Learn German with TV Shows: 22 Best Series and Where to Watch
They’re not just great for couch potatoes.
German TV shows can be amazing tools for the language learners who want to add some flavor to their lessons.
Not only are they engaging and entertaining, but they can challenge your skills in a way textbooks and flashcards may not be able to.
So here’s a list of some awesome German TV series, with details on where to watch them and how to utilize shows within your studies.
- 22 Great German TV Series for Your Entertainment and Learning Needs
- 1. “Dogs of Berlin” (Dogs of Berlin)
- 2. “Dark” (Dark)
- 3. “Lindenstraße” (Linden Street)
- 4. “Der Tatortreiniger” (Crime Scene Cleaner)
- 5. “Neo Magazin Royale” (Neo Magazin Royale)
- 6. “Verbotene Liebe” (Forbidden Love)
- 7. “Danni Lowinski”
- 8. “Im Angesicht des Verbrechens” (In the Face of the Crime)
- 9. “Die Sendung mit der Maus” (The Program with the Mouse)
- 10. “Schwiegertochter gesucht” (Daughter-in-law Wanted)
- 11. “Stromberg”
- 12. “Wetten, dass..?” (Wanna bet that..?)
- 13. “Heimat” (Homeland)
- 14.“Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten” (Good Times, Bad Times)
- 15.“Mord mit Aussicht” (Murder with a View)
- 16. “Verliebt in Berlin” (In Love in/with Berlin)
- 17. “In aller Freundschaft” (In all Friendliness)
- 18. “Marienhof”
- 19. “Der letzte Bulle” (The Last Cop)
- 20. “Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter” (Our Mothers, Our Fathers)
- 21. “Pastewka”
- 22. “Löwenzahn” (Dandelion)
- How Watching a German TV Series Will Help Your Language Skills
- How to Learn German by Sentence Mining TV Shows
22 Great German TV Series for Your Entertainment and Learning Needs
1. “Dogs of Berlin” (Dogs of Berlin)
Where to watch: Netflix
“Dogs of Berlin” is the second Netflix original series produced in Germany. As with “Dark,” this show is also completely in German with English subtitles and German closed captions for accurate German transcriptions.
“Dogs of Berlin” follows two police officers investigating the murder of a famous (fictional) German-Turkish soccer player named Orkan Erdem. If you need any foreshadowing, the German word Orkan means “hurricane” in English, and that pretty much sums up this action-packed show!
As the investigation into Orkan’s murder progresses, the police officers uncover more and more unsavory information that puts Orkan Erdem—and even the whole policing institution—in a bad light. At the same time, tension and rumors begin to grip the city of Berlin surrounding the murder, and eventually, the city is thrown into hysteria as tensions rise between pro-Turkish groups, the Berlin mafia and neo-Nazis.
2. “Dark” (Dark)
Where to watch: Netflix
“Dark” is one of the biggest shows on Netflix in recent times. It’s a Netflix original series produced in Germany with an all-German cast. It has won numerous awards in Germany and abroad, and as of May 2020, has been renewed for a third and final season.
Naturally, the language originally spoken in the show is German, but English dubbing and subtitles are available. There are also German closed captions rather than subtitles, so that means the captions completely match the spoken German.
“Dark” follows members of the fictional town of Winden in Germany. Strange things are happening in Winden, beginning with the disappearances of some of the inhabitants’ loved ones. As the mystery develops and the plot thickens, other skeletons fall out of the main characters’ closets: affairs, crimes, suicides.
Pretty soon, Winden finds itself in the middle of a conflict of apocalyptic proportions, complete with wormholes, time travel and an epic battle to save the world.
“Dark” is a mix of science fiction and thriller. I recommend it for fans of the American Netflix original show “Stranger Things” and other similar TV shows such as “The X-Files.”
To get a better idea of the show (and get some German practice too), you can watch the “Dark” series trailer on the FluentU program. Like all videos on the program, the trailer includes interactive captions that provide instant translations, as well as a video dictionary that shows how words are used in different clips. Here’s how it looks:
There are many other videos on FluentU, like movie clips, news segments, vlogs and more. All are available with dual-language subtitles (you can turn off either language, as I did in the screenshot above). You can add words to flashcard lists, take personalized quizzes, browse interactive transcripts and much more on this program, both on the website and through the iOS and Android apps.
