Berlin on Screen: A Watch List
Berlin has been the backdrop for many a top movie and series throughout the history of TV and cinema, and we’ve picked out ten of the best films and shows set in the German capital. These flicks are a great way to get to know a different side to the city, to immerse yourself in a Berlin unfamiliar. Popcorn at the ready...
Run Lola Run (1998)
The breakout feature for German director Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run was showered with awards and critical acclaim when it was released in 1998. Eponymous protagonist Lola needs to get her hands on 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend’s life. The film plays out three 20-minute scenarios back-to-back, each narrative influenced by Lola’s encounters.
Babylon Berlin (2017-)
Written and directed by Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer, this big-budget TV adaptation of Volker Kutscher’s novel Der Nasse Fisch follows detective Gereon Rath as he negotiates sex, drugs, conspiracy and murder in Weimar Berlin. It’s a gripping noir that does a flawless job of recreating the hedonism, poverty, and political instability of Berlin and Germany at the end of the 1920s. Season three starts this year.
The Bridge of Spies (2015)
Getting into Hollywood blockbuster territory now with Stephen Spielberg’s recent Cold War drama. Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, the lawyer sent to Berlin to negotiate the exchange of US spy-plane pilot Gary Powers for captured Soviet agent Rudolph Abel. The second half of the film gives an aptly stark rendering of a frigid Berlin recently torn in two by the Wall.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Though set in various locations across the globe, most of the second installment of the Bourne trilogy were filmed in the German capital. Scenes set in Naples and Moscow, for example, were actually filmed at Berlin’s Messe and Alexanderplatz respectively. This espionage action thriller mainly makes our list, though, thanks to the gripping foot chase scene culminating on the S-Bahn tracks at Friedrichstraße station.
Wings of Desire (1987)
Directed by the legendary Wim Wenders, this romantic fantasy follows two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, as they drift through the bustling streets of divided Berlin offering comfort to the isolated and the distressed. After coming across a beautiful and lonely trapeze artist Damiel falls in love, and longs to experience life in the physical world. Great soundtrack, engrossing performances, and beautifully shot. Widely regarded as one of the best films of the ‘80s, and one of the best German movies of all time.
The Lives of Others (2006)
Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006, there probably hasn’t ever been a better representation of the Stasi – the East German secret police – on-screen. Centred around the surveillance of a playwright and his actress girlfriend, it’s a confronting portrayal of the psychological abuse and repression inflicted on East Germans at the hands of an all-powerful and corrupt Ministry of State Security. Unerringly authentic.
Goodbye Lenin! (2003)
East German Christiane Kerner, a single mother dedicated to the socialist cause, falls into a coma in October 1989 and then wakes up after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her son, Alex, tries to conceal the collapse of Communism from his mother to save her from a potentially fatal shock. Charming, funny, tragic at turns, and dripping with Ostalgie (‘nostalgia for the East’), this flick explores the legacy left behind by the East German state.
Exuberant, risqué for the time, and a huge commercial and critical success, Cabaret holds the distinction of being the film to earn the most Oscars having not won ‘Best Picture’. Frivolous young American Sally Bowles, a dancer in the Kit Kat Klub of ‘20s Berlin, strikes up a relationship, and then a love affair, with uptight British academic and fellow lodger Brian. The cutaways to the Kit Kat Klub’s Master of Ceremonies performing are gold.
Legendary director Fritz Lang considered this thriller, not Metropolis (also essential viewing), to be his masterwork. Both the police and criminal underworld scour Berlin in a city-wide manhunt for a child serial killer. This one’s a landmark film in the history of cinema, and still has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Germany, Year Zero (1948)
The third film in Roberto Rossellini’s unofficial war trilogy, this one paints a brutal portrait of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Mostly filmed on location in Berlin, a city near totally destroyed by Allied bombing raids, it doesn’t pull any punches – zeroing in on the struggle for survival amongst the ruins.