Watching movies and TV in German is a great way to get a handle on sentence construction and improve your listening comprehension. While watching your own favorite shows dubbed into German is good, it’s even better watching things originally in German. That’s how you learn how people really say things. Here are the best TV shows and movies loved by Germans to get you started and to learn German.
Why learn German with movies?
There are many approaches to learning a language. At least according to us, it is very important that you also enjoy yourself while you are learning a language. A great way of picking up new vocabulary and improving your listening skills, is by watching foreign language movies or TV shows.
Furthermore, with most movies, you have the chance to also play subtitles during the movie, in case you are not such an advanced learner of the language. Unfortunately, subtitles are not always available in your mother tongue or English, however, you should simply see this as the extra little push of motivation to improve your language skills. You will be able to understand more than you think because watching a movie gives you the possibility of contextualizing meaning and understanding actions from facial expressions and gestures.
Best TV series to learn German
One of the most expensive German TV shows ever produced, Babylon Berlin is a noir crime drama that takes place in Berlin in the 1920s and it’s a great movie to help you learn German. Full of the contrasts between glamorous flapper nightlife and the grim realities of Weimar-era Berlin, it’s an excellent series to binge watch. There’s some great musings on regions as well, as the main character is from Cologne working in a Berlin police department.
The longest-running German TV drama, Tatort is your straight-ahead crime procedural. But unlike other shows like this, it doesn’t follow one police team, but moves around the entire German-speaking region, including Switzerland and Austria. Episodes are 90 minutes long, so it’s more like a little movie. The stories will often center on something that makes that region unique, with lots of dialects and architectural hero shots. You can join in with Tatort watch parties at local pubs all over, and Twitter will not disappoint either.
Although I’ve mentioned long-running series like Tatort, there are also the relatively few comedy shows of the famous German comedian Vicco von Bülow, or Loriot. He started his career as a cartoonist, producing little shorts he wrote, drew, and voiced himself. The six episodes of his 1970s sketch comedy show Loriot have produced a plethora of German jokes to rival Monty Python in English. I encourage you to look up the yodeling diploma, Jodeldiplom on YouTube, because it is an absolute classic. Though as a German learner, the Lotto Winner (“Lottogewinner”) sketch is also particularly funny.
I love this show. It’s a comedy about Heiko “Schotty” Schotte, who is the guy that comes in after the police have done their jobs at a murder scene, and cleans up the mess. As you can imagine, Schotty has weird conversations with the people left to live in these places where a murder has taken place. He is a dedicated SV Hamburg fan, so that pops up as well.
Die Sendung mit der Maus
Another long-running show, The Show with the Mouse has been entertaining children across Germany since 1971. Presented as a series of short segments, it is similar to other children’s shows like Sesame Street, as it combines funny parts with straight ahead parts describing how things are made, jobs, and other educational themes. The main characters are a very large orange mouse, a blue elephant that is smaller than the mouse, and a yellow duck. Stuffed toy versions of the mouse, elephant, and duck have journeyed to both space station Mir and the International Space Station, often featured in special segments hosted by German astronauts.
Bernd das Brot
Not quite as long-running as “Die Sendung mit der Maus”, “Bernd das Brot” has his own charms. A talking loaf of bread, Bernd is grumpy and a bit of a curmudgeon. His favorite word is Mist! which can be translated as crap, or damn. The joke is Bernd was originally the main character for a bakery advertising campaign, but when that didn’t work out, he had to apply for a job on the children’s TV channel KI.KA, which is why he’s grumpy all the time. This sounds grim, but it’s actually pretty hilarious.
Best movies to learn German
The Lives of Others
“Das Leben der Anderen”, in German, is probably a film you’ve heard of already. It did extraordinarily well both inside and outside Germany. As one of the first movies about the realities of East Germany (see Goodbye, Lenin! below for another one), the story follows Stasi operative Gerd Wiesler as he investigates an East German playwright. Wiesler spends countless hours listening to the surveillance of the playwright and his girlfriend, and it starts to change his mind about the state. It is an absolutely compelling viewing.
A terrifically sideways look at life in Berlin through the reunification process. Alex Kerner lives with his mum and sister in East Berlin. His mum is hugely involved with the Party, but suffers a blow to the head and falls into a coma, missing the entire reunification. When she wakes up, the doctors tell her son not to let her have any shocks, or she might die. Alex tries to cover up the fact that reunification took place for his bedridden mother. It’s sweet and hilarious, but also a bit sad. However, it’s an absolute favorite movie to learn German!
It all begins with two 14 year-olds who don’t get invited to a party, Maik and Andrej Tschichatschow (short: Tschick). Andrej convinces Maik to take a spree with a “borrowed” Lada (Soviet car). Tschick suggests to Maik to go and visit Tschick’s grandfather in the middle of nowhere, without a map or anything. This is just the beginning of their chaotic and highly entertaining journey through the eastern part of Germany.
This movie is based on the acclaimed and extremely popular novel of the same name. Fatih Akin is a household name in Germany and has directed a wide range of other popular movies, including “Kebab Connection” and “Soul Kitchen”.
Lola’s boyfriend Manni, who deals with stolen goods, loses a bag with 100.000 Deutschmarks that belongs to his boss. In the following, Lola and Manni try to get the money together and the movie plays in three strings that show three possible storylines. Surprisingly enough, Lola is running for most of the story. There are characters and incidents who repeat themselves in the three storylines but slightly vary due to small details that change the entire story. This gives a lot of food for thought regarding theories of fate and coincidence.
This German film is still very popular and had quite an impact on other movies and TV shows. The episode “Trilogy of Error” of the TV show The Simpsons is a homage to this movie and Lisa runs to the title track of the movie in her sequence. The character of Katja Obinger in the recent TV show Orphan Black is inspired by Lola.
Of course, the list of movies that are worth watching is extremely long and we only provided a short excerpt of some of our favorites. It’s also worth taking advantage of the Language Learning with Netflix plugin, if you’re watching some of these titles through the streaming service. It means you can have both German and English subtitles on at the same time.
Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favourite activity, along with sewing, archery, and historical reenactment. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.