3. “Lindenstraße” (Linden Street)
Where to watch: Das Erste
Evil twins, poisoning and secret affairs, oh my!
If you’re someone who’ll love “Lindenstraße,” then you’ll know that I didn’t simply name three detriments to modern society: these are the ingredients to any good soap opera!
As such, “Lindenstraße” is a soap opera series set on the street Lindenstraße in Munich, Germany. There actually is a Lindenstraße in Munich, but the events depicted on the TV show are completely fictional.
Based partially on the premise of Britain’s “Coronation Street,” the story revolves around seemingly normal events that happen in the character’s lives. The show also explores tough issues and features a diverse cast. In fact, Lindenstraße was the first program to feature a gay kiss on television in German history!
“Lindenstraße” has been running regularly since 1985 and is one of the most popular shows in Germany. There were 1,758 episodes as of March 2020 when it aired its supposed final season.
But who can know if any of these soap operas are ever really over?
4. “Der Tatortreiniger” (Crime Scene Cleaner)
Where to watch: YouTube
“Der Tatortreiniger“ is a dark comedy set in Germany. And when I say dark, I mean that the main character and supporting cast make jokes on the set of crime scenes after rather gruesome acts have been committed.
“Der Tatortreiniger” is also a relatively long-running show. In total, there are seven seasons that can be accessed online, with the final season being produced and released in 2018.
As you might’ve guessed, the story follows a man known as Schotty who cleans up crime scenes after murders or other heinous crimes. As part of the show’s premise, Schotty stumbles on a friend or family member of the victim in each episode.
Much of the ensuing humor is situational in nature: in addition to funny retellings of the victim’s life, Schotty often finds himself getting way too involved in the cleaning process by drinking, arguing or making love to victims’ family members.
5. “Neo Magazin Royale” (Neo Magazin Royale)
Where to watch: ZDFmediathek
Late-night talk shows are all the rage in North America, so it’s only natural that they’ve also taken off in Germany. “Neo Magazin Royale” is one of the most popular, and is a satirical variety show filmed in Cologne, Germany.
There are eight seasons as of 2020, and the show consists of comedy monologues, skits and humorous interviews.
Much like late-night American talk and sketch shows, politics and current news happenings are often at the forefront of comedic content.
For example, host Jan Böhmermann has poked fun at American President Donald Trump and even gotten himself into some hot water surrounding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. That event came to be known as Erdogate in Germany, with officials in both Germany and Turkey involved.
Clips from “Neo Magazin Royale” are available on their YouTube channel.
6. “Verbotene Liebe” (Forbidden Love)
Where to watch: YouTube
Drama, drama, drama!
With a name like “Forbidden Love,” what do you expect?
This soap opera is one of the most popular in Germany and has won many accolades for its sobering portrayal of controversial issues like drug abuse, alcoholism, rape, homophobia, incest and adultery. Set for the most part in the city of Düsseldorf, it consists of various interrelated family storylines.
One of the most prominent focuses on the relationship between Jan Brandner and Julia von Anstetten, twins who, after being separated by their parents at birth, ultimately fall in love with each other. If you’re partial to heart-wrenching shows like “Days of Our Lives” or “All My Children,” you’re bound to enjoy “Verbotene Liebe!”
7. “Danni Lowinski”
Where to watch: Clips on SAT.1
Danni is a hairdresser who earns her law degree doing night classes. Upon graduating, she wants to work as a lawyer but is unable to find employment in a firm.
Unwilling to give up, she decides to lease a small space in a mall in Cologne and open up a low-cost legal help desk, charging one euro per minute for her services.
So begins Danni’s bumpy yet often comical career as a lawyer as she helps her unusual clients with her equally unorthodox approaches. This legal dramedy is perfect if you’re looking for a challenging yet lighthearted show to prepare for your upcoming trip to North Rhine-Westphalia!
