Learn German with Movies

Imagine this: it’s the weekend and you’ve spent a long week hard at work. You come home, get changed and crash on the couch, with your German lessons being the last thing on your mind. But what if I told you that you could use this chance to both unwind AND learn some German at the same time? That’s right, get your popcorn ready and turn off the lights, because it’s movie night and you’re gonna learn German with movies!

Even if you’re just starting out, movies can be an incredibly easy way to practice your comprehension skills. With so many movies that have clear dialogues and with the help of subtitles, you’ll definitely enjoy your time with these classic German movies. You might get so carried away by the stories in these movies that you even forget that you’re learning at the same time.

But does it actually work? Can you actually learn German by watching movies? A 2016 study agrees, as it showed that you can learn German better by turning on subtitles, meaning that you can watch German movies with German subtitles to practice your listening comprehension skills.

Watching movies in German can have more impact on your learning than just sharpening your comprehension skills though. As you probably already know, there is somewhere between 50 and 250 dialects in the German language! And watching German movies is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with them. 

You will also gain insight into German culture and you’ll find that movies are a way to get culturally fluent. By watching German films, you will never run out of things to talk about with your German friends. From the themes to the stories to the cast and celebrities, movies are full of information that you can discuss later on with friends.

So now that you have decided to watch a German movie, you got into your favorite pajamas and got your popcorn ready. But… 

Where can you find German movies?

German movies are pretty easy to find in the internet. Here are some tips on where and how to find German movies:

  • See what’s on Netflix, as the movie streaming giant has expanded all over the world, the number of German movies it has to offer has also increased.
    One important tip to keep in mind when using Netflix is to keep the language on the site German, as that will give you the option to use German audio also for most English movies.
  • Amazon Prime is another video streaming service that has a well rounded list of German movies that you can pick from. You will have the option to watch some of the movies for free with Amazon Video, but you will have to pay for others.
  • You’ll find moview in the itunes or Google play store.
  • Google your favorite German actors. Like e.g. the lovely Franka Potente who you might know from the Jason Bourne movies or Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) or Daniel Brühl (Captain America).
  • While of course there are many ways to find popular movies for free on the internet, I can’t recommend to use those as not only do those sites present a big risk of catching a virus but also because it is illegal and if you stream or download movies illegally while you are in Germany, you are in for an expensive surprise as the movie companies are keen on getting their money for their hard work. Don’t believe me, look at Expat communities on FB or on Reddit. 

If you’re still struggling to find German movies to watch, remember that you can always rewatch your favorite English movies but dubbed in German. This way, not only will you be spending time listening to the German language being spoken, but you will do so with a story and dialogue that is already familiar to you, which can make understanding what is being said all the more easier. Netflix offers the easiest method of adding German audio to movies, just make sure you have the site language set to German and you will almost always get the option to see the movie with German audio. 

Be careful when purchasing a movie from any online store. Make sure the movie comes with German audio. More than often I’ve tried to purchase a movie in its original version and didn’t bother to double check because I assumed that it is a given nowadays that movies come also with their original audio track. I’m still upset about this oversight of mine. So, double check whether the desired audio comes with the movie.

Here’s my list of my favorite 10 German films 

  1. “Run Lola Run” (Lola rennt) (1998)

Lola, the heroine, receives a phone call from her boyfriend Manni, a small time criminal, who explains to her that he’s lost his boss’s money. And so the movie follows Lola who has to collect 100,000 German marks in 20 minutes or else her boyfriend dies! The movie tells the story in three different ways, examining the different ways Lola can come by the money and the different outcomes her actions could have.

This German experimental thriller stars Franka Potente as Lola and Moritz Bleibtreu as her boyfriend Manni. Run Lola Run screened in the Venice Film Festival and even competed for the Golden Lion prize!

Seeing this movie will give you a perfect feel of the Berlin atmosphere and a taste of the Berlinerisch dialect. It’s a riveting, fast-paced masterpiece with the perfect music to go along. And it happens to be my favorite German movie of all time.

  1. “Downfall” (Der Untergang) (2004)

In this movie, Bruno Ganz absolutely nails the Austrian dialect, as he was known to have prepared for his portrayal of the Führer extensively by studying videos of Hitler to make sure his accent was 100% accurate. 

Downfall examines the state of Hitler in the last 10 days of his life and it tells this story without shying away from all the dark tragic details. This fantastic yet controversial portrayal of Hitler will have you at the edge of your seat the entire run time of the movie!

While this movie’s dark tone might not be perfect for everyone, it’s definitely worth the watch if you like history and enjoy dramatic films.

  1. “The White Ribbon” (Das weiße Band) (2009)

Continuing with the theme of drama, this movie comes from one of the most celebrated directors in Europe: Michael Haneke. This movie tackles heavy hitting topics like religion, authority and violence in a small town in the north of Germany just before World War I, and according to Haneke, “it’s about the roots of evil”.

While this movie is incredibly beautiful and poetic, it can be difficult to watch as it has such a melancholic atmosphere and a dark take on society and family. However, you’ll absolutely love this movie if you appreciate films that are emotionally charged and those that deliver a moving experience. It will lead you through the unfortunate series of events that start to plague this small Protestant community. 

