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A German Classic: Franz Kafka's Der Heizer

A German Classic 2023: 
Franz Kafka, Der Heizer


Our set text in 2023 was Franz Kafka’s Der Heizer, published in 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 ships'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.'


We are delighted to announce the following prizewinners:


First Prize (£500):           Oreoluwa Adenigbagbe 
Second Prize (£300):       Ewan Plowden-Wardlaw 
Third Prize (£100):         Ruby Dowling 


The essays by Reuben Graves, Francesca Maino and Isaac Sallé were awarded a High Commendation by the judges, and the essays by Tilly Borthwick and Robert Ruth were awarded a Commendation.


The judges were most impressed with the quality of the submissions overall and commented on the sophistication with which the entries engaged with this challenging text, its themes and the characters’ complex motives. They also commended the insightful use of textual evidence and the adventurous connections entrants established between the historical text and current issues.

As for previous German Classic competitions, the resources on Der Heizer (see below) will remain freely accessible. This year we recorded a series of five video podcasts with academics and students at the University of Oxford. Together with our earlier videos, they have already had more than 16,000 views on YouTube. This year's videos are:

Episode 1:  Identity and the foreign in Kafka's "Der Heizer"

Episode 2:  Lines of Vision, Photography and Cinema

Episode 3: Aspects of Modernism

Episode 4: Movement and Gestures

Episode 5: Gender and Narration


We also recommend our video with Prof. Ritchie Robertson, former head judge of the competition, on the topic of “How to write a literature essay”.


Additionally, have a look at these free online resources: 

'A German Classic', Oxford German Network's essay competition for sixth formers, was established with the generous sponsorship of Jonathan Gaisman, KC, and aims to stimulate interest in great German writers and influential literary works in German. 

For all details about eligibility, study packs, essay questions, submission, judging criteria, and more, see here