8. “Im Angesicht des Verbrechens” (In the Face of the Crime)
Where to watch: Amazon Prime (some countries), DVDs on Amazon
This 10-part German TV series about the Russian mafia in Berlin is, in my humble opinion, one of the best German productions out there. Though the viewer figures were low when it aired, it received critical acclaim for its unique plot and impressive cast.
It tells the story of police officer Marek Gorsky, the son of Latvian-Jewish immigrants, who, along with his partner, is investigating the dealings of the Russian mafia in Germany’s capital.
Gorsky is a tormented character who, in his job, struggles with the memory that his brother’s murder case was never solved, and the fact that his sister is married to a Russian mobster.
This highly suspenseful action series is perfect for German students with a higher level of German who are looking for something to keep them at the edge of their seats!
9. “Die Sendung mit der Maus” (The Program with the Mouse)
Where to watch: Das Erste Mediathek (some videos geo-blocked)
If you’re not feeling confident enough with your German to tackle a show with a complicated plotline but still want to improve your German through TV, maybe “The Program with the Mouse” is right for you.
This highly acclaimed children’s show consists of several segments that are either humorous or educational (or both) and, though targets children between the age of four and eight, has an average viewer age of 39!
This show is a great way to improve your German vocabulary, as the topics covered are highly diverse, yet still at an elementary level.
The show might also give you some insight into the German culture since some of the past educational segments have focused on difficult topics to explain to children, like Germany after WWII and Chernobyl.
In addition, most Germans know this show so it may be a great way to break the ice with your new German friends!
10. “Schwiegertochter gesucht” (Daughter-in-law Wanted)
Where to watch: Clips on RTL, full episodes on TVNow (with registration)
Let’s face it: sometimes you just want to watch something trashy on TV and not think too much. If you’re in one of these moods but still want to learn some German, this German reality dating show might be just what you need.
The show has single women spend a couple of days living in the homes of their prospective partners. The catch is that most of these men are living with their mothers, hence the title of the show.
Apart from the obviously humorous situations that this premise entails, this show is great because it may give you insight into small-town life in Germany. Moreover, the format and the language used is generally easy to follow for German learners!
Where to watch: DVDs on Amazon
If you enjoy “The Office,” you should give this very popular German sitcom a chance.
The show takes place in the office of a fictional insurance company called “Capitol Versicherung AG” and focuses on the department headed by Bernd Stromberg. As the TV crew documents the day-to-day occurrences in the office, Stromberg tries, often unsuccessfully, to have his department come off in the best light.
The show, a parody of the modern “reality show” genre, is great for German students since the humor is sophisticated yet very much accessible.
12. “Wetten, dass..?” (Wanna bet that..?)
Where to watch: plex.tv (streaming service)
Though there are many different entertainment TV shows in German, the most successful was undoubtedly “Wetten, dass..?”, a show that aired from 1981 until 2014.
The main part of the show focused on betting on whether or not ordinary people can perform an unusual and/or difficult task. Bets have included whether or not a blindfolded man could recognize his cows based on the noise they made while chewing apples, or whether 13 swimmers could pull a 312-tonne ship for 25 meters.
The other major attraction of the show was the celebrity interviews, which often feature high-profile celebrities like Michael Jackson, Karl Lagerfeld, Justin Bieber and Mikhail Gorbachev.
This show is perfect if you don’t feel like committing to a grueling drama, yet still want to improve your German by watching something lighthearted!
13. “Heimat” (Homeland)
Where to watch: DVDs on Amazon
“Heimat” only ran for 32 episodes but follows a German family from 1919 to 2000. Each episode is feature film length (at least 90 minutes), so this is one to sit down in front of when you have plenty of time on your hands.
The central family’s domestic life is played out over the 81 years, against the backdrop of Germany’s political and social issues. The whole series is thus like an epic chronicle that will take you on quite a ride.
If you want to brush up on the past few decades of German history, this is the series for you.
14.“Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten” (Good Times, Bad Times)
Where to watch: DVDs on Amazon
One of Germany’s longest running soap operas, “Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten” is set in a fictional neighborhood of Berlin. It follows the individual and social trials faced by a number of protagonists.
