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.

37 thoughts on “12 Recent German Movies on German History

  1. wow…thank you for the list. I wish German movies are easy to find here. Hollywood and Asian movies rule the dvd shops here.

    I have seen the downfall, it was great. I really like it. it kept me glued.

    • You’re welcome. Too bad you can’t find them. They are all good, even Dresden. The way they filmed the bombing is stunning. You get an impression of what it must have been like. Also for the pilots who flew the mission. That wasn’t an easy deed.
      I am going to re-watch all of them. I think The Counterfeiters is probably the weakest. The Downfall is great but also a more funny movie like Goodbye Lenin is wonderful.
      I’m on a mission. I think German movies deserve much more international attention.

      • I have no doubt when you said German movies are great…in fact,nowadays I have less love toward Hollywood movies as i found great movies from Asia and Europe. They are richer in story.

        • I agree, they are not so predictable. When you see an American love story for example, there will be a happy end. In a European or Asian movie the end is never clear in advance.

  2. I’ve only seen two of those films, Finding Lenin & Downfall. Both were excellent. Finding Lenin was a great little film I thought. Very funny.

  3. I’ve only seen Good Bye Lenin and Das Leben der Anderern.
    I remember both very well as I was shocked by them.

    Good Bye Lenin was funny but I was flabbergasted to realise how FAST Western Germans made everything from DDR disappear. I remember about the pickles. Was it necessary to replace food as well?
    I’ve spent all my last years of German classes talking about die Wiedervereinigung and its consequences and discrimination between Ossies and Wessies and so on.

    Das Leben der Anderern was a shock because I really understood that I had lived all my childhood at only 800Km (which means closer than Toulouse) from a very hard dictatorship. I knew it of course but this film put a reality on the words.

    Have you seen the one about a Turkish guy who starts a restaurant? I don’t remember the title, I’ve only seen the trailer.

    • I tried to focus on movies with a historical theme and will do another post on another day. The movie with the restaurant sounds familiar but I’m not sure.
      I remember there was a DDR series on German TV a while back and they were talking about the things they missed. Food, or rather brands was topic. Some sweets they enjoyed as children and stuff like that. It must be weird when all of that is taken from you. Das Leben der Anderen is shocking but I was quite familiar with it. I was always oddly fascinated by the DDR and have read many novels (nothing has been translated into English). I’m just watching a TV series at the moment on the DDR too. It was really bad. I should watch Sonnenallee. It is said to be very good and started a nostalgic wave.

  4. Thanks for the list. I have ordered Goodbye, Lenin from Netflix. I have seen Downfall and The Counterfeiters – both excellent films.

    • You are welcome. I hope you will like Goodbye Lenin. I thought it was very funny and it shows so well what the DDR was about. A great movie to teach children something about the DDR by the way. You should also watch Sophie Scholl.

  5. Thanks for the run down on good German films–I’m only familiar with the one on Sophie Scholl, which I really need to see now that you mention it. I’m always looking for good ones to add to my Netflix queue!

    • You are welcome. You won’t be disappointed by any of them, I’m sure. Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others is excellent too but Sophie Scholl is a good starting point.

  6. I’ve seen three of these, Caroline, and would like to see several of the others. My favorite was The Lives of Others both because of how good it was and because I have a huge crush on actress Martina Gedeck! 😀 Interesting to hear that you liked The Counterfeiters so much–I had it checked out from my library, but the opening scenes seemed so cheesy that I stopped watching it even though I knew it had received good reviews (I was tired, so I’ll have to give it another try someday).

  7. Good Bye Lenin was tremendous. Come to think of it I’ve seen Downfall and The Lives of Others both of which were also excellent.

    I should check out Sass. That sounds a great deal of fun.

    Have you seen Heimat? I got part way into season one but had to stop. I’ll be restarting it in a few months. Extraordinary series.

    • I really want to rewatch them all. The Counterfeiters is the weakest but it’s still quite good. Sass is an incredible story. Those guys stole millions and never got caught. The high society cheered whenever they turned up at their parties. I’m a huge fan of both actors anyway. I’m planning on doing a post on not history related German movies later on.
      I haven’t seen Heimat but will have a look, thanks. I’m watching Weissensee at the moment another miniseries on the former DDR.
      It’s a bit problematic to recommend German movies/series as they are often not subtitled. Klemperer is another example. Do you speak German?

