10 shows to get you started
If this year has taught me anything, it’s that free time is a double edged sword. There’s only so many hours I can spend lounging in front of the TV screen before the feeling of unproductive dread starts to settle in, and with the current lockdown situation, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the motivation and the method to spend my time productively.
If you’re anything like me, then you know what I’m talking about. But luckily for you, you can learn german with TV shows, which happens to be a way to both have fun AND learn new things at the same time.
Why you should watch German TV shows
Learning a new language is a never ending process where the more effort you put in, the further you will progress, and German is no different. A big part of this effort is to actually use the language for more than just filling out exam forms. Using the German language can be simply in the form of chatting with German friends, listening to German music, enjoying a German movie or, as any responsible adult would do, spending the entire night watching a mind bending German TV show about time travel.
Now, that might ruin your sleeping schedule, but will it actually help you learn German? Recent studies have shown that watching movies and TV shows in a different language with subtitles from that same language can actually help you learn faster, as it allows you to to build connections between how the word is written and how it is pronounced.
Given just how many dialects there are in German (50 to 250), watching German TV shows will give you valuable insight on many of these dialects, insight that you would otherwise never find in a classroom or any app to learn German. German shows will also help you to learn and understand the history and culture of Germany better and also keep you updated with all the linguistic trends that German people are following both in the slang they use and life in general.
Watching German TV shows will also give you many topics that you could use to start conversations with your German friends and practice your speaking skills. From the plot to the cast to the costumes and special effects, you will never run out of interesting things to discuss.
If you’re convinced now that staying up all night, watching TV, and eating ice cream is actually a good thing (I’m kidding, don’t do that), you might be wondering; “Which German series should I watch first”. So I compiled a list of my 10 favorite German series that will have you saying “just one more episode” for hours and hours. But first…
Where can you watch the best German TV shows?
- Check out Netflix. This video streaming service has been delivering German shows to fans all over the world and its catalogue of German shows is only increasing.
It’s important to keep the language on the Netflix site or app set to German so you always get the option to toggle on German audio and subtitles, and I’ll explain while this is important later. You might also want to consider using a VPN to get access to shows that are not available in your country.
- If Netflix isn’t your thing, Amazon Prime got you covered with its own extensive list of German shows. With amazon prime, you’ll have the option to watch some shows for free, but you will have to pay for others
- You can find German TV shows on the Google Play store or the iTunes store.
- And while you might be tempted to pirate the shows and watch them for free, I can’t recommend that method because pirating sites will almost always infect your computer with viruses (remember: they have their own reasons to lure you to their sites with free stuff). It’s also completely illegal to stream or download pirated TV shows while you’re in Germany. You will find that all the TV production companies are eager to get the money they deserve for their hard work. Don’t believe me? Check out Expat communities on Facebook or Reddit.
If you just can’t find that one show that you connect with, remember that you can always revisit your favorite English shows and rewatch them with German audio and subtitles. This is why I like setting the language on Netflix to German, this way I always get the option to have the show’s audio and subtitles in German. This way, you’ll get to experience a new take on your favorite shows. You’ll spend time listening to people speaking German both in a plot and dialogue that is familiar to you.
And if you use Google Chrome to browse Netflix, then you can use this extension to see subtitles in German with their translation in real time.
Be careful when you buy a TV show online, both digitally and as a DVD set. Make sure it comes with German audio. More than often I intend to buy the TV show with its original audio without bothering to actually check if it has that option, simply because I assume it’s a given that it would come with the original audio track. I’m still upset over this oversight of mine. So, make sure to double check if what you’re buying comes with your desired audio track.
Here is my list of my favorite 10 German TV Shows
If you’re a fan of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, or if you find yourself rewatching Stranger Things over and over, then you are going to love this show.
Set in Winden, a fictional town, the show follows the story of a child that mysteriously goes missing and how it affects the four interconnected families around it.
The first season begins in 2019, but later it grows to include 1953, 1986 and 2052 through time-travel.
If you’re a fan of science fiction, this horror-tinged show will make you want to binge watch the entire thing in one go with its thick plot, iconography and visual cues.
And what’s great about this show is that it has already concluded, so you can watch the entire thing and find out how the story plays out and ends without having to wait for a new season to come out! Dark is available for streaming on Netflix.
- Deutschland 83
This eight-part spy story follows Martin, a 24-year-old East German, who gets plucked from his comfortable life in the military and gets turned into a spy for the Stasi all against his will. His daunting assignment: to fake his identity and pretend that he is an aide to the West German general at the center of Nato’s nuclear-deterrence program.
Like many other current shows, Deutschland 83 is a mix of both real and make up events. And despite the high stakes of spyingl, the show doesn’t shy away from domestic drama, as Martin has a girlfriend whom he is reluctant to leave behind.