The series is aimed at a young audience and tackles hard-hitting issues such as homosexuality, rape, drug addiction and underage drinking. As is typical of soap operas, you can expect quite a bit of drama.
15.“Mord mit Aussicht” (Murder with a View)
Where to watch: DVD on Amazon, Das Erste Mediothek
Detective Sophie Haas is the main character in “Mord mit Aussicht.” Contrary to her expectations to work in Köln, she instead must tackle crimes in the fictional village of Hengasch. Despite its small size, Hengasch has plenty of unique quirks.
It’s a satirical drama that gets most of its ironic laughs from emphasizing the regular cliches often found in standard crime drama series. It also pokes fun at the many differences between city and provincial living.
This series is an easy way to get your fix of police drama (and jargon) while enjoying witty and comedic German.
16. “Verliebt in Berlin” (In Love in/with Berlin)
Where to watch: YouTube, SAT.1 Online
Cutely enough, the title of “Verleibt in Berlin” is a play on words in German, meaning to be both in love with and in Berlin.
It’s widely broadcast across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and it’s a lighthearted comedy series which focuses on unlucky-in-love Lisa Plenske. Lisa is a bit of a fish-out-of-water in her job at the über-chic Kerima Mode fashion house.
Sure, the plot is very reminiscent of “Ugly Betty,” but the German setting livens up the story enough to make it feel like a fresh, new idea for a TV series. Expect some romantic dialogue as well as business and fashion-related lingo.
17. “In aller Freundschaft” (In all Friendliness)
Where to watch: YouTube
Set in the city of Leipzig, “In aller Freundschaft” takes place in the fictional Sachsenklinik Hospital. The lives of the doctors and nurses create the interweaving story lines and arcs for the soap opera. The whole of Germany has often been gripped by the dramatic happenings which play out in this small hospital.
Around 600 episodes have been broadcast since its premiere in 1998, so there’s a lot to catch up on!
Of course, since the setting is a hospital, you can expect to hear plenty of medical terminology and patient-doctor dialogue.
Where to watch: YouTube
This one had been on German screens for around 19 years before broadcasting its final episode in 2011.
The fictional Marienhof neighborhood in Cologne is the backdrop for the drama in this classic soap opera. Just like “Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten,” it attracted a relatively young audience thanks to its tough themes, including suicide, adultery, AIDS and murder.
Viewers may appreciate the realistic character depictions, which can also mean opportunities to learn more natural German speech.
19. “Der letzte Bulle” (The Last Cop)
Where to watch: SAT.1 Online, DVDs on Amazon
Homicide detective Mick Brisgau has been in a coma since the late 1980s. Twenty years later he wakes up and returns to work with the Essen’s homicide department.
“Der letzte Bulle” follows Brisgau, an old-school macho cop, as he tries to come to terms with his new modern life and deal with new technology. He also has to come to terms with the fact that his old crime fighting partner is now married to his wife…
It sounds like a somber plot, but there’s actually quite a bit of humor and thoughtful dialogue infused into the storyline. The series can also resonate with the nostalgics who, like Mick, have a bittersweet relationship with current-day trends and technology.
20. “Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter” (Our Mothers, Our Fathers)
Where to watch: Tubi TV
“Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter” was distributed internationally under the title “Generation War.”
This mini-series tells the stories of five friends and the different paths they take through Nazi Germany and World War II. There’s only three episodes (each 90 minutes long) in the series, but each one is a compelling and captivating watch.
This one is a good fit for learners who appreciate historical context and cultural examinations. You’ll explore events through multiple different perspectives, which can add a bit of challenge to your learning.
Where to watch: DVDs on Amazon
“Pastewka” just goes to show that Germans actually have quite a good sense of humor!
Often compared to the likes of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the series revolves around the comedian and actor Brian Pastewka, who plays a fictionalized version of himself. It has been well received throughout German-speaking Europe and even picked up a Rose D’or award.
Evidently, you can expect to hear and pick up German that’s flavored with comedy and wit.