This black and white drama is perfect if you are just starting to learn German, as all the actors speak slowly and clearly and the themes examined in this film are easy to understand.

  1. “The Lives of Others” (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006)

This political drama thriller is set around the story of Stasi Captain Gerd Weisler who is assigned with the task of spying on Georg Dreyman, the playwright. It’s set in the former communist East Germany and examines how life was in that place. 

The story develops as Wiesler becomes emotionally attached to the lives of those he is supposed to spy on and everything becomes clear to him when he is disillusioned with the East German government and their manipulative tactics.

This Oscar winning movie is rich with so many different accents that will help you learn more about the German language and it’s so popular among Germans that you can almost always use it as a conversation starter!

  1. “Good Bye Lenin!” (2003)

If you’re more of a comedy type of person, or if you’re just in the mood for laughs, then this is the movie for you. Alex’s mother, who happens to be a very loyal supporter of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany, suffers a heart attack and enters a coma during the fall of the Berlin wall in October 1989. When she wakes up, Germany has already fully adopted capitalism, with supermarket chains, pepsi advertisements and many migrants from West Germany.

After that, the doctor informs Alex that his mother could suffer another heart attack if she went through another shock. With this in mind, Alex has to use all sorts of silly and absurd tactics to protect his ill mother from the ever-changing world around them. 

Good Bye Lenin! Won the European Film Award for best film in 2003 and it’s perfect if you’re looking for a light-hearted movie that offers a look into the beautiful Berlin scenery and accent. 

  1. “Nowhere in Africa” (Nirgendwo in Afrika) (2001)

This Oscar winning film is a painfully heart-wrenching masterpiece that follows the somber yet fascinating story of Jewish family as they flee Nazi Germany in 1938 to settle in Kenya and try to run a farm. The movie provides valuable insight into German culture outside of Europe and depicts the trials and tribulations that come with immigrating to another country, especially when it’s as different as East Africa.

Torn between the memories of Germany and the drastically different reality of Kenya, the family tries to create a new life for themselves and do their best to adapt to their new environment. This movie is a perfect experience for those who enjoy history, especially those who have an interest in the history of Jewish refugees and World War II history. Most of the characters in the film speak clear, easy to understand German which makes this movie a great choice if you are still learning to speak German. 

  1. “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant) (1972)

This theater-like movie is a West German classic that’s held as one of the best introductions to German cinema. It follows the story of the very narcissistic Petra von Kant and the movie is set entirely in her home with an all-female cast. Directed by the great Rainer Werner Fassibender, this movie is based on the play written by Fassibender himself, who creates a toxic yet very intriguing wonderland of jealousy, bitterness and narcissism confined only within Petra’s home.

Fassibender will hold your attention and captivate you while depicting how Petra’s disturbed psyche compels her to make her maid, Marlene, suffer psychologically and how Petra is madly falling in love with the beautiful but impoverished Karin.

You will clearly see the state of mind Petra has in each of the four acts of the film just by paying attention to her clothes and hair. And Karin’s cute Bavarian accent will make sure that you walk away from this movie having learned yet another German dialect. 

  1. “Revanche” (2008)

This Oscar nominated Austrian thriller follows the story of an ill-fated relationship between a Viennese ex-con, Alex, and a Ukranian prostitute, Tamara, who decide to  start a new life together far away from Vienna. 

To get money for their plan, Alex tries to rob a bank but unfortunately for him, his plan fails. The film deals with feelings of guilt and the desire for redemption and it does so in a beautiful Austrian setting that will keep your eyes glued to the screen the entire time. This movie will give you a glimpse into the kind of German that is spoken in Austria, which will expand your knowledge of dialects even further!

  1. “Soul Kitchen” (2009)

This comedy film follows the story of a small Hamburg restaurant and its Greek-German owner, Zinos. The restaurant is in terrible shape and facing financial difficulties, Zino doesn’t have medical insurance but gets a slipped disc, his brother just got released from prison and his girlfriend is a journalist who’s travelling to Shanghai. All these stories come together to make a funny comedy that is brought to life by the talented cast.

While this movie doesn’t have the easiest German, it’s not a bad idea to challenge your comprehension skills a bit and venture into something that sounds more like natural, modern-day German. Plus, the talk about financial and medical problems will definitely add to your vocabulary, aside from the easier to follow topics like food and relationships. 

  1. “The Baader Meinhof Complex” (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) (2008)

Revolving around the early years of the infamous far-left militant group, the Red Army Faction from 1967 to 1977, this movie is an action-packed adaptation of the book written by Stefan Aust. If high stakes, explosions and bullets are what you enjoy in a movie, then this film will have you at the edge of your seat. 

It depicts how young post-Nazism revolutionaries believed that American imperialism is simply another form of fascism and how they reacted to that fact with politically radical actions. This Oscar nominated movie will help you learn many slang words while also informing you on the history of the RAF, which remains controversial among Germans even to this day.

Written by Abdullah

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