Movies are one of the most fun ways to get an ear for a language while also experiencing some of that country’s popular culture, scenery and history. I went over lists of top German cinema, and also asked folks via Facebook and Twitter, and came up with a short list of some of the movies you should really check out.
I was going to give you a top-ten list but I am going to have to offer you a top sieben list, based on the movies I have seen, I love, and I can recommend—and I am intentionally staying away from World War II stuff, so my movies are all post war.
Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987) You might have seen the American version of this movie, City of Angels, starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, but don’t let this dissuade you. Wings of Desire is an eccentric, somber movie about two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, as they roam the city of Berlin, unseen and unheard by the people, observing and listening to the diverse thoughts of Berliners. This is a movie of longing, love and desire. The movie is long, philosophical and tends to take itself very seriously sometimes. This is not a Nick Cage and Meg Ryan romantic comedy, for sure.
Run Lola Run (Lola rennt, 1998) Run Lola Run is a German thriller film written and directed by Tom Tykwer and stars Franka Potente as Lola, Moritz Bleibtreu as Manni, and Berlin as a compelling background. This may be the coolest movie you have ever seen. There is an 80% chance that you’ll rush out and grab a copy of the soundtrack and maybe even dye your hair red and get a tattoo. I don’t want to go into the story because there are too many spoilers to count, but mark my words, this is one heck of an exciting ride.
Good-Bye Lenin! (Good Bye Lenin!, 2003) Ever wonder what it was like for people living in Communist East Berlin to witness the falling of the wall? This is an endearing, funny movie about growing up in the East, people fleeing to the West, anti-government protests and the effect of capitalism on the hearts and minds of East Germans after the wall fell.
Go Trabi Go (Go Trabi Go, 1991) This is a quirky comedy about an East German teacher, Udo Struut, who packs up his Trabant “Trabi” 601 to take a holiday with his family. Udo and his family relive German literary superstar Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Italian Journey as they travel through Western Europe for the first time since the wall came down. The Trabant auto, a ridiculed symbol of East Germany, is itself a character in this film as is the way this family behaves in contrast with the sophisticated, rich, Porsche-driving Western Europeans. Hilarity ensues.
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, 2006) This unforgettable movie explores the paranoia and oppression perpetrated by the all-seeing, all-controlling Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s secret police. It is a story of artists and playwrights who are conspiring to defect and to bring with them the atrocities and sufferings of the East into the decadent West and what the Stasi does to try to disrupt and destroy their plans of liberation and free thought. Such a tangled web of intrigue and realpolitik! Such an exploration of loyalty and betrayal! All of this to such an effect that it is considered one of the best movies ever made.
Mostly Martha (Bella Martha, 2001) This is the German interpretation of a romantic comedy about a staid, serious, workaholic young woman who is the head chef of a fancy restaurant in Hamburg, Germany. She is a perfectionist who is stuck in her ways and obsessive, requiring her to see a therapist to deal with her culinary pursuit of perfection. She has control issues, considers food to be high art and does not suffer morons or philistines. Suffice it to say that this is a movie that worships food and if you loved Julie & Julia, you’ll not want to miss this one. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll join culinary school!
The Princess and the Warrior (Der Krieger und die Kaiserin, 2000) This movie, like Run Lola Run, deals with how the decisions you make—even the little ones—affect your fate. The movie hinges on a chance meeting between a robber, Bodo, and a nurse, Sissi, during a very strange occurrence. After robbing a grocery store, Bodo causes a truck to hit Sissi; however, Bodo finds Sissi under the truck and performs an emergency tracheotomy, saves her life and then disappears without Sissi ever knowing who her savior was. The movie is a wild ride; it is dark, absurd and infused with pathos.
There are many more world-class German-language movies out there out there—this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find many of these films on Netflix; most of them allow you to view them instantly online. Amazon offers all of these and I am sure you can rent most of them at your local video stores and libraries. Good luck and I challenge you to turn off the subtitles after you’ve watched them a couple times. It is a pretty rewarding experience. Viel Glück!
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