Shows You Should be Watching (Even if You Can’t Speak German)
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to gain insight into a culture and its language is by watching originally made TV shows. But sometimes that can be difficult because you don’t always know what’s good – or even what’s out there to begin with. So, I’ve put together a list of shows that:
- are/were a hit with the German public
- have crossover potential with an American audience (meaning they’re not so overly laden with cultural references that we wouldn’t be able to follow them or make use of certain types of humor that don’t tend to work on us)
- offer a view of Germany or German people that we don’t tend to see in American-made productions (by that, I mean typical stereotypes and World War II plotlines)
I’ve also tried to include a variety of genres so that there’s something for everybody.
1. Die Eifelpraxis
This is probably the most relatable show on the list to watch because it deals with a theme that all of us can relate to – adjusting to life in the Eifel.
Die Eifelpraxis (The Eifel Doctor’s Office) is a fairly lighthearted drama about a single mom who moves her two kids from Berlin to the Eifel so that she can finally realize her dream of being a nurse. As you can imagine, there are lots of bumps in the road, especially for her teenage son who struggles with the “culture shock” of leaving the big city life for a little podunk village out in the middle of nowhere.
There’s a lot of dramatic conflict, but a lot of funny moments, too. Almost immediately, the show hints at a love story between the single mom and the Director at her kids’ new school – which is compounded by the fact that he has two daughters who get caught up in a love triangle with her teenage son. Her new boss, who has been in a wheelchair since a motorcyle accident, is crabby and set in his ways, which causes them to butt heads over just about everything. And then you have all of the villagers, who we meet and get to know little by little.
An added bonus for this show is that it was actually filmed in the Eifel, too – mostly around Monschau. As it deals with a Berlin family moving to the Eifel, it also gives you a glimpse into how other Germans view the Eifel and the people who live here. I got my husband to watch this show the other night to give me an Eifel perspective on how they presented everything, and he said it was actually pretty accurate; although, they rely on a lot of stereotypes. The show makes the Eifel villagers seem a little backwards and closed-minded (especially in contrast to the people in Berlin), which, of course, the main character tries to change. He took issue with just one scene where they were all standing in a kitchen, and he said, “That is not a typical Eifel kitchen.” And he said some elements were definitely exaggerated to make the Eifel seem almost overly rural. But, he also said that they touched on a couple of genuine struggles of Eifel life, so he didn’t have any major complaints.
As it is a brand new show, there is only one episode so far, but it’s about an hour and a half long, so it’s more like watching a movie. It was incredibly well received by the German public, so they have already started working on the next two episodes.
You can find full episodes online with a simple Google search.
2. Das Perfekte Dinner
Das Perfekte Dinner (The Perfect Dinner) is a German reality show that combines cooking and competition.
In this program, people compete against each other to prepare and host the “most” perfect dinner. They usually pit four or five people (sometimes couples) against each other at a time. Each night, one person cooks for the other contestants. The rules are that they have to prepare a three course meal with the fewest amount of ingredients possible. The other contestants rate the dinner, the ambiance, and the person as host. Because they focus on just one dinner each night (you basically have to watch the show every night for a full week), you get to see how they prepare all of the food. At the end of each episode, the contestants show the viewers their rating for that particular dinner. But the person who hosted the dinner doesn’t get to see how they did. The next night, it’s someone else’s turn. At the end of the week, they all sit down for the big reveal, and we find out who got the highest ratings. That person that wins gets 1,500 euros and some pretty decent bragging rights.
What’s great about this show is that it’s so visual. You get to see how they cook, what ingredients they use, what combinations they make, etc. It also lets you see into their homes, so you get an idea of how they decorate and the different styles that are popular with Germans. The show travels all across the country, so you get to see different areas as well. I also like that it’s unscripted. If you know a little bit of German, or if you’re trying to learn it, this show is good because it’s “street” language. It’s normal every day speech.
I couldn’t find any full-length episodes online, but you can watch clips here to get a better idea of the show. It comes on every weeknight at 7pm on the channel called VOX.
3. Traumhaus oder Raus
Traumhaus oder Raus (Dreamhouse or Out) is another German reality TV show, but this one is about houses – both remodeling and buying.
