Five movies you need to watch if you are learning German

Der_Schuh_des_Manitu - Foreign Movies

So you want to learn German, but are sick of all the grammar lessons and boring text examples? You’ve thought about watching German movies, but have no idea where to start? To give you a little hint as to what movies you should watch, I have prepared a little list of movies that will both help you learn German and understand German culture a bit more. Here we go:

Der Schuh des Manitu (2001)

You may ask: A movie in German will help me learn German, but what is a western comedy supposed to teach me about German culture? This classic comedy about an Apache chief, his Bavarian blood brother and gay twin is the highest grossing movie in German history. Abahachi, Winnetouch and Ranger, when faced with potentially fatal debt problems, hunt down an old treasure and stumble from one conundrum to the next. It is a mystery to me, why IMDB-users have given it such bad reviews, but it certainly is a great introduction into German humour. Its jokes have become running gags to many in Germany and its lead actors are still famous enough to advertise the original Haribo Gummybears. (If you don’t know what those are, go get yourself a bag of them and start learning about German culture through its candy!)

Der Untergang (2004)

Despite ending over 70 years ago, the Second World War is still present in German everyday life. From time to time there is a new case in court against a former SS-officer, or a part of a city has to be evacuated because construction workers dug up an old bomb that did not go off. In order to understand how Germans felt after the war ended this juggernaut of German cinematography is perfect. It shows the last few days of the “Third Reich” and tells the story of those stuck in a bunker in Berlin with Hitler himself. Bruno Ganz becomes the embodiment of Hitler’s complete insanity. There are many more German movies about the Second World War, most notably “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter” and “Lore”, but this is the best movie to start your deep dive into the German perspective on WWII with.

Here is the trailer to whet your appetite:

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008)

Unbeknownst to many outside of Germany, and only a side note in everyday life: in the 60s and 70s Germany was stricken with terrorism. The Red Army Faction (“Rote Armee Fraktion” or “RAF”), lead by Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader kidnapped important German officials, robbed banks and tried to propagate an ultra-left wing agenda. This intense and fast-paced movie presents the complete story of these terrorists, from RAF’s inception up to the founders’ deaths. It is a fascinating time of German history and the movie hits upon many of the problems post-WWII Germany had. Many Nazis continued working in the German political system and in high ranks in companies. The RAF and the “68er” movement it grew out of were in opposition to these left overs from Nazi times. This movie is filled with highly praised German actors, which will serve you as a gateway to other German movies. Just look up Moritz Bleibtreu’s or Alexandra Maria Lara’s filmography and you will stumble upon some of German cinema’s other jewels.

Die Welle (2008)

Do you think the Third Reich could happen again? Think again! This movie is about a social experiment in a classroom that spirals out of control. One of Germany’s finest actors, Jürgen Vogel, tries to teach his class, that a social movement and belonging to a certain group can always find its way into conflict. The movie is “us against them” in form of a moving pictures. So if you are into questions of psychology and movies tackling issues such as these, this is one is going to be a great watch for you. If you’ve looked up Moritz Bleibtreu after watching “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” you may have come across “Das Experiment”, another great movie about a social experiment that spirals out of control.

Check out the trailer to this epic film here:

Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

Germany is very much defined by the two dictatorships it has experienced on its turf: one lead by Hitler, and one by the eastern German “Socialist Unity Party of Germany”. This movie goes deep into the workings of the GDR’s Secret Agency “Staatssicherheit”. It digs into the workings and individuals behind the agency’s sting operations. “Das Leben der Anderen” is a great counter point to all of the Second World War movies, in that it shows how not only the right, but the extreme left can end up in horrifying circumstances for the lives the states’ ‘subjects’. It is one of only a few German movies that won an Oscar.

These are my recommendations to kick start your German film watching! I am aware that it’s a lot of WWII stuff, but the best stories are, in my opinion, inspired by real life events. As prevalent as WWII still is in Germany it is moreover adequate to acquaint yourself with this topic as deeply as possible, in order to understand how the German mind works today. Hope you enjoy the movies, as well as learning German! It’s a very powerful language, that allows you to express exactly what your mind wants to convey to the world, so keep on learning!


By Jan-Hendrik Tepper