘The Gay Science’.
Founder of the Daimler company, Gottlieb was a mechanical engineer, who along with Wilhelm Maybach is credited with building the first motorcycle (a bicycle mounted with a car engine). A central figure in the early years of the automobile industry, his major contribution came in the form of a carburetor which enabled the use of gasoline as fuel.
Another acclaimed Nobel Prize winner, this time for literature, Gunter Grass first achieved fame for Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), a part of Danzig trilogy. He is politically active and known for his criticism of Israel in his poem “Was gesagt werden muss”. He also chastised the European Union for their treatment of Greece during Europe’s debt crisis. He is also a graphic designer and a sculptor in one; Gunter designs the cover for all his books and they often contain illustrations by him.
Heidi Klum started her highly successful modeling career at the age of 18, winning a contest called “Model 92”. She went on to bag several prestigious contracts and has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Bazaar, Time, Forbes Lifestyle, etc. She is the host, judge and producer of the show “Project Runway”, and has also appeared in a few movies and television shows.
A philosopher of the 18th century, his work was imperative in driving philosophy beyond the Empirical vs. Rationalist debate, his argument being both were necessary. His famous works include Critique of Pure Reason, Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Judgment. His works have influenced innumerable philosophers and schools of thought, and German Idealism is based on his writings.
Bach came from a family of distinguished professional musicians, and was a renowned organist himself, but the true genius of his compositions were only discovered in the 19th century. Devoted to his music and incorporating varied musical style, he is said to have made over eleven hundred musical compositions in different genres. This virtuoso of Baroque style has influenced generations of musicians and his works include ‘Das Wohltemperierte Klavier ‘ (The well-tempered keyboard), Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Brandenburg Concertos.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) — Poet, Writer, Novelist, Scientist
Regarded as the greatest German poet, Goethe was a polymath. His forte was in the fields of science, humanism, theology, literature, drama, and of course poetry. His first novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) galvanized the Romantic movement. Faust, his two-part poetic drama, is said to have influenced Nikola Tesla, and Charles Darwin was spurred by Metamorphose der Pflanzen (Metamorphosis of Plants).
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) — Composer
Brahms is considered as one of the three great “B’s” of classical music, the other two being the legendary Beethoven and Bach. He lived in the late Romantic era and was famous for his very structured, yet novel and eloquent compositions. He was also a accomplished pianist and some of his renowned works are Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, A German Requiem and His Lullaby.
Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468) — Inventor of Printing Press
Born in 1398, Gutenberg was a trained goldsmith and is thought to be the first to use replaceable/movable letters for printing. He is also credited for the world’s first printed book in the Western world – The Gutenberg Bible, one of the most expensive book on the planet.
John Jacob Bausch (1830-1926) & Henry Lomb (1828-1908) — Opticians
John Bausch emigrated to America in 1849, where he met Henry Lomb, another German, and together they founded Bausch & Lomb. Bausch was the inventor, while Lomb provided him with financial backing and handled sales. Bausch brought about a revolution, when he used vulcanized rubber for eye-glass frames, instead of gold or horn obtained from various animals. The company was also the first to use a machine to manufacture spectacles in USA.
Karl Benz (1844-1929) — Car Designer, Engineer, Manufacturer
Karl Benz, along with his wife Bertha Benz nee Ringer, is the founder of Mercedes-Benz, and played a vital role in developing the automobile industry. He was issued the first patent for a gas-fueled car. He has to his name several important patents for parts still being used today like – the spark plug, clutch, radiator, gear shift, carburetor, etc. His wife Bertha is the first person to drive a car over long distance and the first female motorist.
Karl Lagerfeld (1933-Present) — Fashion Icon
Karl Lagerfeld, known for his distinctive appearance, started his designing career when he was 14. He revived the ailing Chanel brand in the 60’s. He is often called a fashion chameleon for his ability to incorporate the style-sense of any brand. Lagerfeld is also a photographer and a writer. His book The Karl Lagerfeld Diet has sold over 200, 000 copies.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) — Philosopher and Revolutionary
Also known as the Father of Modern Communism, his works like The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital were largely ignored during his lifetime. He had a wide impact on world leaders like Lenin, Mao and Stalin, and was responsible for the formation of communists states of China and Russia. He also advocated variable income tax and was very concerned with the plight of the workers in the 18th century.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) — Architect
Mies was born in Germany, but emigrated to USA in 1937 following the world-wide depression of 1929. He favored the austere modern style, exemplified by the still standing IBM Plaza in Chicago. His other notable structures include the Seagram Building, Berlin National Gallery and Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive Apartments. He revolutionized not only the architectural style, but also the way it was taught, teaching the basics first such as drawing, then moving to design and planning, and finally to the theories of architecture.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) — Composer
Beethoven is considered as the greatest musician of all times. Born in a family of musicians, he showed signs of his musical genius since a very early age. His musical style can be divided into three phases from formal, complex compositions in his early years to a more passionate and expressive music in the final years of his life. He is credited for the transition of Western Classical music to the more expressive Romantic style. Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Beethoven is regarded to be the most famous classical music composition.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) — Theologian
Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church, the most powerful institution at the time, and advocated Bible as the sole word of God, a belief that led to the formation of Lutheran Church. Disillusioned by the corruption in the Church, he popularized the notion of faith in God, rather than the Church. His translation of Bible in German, not only brought the book to the masses, but also contributed to the growth of the language.
