Right after World War II, a genre of movies called Heimatfilm (homeland film) became popular in Germany. The genre romanticized life in the countryside and had simple stories, often entailing clearly “good” and “bad” characters that fight for the love of a woman with the “good” guy always winning. The plot is easy enough to follow and once you’ve seen one Heimatfilm, you’ve almost seen them all.
“Sissi” is a classic Heimatfilm that Germans all know. The simple plot follows the main characters Princess Elisabeth, nicknamed Sissi, her sister Néné and the young Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, and how the three of them get caught between betrothals, familial obligation and love.
For a beginner, “Sissi” has a simple enough plot to follow that you won’t get lost concentrating on what the characters are saying. Since the movie is actually Austrian and the characters are Austrian and Bavarian, the accents might be a slight challenge with the slightly rolled “r.” The good thing is that the accents are still very clear compared to what you might actually encounter in Bavaria or in Austria.
2. “Soul Kitchen”
This 2009 comedy revolves around a local Hamburg restaurant and its Greek-German proprietor, Zinos. The run-down joint is having financial problems, Zinos lacks medical insurance and ends up with a slipped disc, his brother is out of prison and his girlfriend is a journalist going to Shanghai.
All of these threads are brought together into a funny, coherent movie with a great cast.
Out of the movies on this list, “Soul Kitchen” is probably one of the more difficult ones to follow as a beginner, due in part to the talk about financial and physical problems. However, it also provides useful vocabulary in an entertaining context and there are other, easier topics to follow, such as relationships and food.
3. “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” (“Germany. A Summer’s Fairytale.”)
Germany is a soccer-crazed nation and in 2006, the country played host to the FIFA World Cup. The national team was a favorite to win the title on its home turf, and “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” is a documentary following the team on its way to trying to win its fourth World Cup.
More broadly, the movie documents how for the first time in a long while, Germans began to show a sense of national pride publicly. Given the country’s history, this was a big change.
If you’re not into soccer, this probably isn’t the movie for you. But if you want to learn sports vocabulary, especially when it comes to Germany’s favorite, then this documentary is a good place to pick it up.
You’ll also get familiar with names of stars and coaches that have played a role on the national team—Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim “Jogi” Löw.
4. “Keinohrhasen” (“Rabbit Without Ears”)
The romantic comedy “Keinohrhasen” is written by, directed by and stars Til Schweiger, one of Germany’s A-list celebrities that English-speaking audiences will recognize from “Inglorious Basterds.” It’s also number 13 on the list of most successful German films by audience size, which means: don’t miss this one!
Its plot is easy to follow: a man gets into trouble and is sentenced to 300 hours of community service at a daycare. He grew up in the same neighborhood as the woman running the daycare and he always used to tease her, so she despises him.
There’s a challenge they overcome together in the daycare, they start to get to know each other better, all is forgiven and they fall for each other.
The dialogue is written the way people speak in everyday life, so you’ll pick up useful slang and phrases. Additionally, kids feature prominently in the movie since the daycare is a main location, so when the adults are talking to them, again, it’s easy to follow.
Finally, the jokes are fairly universal, so you won’t need deep knowledge into German humor to laugh and be entertained.
5. “Absolute Giganten” (“Gigantic”)
This movie follows three young friends, one of whom has decided to leave Hamburg since his probation for a juvenile offense is up. He doesn’t tell his friends about his plans until the day before, leaving them confused about why he would abandon them. As a result, their last night together involves partying, foosball, music and cars.
The main themes in the movie—friendship and leaving home—are universal ones that make this an easy movie to follow. There’s no specialized vocabulary to make it any more complicated than listening to a group of friends talking, and they don’t speak in a dialect that’s difficult to understand.