While this show seems like a serious drama throughout its run time, I can’t help but feel like there’s a wink hidden between the episodes, almost like the creators saying “Don’t take this too seriously.”
If you’re a fan of history, cold war stories and 80s music, you’re definitely going to enjoy Deutschland 83. And the good news is: once you are through with D83 you can continue to watch D86. I found it a bit less thrilling than its predecessor but it’s still a worthy continuation of the first series.
- Babylon Berlin
With a financial disaster looming, the country is thrown in turmoil with misery, mobsters and murderers lurking at every corner. This big-budget German drama begs the question that if the world is ending, why not just party the night away?
The show follows the story of Gereon Rath, a police commissioner who is transferred from Cologne to Berlin to investigate underground gangs
This pitch-perfect take on German expressionism will take you through a journey of mystery and melancholy in a 1920s world that is so believable, you will feel like you are stepping into it rather than just observing it. And what drives this journey even further is the show’s ability to convince you that this is the way Germany must have felt in that era; a fever dream where everything slips slowly out of control and the only logical response being to dance harder and faster as the end of the world came closer and closer.
If you like German expressionist films, avant-garde art and era pieces, then this will be the perfect binge-watch material for you!
- Bad Banks
If I had to summarize this show in one line I’d say: Great cast, amazing cinematography and a riveting script.
Bad Banks revolves around the mind-twisting world of banking and investment, jumping between London, Frankfurt and Luxembourg. The show tells the explosive success story of a young banker, which is actually nothing less than a two month journey to the hellish dark heart of the bank where she works.
Money, power and high-stakes are all themes that will take you on a densely-packed emotional experience that will surely keep you hooked for hours on end!
- Türkisch für Anfänger
This show follows the story of 16-year-old Lena, who thinks that her life is forever ruined because her mother suddenly got engaged to a Turkish police officer. This fantastic comedy reveals how the two worlds collide and deals with themes that show the importance of acceptance while also giving you a transparent view with modern-multiculturalism with all its negatives and positives.
This 2006 show was so popular it basically launched the careers of two of the most popular German actors! In fact, it was so popular that they made a movie based on it, and you can stream both of them on Netflix!
- Berlin Station
This modern-era spy drama doesn’t reinvent its genre, nor does it live up to the level of Deutschland 83, in my opinion. But Berlin Station, a modern day show revolving around CIA and German operatives in the city of Berlin, is a great option for anyone who’s enjoyed “Homeland” and appreciates character-driven drama enough to enjoy the show despite its occasional inconsistencies.
The story takes off when Daniel Miller, a CIA analyst, decides to become a field agent and gets assigned to operate in Berlin. With an Edward Snowden-like character leaking information about the CIA, the agency is facing difficult times as these leaks cause problems particularly to agents located in Berlin.
The biggest positive to me about this show is that it was shot in Berlin which offers an endless variety of intriguing backdrops to all the spy action going on.
This mockumentary is the perfect pastime for anyone who enjoys The Office, especially those who are trying to learn German. Stromberg is a comedy show that combines actual German lessons with some cringy humor and just the right amount of German sarcasm, and just like The Office, it’s gonna be hard not to watch all six seasons in one go. The word Fremdschämen (feeling ashamed for someone else) will never leave your vocabulary after this show.
I especially like how it never gets too close to its British or American counterparts, as it always has something new to weave in and make things just that bit more interesting.
Balancing a tense atmosphere with a slowly unraveling mystery, Parf+m takes the basic premise of the book “The Perfume” by Patrick Süskind and transforms it entirely into a refreshed, modern-era miniseries.
The show follows the story of a young profiler working for the police force and desperately trying to solve the mystery of a series of savage murders involving five former boarding school students. This thrilling, dark mystery drama will keep you on edge as it jumps between the past and the present. And it’s definitely a great option if you’re a fan of crime fiction stories and it’s entirely bingeable as it is only six episodes long.
Weissensee is a period drama about two families living two lives with two destinies in a single divided Germany. Taking place in the 80s, Weissensee is set in divided Berlin and gives intriguing insight on how life was in that era.
The show follows significant historical events like the fall of the Berlin wall and the introduction of the German D-Mark (also called Deutschmark) and how these events unfolded and the effect they had on the lives of the people living in the divided city.
- Dogs of Berlin
Dogs of Berlin is the perfect combination of crime and comedy. It follows the story of two police officers who need to solve the mystery of the murder of a famous Turkish-German football sensation. And while one of the officers tries to benefit off the terrible crime himself, the other is trying his bend to bend the law in order to find justice.
This mixture of drugs, gangs, crime and social control might seem like a dark note for this list to end on, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that this show is a hilariously dark note to end on.