Each episode focuses on one family or couple who is unhappy with their current home for whatever reason. It might be that they’ve outgrown the house, it’s badly damaged, etc. And what these people have to decide is if they want to remodel their current house or move to a different one. They start by sitting down with Sasha (an interior designer) and Michel (a real estate agent). They talk through what they need out of a home, and then the two walk through the house to get a feel of what they would be up against. The family then goes to stay with friends while Sasha and her team start remodeling the house. Now, it’s not like Extreme Home Makeover where the show pays for everything. Here the family uses their own money, so Sasha has to find ways to remodel all while staying within whatever their budget is. Meanwhile, Michel takes the family to see three different houses. At the end of the show, the family comes back to see the newly remodeled house, and then they tell Sasha and Michel if they want to stay in the house or sell it and buy one of the three that Michel found for them.
It’s a fun show because there’s a playful rivalry between Sasha and Michel, and it’s a really familiar format. I mean, we don’t have this exact show in the States, but we have tons that are really similar, so it’s very easy to follow. It’s also interesting to see the inside of the different houses. In every episode I’ve ever seen, the houses were always furnished still. They talk about the prices of each, so it also gives you an idea of real estate costs in Germany. I also like that it gives you a chance to see German family dynamics and how they relate to each other – whether that be married couples or parent-child relationships. And like Das Perfekte Dinner, it’s very visual, so you don’t have to be able to understand them to know what’s going on.
You can watch several episodes online (but you have to deal with commercials still) here. New episodes come on channel Kabel Eins every Tuesday at 8:15pm.
Stromberg is the German version of The Office.
Now, this show is not going to help you learn German unless you already have a really strong foundation in the language. I say that because they speak very fast (for a non-native speaker), mumble, smush their words, and use lot of idioms.
That being said, it’s the perfect show to watch if you want to learn about the culture. For anyone who watched both the American and British versions of The Office, you know that they use the same characters and plotlines. This is true of the German version as well. If you are only familiar with the American version of The Office, you should know that all versions of the show are essentially the same – just tweaked for specific audiences. For example, Stromberg is Michael Scott’s character. He’s the boss of an office, kind of socially awkward, not really taken serious by his peers, often feeling overlooked by his superiors, etc. Ulf is Jim. He definitely feels like he settled in this job, has a crush on the receptionist, and so on.
So, you can learn a lot about the culture by seeing how the show was changed to fit the German audience. It also gives you a glimpse into the German working world – how the office spaces are arranged, how they dress, what they do for office parties, etc. And even though you most likely won’t understand any of the dialogue, it’s a very digestible show because you already know each character and all of the main plotlines.
You can watch a handful of episodes online here. If you have the German Netflix, you can watch the entire series plus the film.
5. Der Tatortreiniger
Der Tatortreiniger (The Crime Scene Cleaner) is a dark comedy.
This is another one of those shows that’s both helpful and not helpful to watch at the same time. The downside is that it’s quite dialogue heavy. I mean, there are a lot of scenes where the people are just talking to each other, and you don’t really have any visual cues for understanding. The upside is that this is a comedy – and a really well written one at that. We don’t tend to think of Germans as being funny. In fact, the stereotype is usually that Germans don’t have a sense of humor at all. But there is actually a pretty big market of German made comedies out there – they just don’t ever make it to the States.
Now, we don’t really have a comparable show to this one, but I would say that the main character is a like a cross between Dexter and Michael Scott.
Like the name implies, he is a crime scene cleaner. Every episode, he goes to a different house or apartment where someone has recently died in order to clean up the blood. What usually happens, though, is that he meets people there who distract him from his job. They might be family members or neighbors. And so there is a lot of dialogue between them, but there is also some very subtle humor that you can see. He’s not the smartest or most eloquent guy, and he often does things that are completely ridiculous.
This might be the most difficult show to watch because the dialogue isn’t always easy to understand, and some episodes are basically just conversations. But, it’s worth watching at least one episode to get a taste of (one kind of) German humor.
Like Stromberg, this show is also available on the German Netflix, but you can watch several episodes on Daily Motion. Here is the first episode. Der Tatortreiniger is still on the air, but there are no new episodes on TV right now.
So, there you have it. Some of the best TV shows you can watch to learn about German culture.