Hearing the language you’re learning spoken in everyday contexts is essential for developing — and maintaining — your conversational abilities. Enter: movies. They’re entertaining, not to mention convenient, sources of learning material that will no doubt expand your vocabulary, while also bringing the language to life. Our Babbel language experts have assembled a list to kick off your next German film binge (I mean, study session), so grab some popcorn and let’s get started!
1. Bibi Blocksberg (2002)
Bibi Blocksberg, a lovable teen witch figure up there in the ranks with other famous German children’s characters like Pippi Langstrumpf and Käpt’n Blaubär, is the original German Harry Potter. The delightfully kitschy, early 2000s film rendition details Bibi’s coming-of-age as she explores developing magical powers and encounters evil for the first time.
If you’re just starting out in your German language learning journey, this is a good place to begin, as the lively characters make this children’s movie enjoyable for adults as well. The simple plot and dialogue are sprinkled with silly, nonsensical Hexensprüche (spells) ideal for grasping basic vocabulary.
2. Friendship! (2010)
If you’re from the US, you’ll enjoy this hilarious clash-of-cultures film, Friendship!, directed by Markus Goller. With borders suddenly open after the fall of the Berlin Wall, two friends from East Germany spontaneously decide to take a road trip across America. Strapped for cash and equipped with only a handful of English phrases, the two embark on an odyssey destined for comedic mishaps.
As the German dialogue is often punctuated with English, this movie won’t exhaust your learning attention span and is a great introduction for beginner speakers. You’ll definitely pick up some youth slang, as well as some German pop culture references, along the way.
3. Nosferatu – Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Both a twist on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and tribute to F. W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu is a perfect fit for horror fans. This eerily breathtaking film takes us back to 19th century Germany, where a young real estate agent must travel to Transylvania to sell a property to Count Dracula. As with most vampire stories, the ensuing story is tragic.
With the slow plot pace and drawn out cinematic shots, the shorter dialogue sequences are easy to follow. As a bonus, beginner and intermediate speakers are bound to pick up some kooky, outdated words along the way.
4. Lola rennt (1998)
Another exciting movie to start with is Tom Tykwer’s Lola rennt (which you may recognize from the English title, “Run Lola Run”). This acclaimed film follows Lola, a determined, red-haired punk rushing to save her boyfriend’s life by obtaining 100,000 Deutsche Mark in only 20 minutes. The story is told through a butterfly-effect, so the audience sees Lola reliving the same 20 minutes over and over. This gives her the chance to make different decisions with varying outcomes — and it’s a non-stop adventure.
Besides being action-packed, the film’s cyclical plot and recurring dialogue is suitable for training your basic, every-day conversational skills. As the movie was filmed in 1990s Berlin, it’s also a great introduction to the capital city’s aesthetic and personality.
5. Almanya: Willkommen in Deutschland (2011)
Yasemin Şamdereli’s Almanya (Turkish for “Germany”) takes a modern look at the country’s history of recruiting Gastarbeiter (guest workers) from Turkey to offset the post-World War II labor shortage. It’s an entertaining, bittersweet and genuine portrait of a multi-generational, Turkish-German family confronting its unique intersection of cultural identities.
The clear and accessible language spoken in the film will help intermediate learners pick up words used in familial settings and daily life. Through the backdrop of humorous (mis-)communication and culture clashes, you’re also bound to gather insight into the vibrant, East-meets-West society woven throughout Germany.
6. Soul Kitchen (2009)
Set in working-class Hamburg, Fatih Akın’s Soul Kitchen brings to life a saga of two Greek-German brothers, Zinos and Illias, scrambling to keep a rundown restaurant in business. Throughout the story, a diverse cast of characters redefine in their own way what it means to be German through relationships, music and food.
Its simple plot, mixed with fast-paced dialogue, is beneficial for intermediate learners wanting to take their comprehension skills up a notch. The movie offers a variety of vocabulary related to various topics like tax collection, physical therapy, real estate and culinary arts.
7. Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (2005)
A more somber (but nonetheless inspiring) story is that of Sophie Scholl by Marc Rothemund. Based on true events, the film is set in Munich during World War II and portrays how Sophie and members of the student resistance group, Weiße Rose (White Rose), were punished for distributing treasonous, anti-Nazi literature.
Of the best movies to learn German, this film is dialogue-heavy and therefore rewarding for history buffs and intermediate learners wishing to expand their vocabulary to include judicial, political and activist phrases.
8. Bella Martha (2001)
Sandra Nettelbeck’s underrated Bella Martha is a true gem of a movie and a great resource for learners. Compelling acting skills pair with a beautiful film score to create a charming romantic drama centered around chef Martha Klein, who has to come to terms with an unexpected personal tragedy amidst her workaholic lifestyle. It’s a story about loss, laughter and, most of all, food.
Bella Martha deals with complex personal themes, so it’s a treasure trove of intimate emotion and relationship-based vocabulary, perfect for intermediate and advanced learners looking to move past casual every-day conversations. Some specialized culinary terminology adds just the right amount of linguistic flavor.
9. Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
The complex and artfully-executed German cinematic masterpiece, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is a film everyone — especially those learning German — should watch. It’s a staggering drama that illustrates the sustained invasion of private life under the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The plot follows Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler as he volunteers to bug playwright Georg Dreyman’s apartment in order to figure out if he is committing treason.
Conversations about complex sociopolitical and artistic topics with a surreal surveillance-state backdrop will certainly prove valuable for advanced learners. You will also learn a lot about GDR history, as well as hear a range of German dialects.
10. Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! is a hilarious and authentically raw depiction of German reunification and the subsequent “reculturization” of East Germans. Thinking the shock of East German dissolution would be too much for his mother to bear after waking up from an eight-month coma, the protagonist, Alex Kerner, puts on an elaborate performance to convince her that everything is just the way it used to be before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The film portrays the conflicting emotions and memories people in East Germany had to deal with after starting a slow process of cultural assimilation. Riddled with retro, GDR-era artifacts like the cartoon Sandmännchen or socialist boy scouts, die Pioniere, it is a true time capsule of the past that will teach advanced learners more about life (and language) in East Germany.——