Who can think of a better way to learn a language than by enjoying a classic German film?
Many of you, yes, but that’s not the point. Please continue reading for the sake of our media stats.
While learning German can appear to be a tedious and time-consuming task, you’ll be glad to know that the journey towards fluency doesn’t have to include only grammar books and dictionaries. Germany has been an essential contributor to cinema from its very beginnings and produces around 250 films per year on average. That’s more than most babies can count. While many classic and contemporary German films focus on darker chapters of German history, more recent productions provide a nuanced look at German society and boast a variety of artistic signatures and genres.
Not only will learning German through film greatly boost your oral comprehension, but it will also give you a feel of proper word stress and pronunciation. Not to mention that you’ll build vocabulary while second-guessing your choice to press play.
Whether you’re a beginner or more advanced learner of Goethe’s language, or just looking to impress your Stiefmutter, here’s a list of 5 German movies that will have you flying to Bavaria on your day off.
1) Oh Boy – 2012
Who knew one could make a movie with a guy desperately trying to scrape up a decent cup of joe? Director Jan-Ole Gerster did just that. Released in 2012 and premiering at the Munich International Film festival, the movie depicts the 24 hours in the life of law-school drop-out Niko Fischer (played by Tom Schilling) as he wanders aimlessly through the streets of Berlin. Beyond Tom’s misadventures, this dramedy is a love letter to Germany’s Generation Y. Stagnant from the burden of having to grow up in the shadows of the division of Germany (German Democratic Republic – East Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany – West Germany). The black and white cinematography adds to the classic feel of the film and the snatches of jazzy music give it a retro and carefree vibe.
For whom? We would recommend Oh Boy for more advanced learners of German, as dialogues can be tricky and the actors speak at a fast pace. Bear in mind that subtitles are a must for this 90-minute movie. Fear not, this small hindrance shouldn’t deter you from enjoying and recommending this compelling film.
2) Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) – 2006
The 2006 drama marks the feature film debut of filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and achieved critical acclaim both at home and internationally. It tells the story of Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler (portrayed by Ulrich Mühe) who is assigned to spy on the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). Weisler soon becomes so consumed by his assignment that he goes as far as protecting the one he is supposed to surveil. From a cultural point of view, Das Leben der Anderen gives a portrayal of life in former communist East Berlin in the 1980s. The movie was actually released 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For whom? As far as language learning is concerned, Das Leben der Anderen will not only improve your German skills by exposing you to a range of accents, but its popularity among Germans makes it a great conversation piece when you feel like communist post-war Germany is an appropriate cocktail chatter.
3) Berlin Calling – 2008
Ickarus (played by Paul Kalkbrenner) is a techno DJ who spends his time touring techno clubs with his girlfriend and manager Mathilde. But on the cusp of releasing his greatest record, he succumbs to the effects of his longtime drug use, which lands him in a Berlin psychiatric center, putting his upcoming album and performances in doubt. The incredible film soundtrack was written and recorded exclusively by Kalkbrenner himself – another reason to add this cinematic gem to your bucket list. Above all, Berlin Calling casts a light on the contemporary German electronic music scene.
For whom? Berlin Calling is of interest to any learner wanting to know more about the German capital’s music and street politics. Beware, as some vocabulary words and idioms may be difficult, so turning on subtitles is a wise choice.
4) Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon) – 2009
“I don’t know if the story that I want to tell you reflects the truth in every detail”. Eichwald, northern Germany. 1913. A series of unusual crimes in a remote, conservative village take on the character of a punishment ritual. But who is the culprit? You’ll soon find out. Warning: contains shocking and gruesome images.
For whom? Das weiße Band directed by Europe’s most celebrated screenwriter Michael Haneke, is an ideal way to brush up on your German – as the speech rate is slow and the topics broached are easy to follow.
5) Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) – 1979
Die Blechtrommel is a 1979 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by German writer Günter Grass. We follow the life of three-year-old Oskar Matzerathand as he stubbornly decides to stop growing up. Trapped in his infant body, he witnesses Europe collapsing around him and the beginning of WW2. The movie is built around a common fantasy: stop growing up, but this interpretation is more tragic than the Peter Pan version. The film won the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1980.
For whom? The voice-over narrative is performed by none other than three-year-old Oskar himself, making the overall movie easy to understand.