Much of Germany – indeed, Europe – appears to have an unprecedented amount of time on its hands due to the precautionary measures taken to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Now, we might not be able to go out, but that doesn't mean that we can't explore Germany from our couches. Here's five television shows, and five films to stream on the telly, that will help you get to know the country better.
Run Lola Run / Lola Rennt
When 'Run Lola Run' came to international cinemas in 1998, many didn't know what hit them. Tom Tykwer's tale of Berliner Lola, racing against the clock to save Manni, her boyfriend, broke almost every cinematic and storytelling convention there was.
Featuring live action and animation set to a pulsing techno soundtrack, the film thrilled almost everyone who saw it, and it has been parodied almost everywhere, including memorably on ‘The Simpsons’. Making stars out of Franka Potente, and Moritz Bleibtreu, it's still an adrenalin shot to the eyeballs 22 years after its initial release.
Vision – From The Life of Hildegard von Bingen / Aus dem Leben Hildegard von Bingen
Margarethe Von Trotta, new German cinema auteur brings the story of one of the country's most celebrated women to life in this 2009 biopic. With the indomitable Barbara Sukowa taking the lead role, the film shows how the female saint took on some of the most important figures of the 12th century and won.
The question of Hildegard's relationship with her protege Richelis, played by Hannah Herzsprung, is also masterfully handled. Where they? Weren't they? Who thought you'd be ever pondering the sex lives of medieval nuns!
The White Ribbon / Das Weiße Band
Michael Haneke is known for his smart, blackly humorous thrillers, but ‘The White Ribbon’, also released in 2009, is a slight deviation. Set in the months prior to World War One, and filmed in stark black and white, the film charts a series of strange and horrific events in a northern German village.
People keep getting hurt, secrets are exposed and waves of fear grips the town. Southern Gothic has nothing on the fear and dread evoked by Haneke’s shots of endless fields. Depressing, sure, but strangely compelling, a darkly beautiful fairytale.
The Baader-Meinhof Gang / Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex
For a period in the sixties and seventies, the audacious and violent exploits of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, also known as the Red Army Faction, terrified Germany. Uli Edel’s 2008 film tells their story, from the wave of protests that sparked their formation to their inglorious end.
Moritz Bleibtreu and Martina Gedeck star as the two gang leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof respectively. Some have said the film does too much to glorify the terrorists – and that’s what they were – but I believe it does a great job at portraying the conflicted ways in which they were both perceived, and perceived the world themselves.
The Lives of Others / Das Leben der Anderen
You’ve probably heard about this one. Winner of the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, this slice-of-life under the East German regime by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, this film is a staple of many German courses and world cinema TV channels. Exploring the tangled web of surveillance that was designed to keep East Germans in line, the film also explores deeper issues of trust, deception and moral courage. A film that still inspires endless hours of debate.
Decades after he made Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer burst back onto the scene with the single most expensive non-English TV series of all time, based on the novels by Volker Kutscher.
Trust me, you can see every euro spent on screen! Following Gereon Rath, a new arrival to the Berlin police’s homicide division, the three series to date explore the sleazy, chaotic and turbulent Berlin underworld of the late twenties. The spectre of fascism also looms, providing some all too relevant parallels with the present day.
Back to the DDR, this immensely popular series tells the story of Martin Rauch, an East German soldier who is sent to West Germany as a spy to report on NATO troop movements. Cat-and-mouse games, and intrigue are the order of the day here, and many have praised the series for its bang-on depiction of life on both sides of the wall during the eighties.
If you enjoy it, there’s a sequel series, ‘Deutschland ‘86’, and a forthcoming ‘Deutschland ‘89’ to round out the trilogy. One for those who remember a time when the Iron Curtain cut the world in two.
Netflix’s first German-language series was an immediate hit, thanks to its intricate narrative framed around time travel. Bodies are appearing in the German town of Winden, but they’re wearing clothes from over two decades ago. Local children are disappearing into thin air.
The truth, quite literally, defies the laws of physics. Masterful storytelling and cinematography makes it quite easy to follow the many, many twists and turns you’ll come across in this series, but leave just enough room for endless speculation – there are entire internet forums dedicated to ‘working it out’.
It’s not all spies and crime, when it comes to German television – though you might be forgiven for thinking that. ‘Ku’damm 56’ tells the story of a group of young women coming of age in post-war Berlin, as it begins to blossom.
Conventions of morality, sexuality and gender are challenged, and we begin to see the shape of the modern world emerging. Gloriously technicolour in its period approach, this series has already won Emmys. If you enjoy it, you’re in luck – ‘Ku’damm 59’ continues the story, and ‘Ku’damm 63’ is coming!
And now it's time for something completely different. Before ‘Star Trek’ arrived on American television screens, West Germans were treated to the adventures of the crew of the spaceship Orion, fighting an alien race known only as the ‘Frogs’.
Despite extremely low-budget sets and some questionable narrative and musical choices, the show was a hit in Germany, and remains a cult favourite to this day. Indeed, there’s a large camp that suggests that ‘Star Trek’ borrowed liberally from its German predecessor. There’s only seven episodes, so you can knock this one over in an afternoon, with plenty of time for groovy space dancing afterwards!
What films and TV shows do you suggest? Email us at [email protected] and we may include them in a future version of this article!