      • I don’t speak German. I have some Italian but if I take another language it would have to be French. Too much I want to read in that to put anything ahead of it.

        Still, I have recently been discovering more German literature and there’s a wealth which for some reason doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the UK. German film and television is even less well known. It becomes self fulfilling. There’s hardly any of it translated so there’s no market. There’s no market so there’s hardly any of it translated.

        • I agree. Pereine Press does a good job but so far she rather covers novellas. I’m constantly looking for what has been translated. I feel it isn’t sufficiently promoted either. This will obviously discourage editors.
          If you wanted to acquire a language just to read the literature German might have been easier than French but to go beyond the passive undertsanding, I know German is more difficult.

  8. I have to confess that I have never seen a German film! Plenty of French ones, but nothing from Germany. That’s not very cosmopolitan, is it?? Thank you for the very helpful list – definitely one to refer to.

    • Some things are just not on our radar. Now you know there will be great movies to discover. There are many other great German movies and I will have to do a post on those that have nothing to do with history.

  9. I saw Goodbye Lenin and thought it was hilarious. Such a clever idea, and it showed how quickly events become history – the old East German products looked so archaic just a short time after re-unification. The only other German film I’ve watched recently is Downfall which is one of the best films I have ever seen

    • Goodbye Lenin is funny and sort of educational. It’s agreat companion piece to The Lives of Others which I really recommend. The Downfall is a fantastic movie. Like Das Boot that is older, that’s why I didn’t mention it. I can alos really recommend Sophie Scholl and NaPoLa, especially when you are interested in WWII.

  10. What a great list – thank you for posting. Goodbye Lenin was the first German film I saw and I really loved it. I’ve seen three others on your list and they were all excellent. I’m going to keep this list and look out for the rest. I didn’t know A Woman in Berlin was a film – the book has been on my wish list for a while…

    Another one I enjoyed a lot is the tv film Stauffenberg (Operation Valkyrie).

    • You welcome, Tracey. They are all worth watching. Anonyma is excellent. I have the book as well but watched the movie first.
      I haven’t seen the Stauffenberg film. Will try and find it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  11. “The Lives of Others,” set in East Germany not long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, tells the moving story of a police investigator forced to confront himself and the work he does. In a society poisoned by secrecy, fear and the abuse of power, a number of the movie’s characters — artists, actors, writers — must look deep inside and decide what they are made of; none more so than the investigator.

    This is a movie that took me to a place and time that felt very authentic, for a tale that was very satisfying.

    Ulrich Muhe, who plays the investigator, is mesmerizing, and the young director is to be applauded for this, his first full-length film. Some have compared “The Lives of Others” to Coppola’s “The Conversation” but the two have completely different story arcs and are only superficially similar.

    Both my companion and I felt this was our favorite of the six films we had a chance to see at the festival.

  12. Hi, Caroline. Though I don’t have access easily to seeing foreign films these days, and haven’t seen any of these (and therefore perhaps shouldn’t comment), one of my favorite movies of all time is “Das Boot,” which I felt hit a high point. Do you have any reaction to that film in particular, or is it out-of-date now and too antique to bear consideration?

      • Yes, I only included recent movies.
        I’m not sure Are you aware I write a blog on war movies? I’ve done lists there as well. Das Boot, in my opinion, is not only one of the best German movies ever made but one of the best war movies. I think it’s absolutely outstanding. However, I haven’t reviewed it yet. I have to watch it again.
        I think it’s amazing for so many reasons. But I’m equally partial to the German movie Stalingrad. It’s more graphic than Das Boot but a perfect movie too.

  13. I saw Goodbye Lenin on the recommendation of a German speaking secretary I worked with, and thought it was very good. Some of the other films you mention also sound worth seeing, but they would need to be dubbed or sub-titled for foreign markets. I wonder why this isn’t done more, as it is for American films in overseas markets? Das Boot, with subtitles, was shown on British TV some years ago to much acclaim, so it can be done.

    • I don’t know why it’s not done more but I agree, it’s a shame. I suppose the general interest isn’t high enough. Just like for books. Even excellent German books don’t get translated.

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