12 Recent German Movies on German History

I have said it repeatedly elsewhere, I think that Germany produces some of the best movies and especially when dealing with German history they have shown great talent. Many movies that have stayed with me far longer than the 1.5 – 2hrs it took to watch them were German. Here are some of the best of the last decade. They are all focusing on history, sometimes local (Requiem, Sass), mostly on a larger scale. All of them are good or very good or at least (Dresden) they manage to show something that hasn’t been shown like this before.

Sass (2001) Sass tells the incredible true story of the brothers Sass. After getting into huge financial problems they become the most famous bank robbers in Berlin in 1924. They were so cheeky and cunning that they became heroes. The police just couldn’t get them. It’s a wonderful period piece that reawakens the Berlin of the 20s with its salons and smoky dance halls. Ben Becker and Jürgen Vogel are two of my favourite German actors and they are great as the brothers Sass. Rola wanted to make a “Larger than Life ” movie and did well.

Herr Lehmann aka Berlin Blues (2003) Based on Sven Regener’s outstanding first novel, Herr Lehmann tells the story of a barkeeper in West Berlin’s Kreuzberg just before the wall falls down. It’s not as good as the book but still worth watching as it captures the “alternative scene” of the 80s very well.

Goodbye Lenin (2003) This is the funniest movie and maybe one of the best German movies ever. It’s simply brilliant. It portrays the former DDR in a humorous way but manages to really show what it must have been like to live behind the wall. It is also able to show what people who grew up in the DDR miss about it. Alex’ mother is in a coma when the wall is removed. She awakes and because the doctor says she shouldn’t be stressed or she might die of a heart attack, Alex tries to keep the DDR alive for her. This is extremely difficult. The trailer gives you an idea of the problems they face. It’s hilarious.

NaPoLa aka Before the Fall (2004) NaPoLa shows the machinery of the so-called National Socialist Elite Schools. It shows how the black pedagogy led to total subordination albeit costing the souls of those who were not totally accepting. It’s a shocking and tragic movie. It conveys how the Nazi regime already got hold of the very young and through ritual and discipline achieved to turn the young people into mindless machines.

Der Untergang aka The Downfall (2004) The last weeks of Hitler showing an outstanding Bruno Ganz. Der Untergang captures Hitler’s madness and the madness of those around him. It’s very chilling and a must-see.

Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage aka Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (2005) Sophie Scholl is very moving film that tells the last days of the Geschwister Scholl or Weisse Rose, as they were called. It shows what people are capable of. It makes you want to become a better person and to put yourself behind an ideal. Sophie is such an admirable young woman and it’s hard to believe that someone so good existed, someone so unflinching and strong. Very sad and touching. She was one of the heroes of WWII Germany.

Das Leben der Anderen aka The Lives of Others (2006) Another look at life in the former DDR. What was it like to be under suspicion in the DDR? What was it like to work for the Stasi (Staatssicherheit/secret police)? The terror and horror of the life under a totalitarian regime.

Requiem (2006) Based on a true story this movie tells about a shocking event that took place in the 70s in Germany. The young student Michaela who suffers of epilepsy leaves her home in which she suffocates. Her parents are ardent Catholics and didn’t leave her any freedom. In the city she enjoys life until she starts to have psychotic episodes. Believing she is possessed by the devil, she seeks help from a priest who will try to exorcise the demon. This is not a horror movie, mind you, but it is no less shocking. Superstition and fanaticism will cost the young woman her life.

Dresden (2006) Dresden is a TV production and a bit corny. I wouldn’t recommend it here if it wasn’t the best movie on the bombing of Dresden that I have ever seen. If found it very well done (apart from the tacky love story). It gives you an idea of the atrocity of the burning city and is very thought-provoking. Were the Allies really justified to erase a whole city like Dresden, a city of culture and art? Was the bombing of Dresden a war crime?

Die Fälscher aka The Counterfeiters (2007) Germany WWII. Crooks, thieves, communists and Jews all land together in the Concentration Camp in Sachsenhausen where they will help the Nazis to forge the money of the Allies. Helping the Nazis, is helping them to win the war. Opposing them could cost you your life. It’s based on a true story and explores the question whether you are allowed to think of yourself while the whole world is at war.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008) In the 70s things were not as they should have been in Germany. Many of the former National Socialist party, ex-Nazis,  were still in important positions. The US had their bases in Germany. The Vietnam war was raging. A couple of students didn’t want to take it any longer. They protested and then terrorized the country systematically. The famous heads were Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof. This is their story. Extremely worth watching. You cannot deny that they were right, only the means to achieve justice were not well chosen. And they paid for it. Each and every one of them. But what is the most amazing, is the fact that they were willing to go the whole way. You cannot be more radical than this.

Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin aka Anonyma –  A Woman in Berlin (2008) Berlin at the end of WWII. If you ever wondered what happened to the women in Berlin when the Russians arrived… This excellent movie will tell you. It is based on the diary of a German woman who lived in Berlin at the time. It’s a tale of rape and ruins. And despite all this, quite a beautiful love story.