22. “Löwenzahn” (Dandelion)
Where to watch: YouTube
When you’re a bit tired and just want to relax with some easy viewing, tune into the kids’ channels.
“Löwenzahn” is a children’s show which has been running since 1979. Its winning formula hasn’t changed over the past 30 or so years. Each episode focuses on a specific theme or topic. Through short features, scenes and sketches, the host, Fritz Fuchs, teaches and informs kids of the show’s weekly topic.
Episodes usually concentrate on how technology and various services work. The German used is relatively simple and you can learn a lot of vocabulary pertaining to different topics.
How Watching a German TV Series Will Help Your Language Skills
Let’s start with the obvious benefit: Listening!
German TV series are authentic native content. You’ll be listening to real German being used in real contexts. This isn’t a listening exercise that has been thought up just to be used in a German study class—it’s real life entertainment targeted at native Germans. If you’re able to follow a TV series, you’ll really be acing your German listening skills.
It’s also a great way of picking up any colloquialisms and idioms.
One thing to watch out for, however, are Umgangsprache (slang) words. They’ll make you sound native to Germans, but they might not go down so well in your German exams. You’ll be expected to show off your Hochdeutsch in those!
Didn’t fully understand what just happened in a scene? No problem, you can simply rewind and rewatch. That’s the beauty of taking your German learning into your own hands and focusing on it at home. You can tailor your studies to your own needs. So you’ll be able to pick a TV series that suits your own tastes.
However, just rewinding may not be enough to let you confidently follow authentic content like TV shows by yourself. They were made for native speakers, so you can expect rapidly-spoken and slang-heavy German. It can be especially difficult to watch and translate any unfamiliar words at the same time.
If the going does get tough, you should use language learning resources to help you out. These can ensure that you’re actively absorbing the German you’re exposed to.
For example, as mentioned earlier, FluentU can help you learn through authentic German videos equipped with study tools. As an extra challenge, you can toggle off the tools and you can practice transcribing or translating the video yourself. The program also lets you make flashcards or take quizzes that include speaking questions to practice your pronunciation.
How to Learn German by Sentence Mining TV Shows
While it would be nice to become fluent in German simply by watching TV shows, it doesn’t seem that we can learn passively through osmosis, does it?
There’s a way to accelerate and make the most out of your German TV show watching, however, that’ll help you see your German fluency skyrocket.
What is this magic, you ask? Well, as you’re watching the German TV show of your choosing, don’t just keep a notebook of unknown German words with English translations. Try a little trick and study technique called “sentence mining.”
No need for a bulldozer or a shovel—sentence mining is completely safe and easy to do from the comfort of your own home. The process is simple!
To sentence mine properly, all you need is a notebook and a pen. Or if you take the digital route, a computer.
Whenever you come across a word you don’t know, pause the TV show.
First, you should copy the whole sentence down in the notebook or on the computer in German. Remember: don’t copy just the word you don’t understand. It’s important to copy down the whole sentence so you can learn in context. I’d recommend highlighting or underlining the unknown word.
Next, try to figure out the meaning of the word from the context of the sentence. For this, it’s useful to think about what’s happening in the show itself. If you’re unsuccessful at figuring out the word’s meaning from the show content, look it up in a physical or online dictionary.
Once you’ve deciphered the word’s meaning, write down the meaning in English. You can choose to write the meaning of the whole sentence or, for an added challenge, just the word.
The next step is crucial: you must review these sentences often. Your revisions can change all the time—try translating from German to English, and when comfortable, from English to German. Try making a word bank of unknown words and doing fill-in-the-blanks exercises. Try making physical or digital flashcards, or doing free-write activities with the unknown words.
The beauty of TV shows is that the vocabulary used in them is recursive. For example, vocabulary related to crimes and the legal system will keep coming up in crime TV shows or legal dramas.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to sentence mine every single unknown word. You can limit yourself to just the words that are useful to your current German language goals.
See, TV is more than just entertainment!
Go ahead and put one of these must-watch German series on for your next TV binge. Tune into one which sounds up your street and start improving your German!