Michael Schumacher (1969-Present) — F1 Racer
Michael Schumacher, regarded as the greatest F1 driver, is a seven-time Formula One champion and holds many driver records like fastest laps, pole positions, most races won in a single season, etc. He won his first club championship at the tender age of six, and has been named the second highest paid athlete, right behind Tiger Woods by Forbes in 2004. Schumacher is called by some as “The Red Baron” for his fiercely competitive racing style. In 2002, he was named UNESCO Champion for Sport. He is involved with a number of humanitarian organizations, donating millions.
Nelly Sachs (1891-1970) — Poet and Playwright
As a Jew born in Germany, she fled to Sweden, but was deeply impacted by the Nazi prosecution of the Jews. Her poems like Und niemand weiss weiter and Flucht und Verwandlung deal with the pain and suffering of the Jews. A tragic figure, suffering from paranoia and hallucinations, she did most of her work in hospitals, winning a Nobel prize for literature in 1966.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) — Astronomer
Known as the initiator of the Scientific Revolution, Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish-German astronomer in the Renaissance era. He proposed the heliocentric model for the solar system, in which the Sun is the central point and the planets, including Earth, revolve around it. He was also a brilliant mathematician, with a doctorate in law, a physician, scholar, economist, artist, and could converse in four languages.
Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) — Politician
The first Chancellor of Germany, Otto Von Bismarck, was responsible for unifying the German-speaking states, essentially creating the nation of Germany. Even though he dreamed about a mighty Germany, his policies were mainly pacifists and were instrumental for peace in Europe till 1917. An ultra-conservative and intimidating leader, he was flexible and diplomatic in his policies and laid the foundation for a welfare state in Germany.
Paul van Dyk (1971-Present) — DJ
This hardworking and acclaimed artist is also a talented musician, winning a Grammy Award for Batman’s “Dark Knight Theme” and a Grammy nomination for his original composition Reflections. He has been named World’s No.1 DJ for two consecutive years (2005 and 2006), a feat achieved by few other DJs. Starting his career in trance music, he now describes his style as Electronic Dance Music.
Regarded as the successor of St Peter, the Apostle, Pope Benedict XVI began his papacy in 2005, after the death of John Paul II. A respected theologian, he is viewed as a conservative, and has often come under fire for his views on homosexuality, contraception, and Islam.
In the 1936 Olympics, Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory), sponsored the legendary Jesse Owens, who went on to win 4 Gold Medals, wearing shoes designed by Rudolf. The company quickly gained repute for the superior quality of its spiked shoes. However, bitter rivalry between the brothers led Rudolf to leave the company to form Ruda (later changed to Puma) and Adolf renamed the original company to Adidas.
Inventor of the Diesel engine, Rudolf was a brilliant mechanical engineer. He started his career in the field of refrigeration, obtaining many patents for his research in thermal and fuel efficiency, but is mostly recognized for his internal combustion engine. It is still being used today, albeit with a few modifications.
Graf started playing tennis at the young age of 3 and is the second youngest player to have achieved an international ranking. One of the greatest tennis players, she is the only player to win all four Grand Slams and the Olympic Gold Medal in the same year (1988). Her total Grand Slam singles titles amount to 22, and she was ranked No.1 for a record 377 weeks. She is adroit on all four court surfaces (carpet, clay, grass, and hard court), and has won the Grand Slam on all four at least four times, a feat achieved by no other player.
The Brothers Grimm, as they are known as, were primarily linguists with an intense passion for folk tales. They published their first bookChildren’s and Household Tales in 1812, which included various well-known fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel along with 207 other stories, written with the intent of preserving them rather than entertaining children. Today, the arresting tales are rewritten and retold in almost all languages and through all modes of communication.
This imposing composer’s musical flair and genius was recorded at an extremely young age. Touring several countries to exhibit his talents, he is even said to have proposed Marie Antoinette at the age of 6. A prolific legend in the world of classical music, he composed over 600 pieces across various genre, and played a vital role in the development of the piano concerto. ** While some sources mention Mozart’s nationality as Austrian, others label him as a German. The modern nation states of Germany and Austria did not exist during Mozart’s time and the terms were used differently from how they are used today. Mozart’s birthplace was Salzburg, an Austrian city, dubbed ‘German Rome’.
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From revered composers, inventors, scientists, and philosophers; to the most infamous dictator; Germans have made an enormous impact on the world through their sheer determination, dedication and genius.