Some 4,000 people aged seven to 90 answered the institute's call for submissions, daily Die Welt reported this week. Participants were asked to describe why they loved a certain German-language book, with prizes promised for the most vivid accounts.
Ende's 1979 novel about a boy's quest to save the land of Fantastica with the help of a dog-faced dragon named Falkor was crowned the winner by people writing in from 57 countries.
The second most-loved book by a German-language author was “The Reader,” by Bernhard Schlink, a text adapted into a film starring British actress Kate Winslet and German actor David Kross in 2008.
The book, which explores the shame of post-war Germany through an affair between a teenage boy and an older woman, was followed by Otfried Preußler's children's book, “The Curse of the Darkling Mill,” also known as “The Satanic Mill.”
Thomas Mann's first novel "Buddenbrooks," a story of the downfall of a wealthy merchant family in the northern German city of Lübeck, landed in fourth place among world favourites.
“We want to bring the joy of the German language back into consciousness,” project leader for the Goethe Institute, Rolf Peter, told the paper. “That's why we've been searching for the most passionate case for a very personal favourite book to promote.”
Peter said he was surprised by the many different reasons participants used to justify their choice of German book, many of which included childhood memories.
A jury is now working on choosing the best case for favourite German book submitted by a participant. The top winner will receive a 12-day educational vacation to Sicily to follow in the footsteps of the institute's namesake Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote that his travels there were of great significance to his aesthetic development.
But Goethe's most famous work, “Faust,” considered by many scholars to be Germany's greatest literary work, only took seventh place on the list of favourites, Die Welt reported.
The competition closed on August 20. Runners up will either receive a collector's edition of Goethe's complete works, an Apple iPad, a subscription to the literary magazine Bücher, or a class trip to the cinema for young students.
1. "The Neverending Story," by Michael Ende
2. "The Reader," by Bernhard Schlink
3. "The Curse of the Darkling Mill," by Otfried Preußler
4. "Buddenbrooks," by Thomas Mann
5. "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," by Patrick Süskind
6. "Momo," also know as, "The Grey Gentlemen," by Michael Ende
7. "Faust," by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
8. "The Wall," by Marlen Haushofer
9. "Siddhartha," by Hermann Hesse
10. "All Quiet on the Western Front," by Erich Maria Remarque