Facebook iconTwitter icon

Oxford German Network banner image

A German Classic: Kafka's Der Heizer

A German Classic 2023: Franz Kafka's Der Heizer

Participation Guidelines for Sixth Formers 


We are delighted to announce the launch of the 2023 edition of ‘A German Classic’ – Oxford’s essay competition for sixth-form students. This year we invite you to read Franz Kafka’s Der Heizer (1912/13). It is the first chapter of the unfinished novel Der Verschollene (‘The Man Who Disappeared’), narrating the beginning of the story about 17-year-old Karl Rossmann. The reader is told that Karl has been banished to America by his parents because he let himself be seduced by the maid, who became pregnant by him. Kafka published the first chapter as a free-standing book entitled Der Heizer. Ein Fragment (‘The Stoker. A Fragment’) in 1913 when he found himself unable to complete the novel. After Kafka’s death in 1924, his friend Max Brod edited and published the unfinished novel in 1927.

In Der Heizer, Karl arrives by ship in the harbour of New York, where he meets the ship’s stoker while getting lost as he looks for his umbrella. The story addresses themes including family and friendship, migration, identity and encounters with the foreign, be it a person of a different nationality, social status or gender. It is a story about growing up, finding one’s way in a foreign land, and personal (in)stability. The experiences Kafka evokes for the reader with his narratives are so distinctive that they have given rise to the word ‘Kafkaesque’. Get a sense of what it means by studying Der Heizer in the original – one of the iconic works of world literature!


The 2023 Oxford German Classic Competition has now closed.You can find the winners here.



Entrants must fulfil the following requirements as of 8 September 2023: 

  • be beginning their final year of full-time study at a secondary school in the UK (upper-sixth form, Year 13 or S6 in Scotland); 
  • be between the ages of 16 and 18; 
  • hold a GCSE, IGCSE or equivalent qualification in German offered in the UK, or have at least an equivalent knowledge of German, as confirmed by their teacher; 
  • be resident in the United Kingdom. 

Entrants are not expected to have prior experience of studying German literature. 



Up to three prizes will be awarded: a first prize of £500, a second prize of £300, and a third prize of £100. Prizes will only be awarded if work is of sufficient merit. All entrants will receive a Prize Certificate or a Certificate of Participation. Results will be announced in early October 2023.



Sign up at https://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/mml_apps/community/public/en/form?id=ogn-classic-2023-signup by 5.00 pm, Friday, 30 June 2023 to receive free physical copies of the German original and an English translation of Kafka’s novel Der Verschollene, the first chapter of which is the set text of the competition. The website will also give you access to a set of free multimedia resources and essay writing guidelines created and curated by us especially for this competition. All physical study materials will be dispatched in early July.



Students may enter the competition by writing an essay of c. 1500 words answering one of the following questions:


  1. Why does Karl trust the stoker? Discuss the portrayal of relationships in Der Heizer.


  1. How are class difference and national difference depicted in Der Heizer


  1. ‘“Mein lieber Neffe ist nun von seinen Eltern […] einfach beiseitegeschafft worden”.’ Discuss the role of Karl’s family in Der Heizer.


  1. Analyse the narrative techniques deployed by Kafka in Der Heizer to give us an insight into Karl’s view of New York and America.  


  1. What perspectives is the reader given on Karl’s emotions in Der Heizer as the narrative progresses?



Entries must fulfil the following requirements: 

  • be submitted by 5.00 pm on Friday, 8 September 2023, via an online form available on the OGN website from 1 July 2023 – entries received by post, by email or after the deadline will not be considered; 
  • answer one of the five essay questions listed above in c. 1500 words – the word count includes the footnotes, but excludes the bibliography;
  • be written in English, with quotations from Der Heizer in German;
  • have footnotes and a bibliography including all relevant works consulted; 
  • use Times New Roman or Calibri 12 pt, margins of 1 inch, and numbered pages;
  • be submitted in one of the following formats: Microsoft Word document, Open Office document, or PDF;
  • be named in the following way: EntrantSurnameEntrantInitialGCP2023, e.g. BloggsJGCP2023;
  • be the entrant’s own work, involving no text produced with the aid of AI tools;
  • be the work of the entrant without any additional help from staff, which needs to be confirmed by the entrant’s teacher via an online form available on the OGN website from 1 July 2023 by the submission deadline (5.00 pm on Friday, 8 September 2023); teachers will also be asked to state how long the entrant has been learning or speaking German, and to confirm that to the best of their knowledge, the submission is the entrant’s own work, completed without the aid of AI tools.



The judges will consider the quality of intellectual and imaginative engagement with the work evident in the essay while taking account of the quality of understanding, analysis and argument, and – where appropriate – linguistic accuracy of the submission. They will also take account of prior opportunity to study German language and literature. The decision of the judges will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into.



If you have any questions, please email the Prize Coordinator, Santhia Velasco Kittlaus, at germanclassic@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk.