Germany: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Germany past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books: Nonfiction

  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank, 1947). Frankfurt-born Anne Frank chronicles the two years her family spent hiding in the secret annex of their Amsterdam business.
  • Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent (William Shirer, 1941). Stationed in Berlin from 1934 until 1940, CBS radio broadcaster Shirer delivers a vivid and harrowing day-by-day account of the rise of Nazi Germany.
  • Berlin Now — The City After the Wall (Peter Schneider, 2014). A long-time resident and journalist explores aspects of Berlin since 1989, including the Stasi legacy, the debate about how to preserve sections of the Wall, the city's frenetic club scene, thorny urban planning issues, and the ongoing BER airport debacle.
  • Berlin — Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (Rory MacLean, 2014). MacLean's colorful look at this pivotal and resilient city focuses on the people (from Frederick the Great to JFK to David Bowie) who were instrumental to its narrative — and its unique soul.
  • Culture Shock! Germany (Richard Lord, 2008). Lord provides cultural insights on German customs and etiquette.
  • Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Roland Bainton, 1950). Bainton delivers an authoritative biography of the man who initiated the Reformation.
  • In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson, 2011). Larson captures Berlin during the rise of the Nazis, as seen through the eyes of a reserved US ambassador to Germany and his socialite daughter.
  • Inside the Third Reich (Albert Speer, 1970). Based on 1,200 manuscript pages, this authoritative account of the years 1933–1945 was written by Hitler's chief architect and eventual armaments minister.
  • Martin Luther: A Life (Martin E. Marty, 2004). Marty offers a short, vivid biography of the irascible German reformer who transformed Western Christianity.
  • Night (Elie Wiesel, 1960). The Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner gives a candid and horrific account of existence in a Nazi concentration camp.
  • Peeling the Onion (Günter Grass, 2007). The Nobel Prize–winning author's memoir recounts his childhood in Danzig and his experiences as a soldier in the Nazi Waffen SS.
  • Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (Anna Funder, 2002). Funder delivers a powerful account about the secrets of the Stasi, the East German Ministry for State Security, and how it affected the citizens of East Germany.
  • When in Germany, Do as the Germans Do (Hyde Flippo, 2002). Want to fit in? This lighthearted and helpful guide details the do's and don'ts of being German.

Books: Fiction

  • 1632 (Eric Flint, 2000). This sci-fi/time travel book sends West Virginians back to 17th-century Germany.
  • Address Unknown (Kathrine Kressmann Taylor, 1939). Published before World War II and banished in Nazi Germany, this book warns of the terrors yet to come via a series of letters between a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco and his former business partner.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque, 1929). Young German classmates enlist in the German Army of World War I, only to find that war is not about glory and pride.
  • Berlin Noir (Philip Kerr, 1993). An ex-policeman turned detective struggles with secrets and crime in 1930s and '40s Berlin.
  • The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin (Christopher Isherwood, 1945). Composed of two novellas published in the 1930s, these stories capture the freewheeling early '30s Berlin and inspired the Broadway musical/motion picture Cabaret.
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak, 2007). This award-winning novel about a German girl who learns to read and then steals books the Nazis want to destroy is also a 2013 motion picture.
  • Floating in My Mother's Palm (Ursula Hegi, 1998). This bestselling novel follows the life of a young girl growing up in 1950s Burgdorf, a small German town on the Rhine.
  • The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann, 1924). One of Germany's most influential and celebrated works of the 20th century takes place in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps before and during World War I.
  • Marrying Mozart (Stephanie Cowell, 2008). Cowell's novel reveals a more intimate side of the famous composer.
  • Narcissus and Goldmund (Hermann Hesse, 1930). Hesse tells the story about two medieval men, one choosing life in a monastery and the other traveling the world. Also by the German-born Hesse is the popular Siddhartha, about a young man leaving his family.
  • The Reader (Bernhard Schlink, 1995). Told by a sympathetic narrator, this book challenges readers to ponder, "What if my loved ones had been Nazis?"
  • Saints and Villains (Denise Giardina, 1999). The author draws on the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in this fictionalized account of the Protestant theologian who protested Hitler's rise.
  • The Silent Angel (Heinrich Böll, 1994). Soldier Hans Schnitzler returns from World War II unknowingly secreting a will that will change his life. Also by Böll: Group Portrait with Lady, about a war widow's attempt to save her Cologne apartment building from demolition.
  • The Tin Drum (Günter Grass, 1959). Grass' acclaimed novel tells the tale of a young boy who stands defiant against the Nazis, armed with only a drum and a piercing scream.
  • Winter (Len Deighton, 1987). Deighton's engrossing historical novel traces the lives of a German family from 1899 to 1945. The book also serves as a prequel to Deighton's masterful nine-part Cold War spy series, which kicks off with Berlin Game (1983).

Movies

  • The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008). The still-fragile German democracy is rocked in 1967 by acts of terrorism committed by radicalized Germans.
  • Backbeat (1994). This German/UK production chronicles the Beatles' time playing at dives in Hamburg, just before they hit it big.
  • Cabaret (1972). With Hitler on the rise and anti-Semitism growing, the only refuge in Berlin during the 1930s is in the Cabaret. (This musical won multiple Academy Awards.)
  • Das Boot (1981). Wolfgang Peterson's gritty film sinks any notion that war is glorious as it sails with the crew of a U-boat hunting Allied shipping during World War II.
  • Downfall (2004). Bruno Ganz delivers a frightening performance as Hitler in this story of Der Führer's final days in his Berlin bunker.
  • Good Bye, Lenin! (2003). In this funny, poignant film, a son struggles to re-create a pre-unification Berlin for his communist mother.
  • Hannah Arendt (2012). This biographical drama examines the life of the German-Jewish philosopher who reported on Adolf Eichmann's 1961 Nazi war crimes trial for the New Yorker.
  • Head On (2004). Two mismatched Turkish-German lovers struggle with their heritage and personal issues in this culture-clash drama.
  • The Lives of Others (2006). In this gripping, Oscar-winning drama, a member of East Germany's secret police becomes too close to those whose lives he surveils.
  • Lore (2012). As the Allies swarm Germany at the end of World War II, a girl must lead her siblings to safety following their parents' disappearance.
  • The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). Rainer Fassbinder's gritty meditation on post-WWII Germany is seen through the romantic woes of a young woman.
  • Mephisto (1981). This Oscar winner tells the tale of an actor who abandons his conscience and embraces the Nazis in order to further his career and standing. Bad move.
  • Metropolis (1927). Fritz Lang's landmark sci-fi epic (and silent film) is set in a futuristic city where the wealthy rule from high-rises while the underclass lives and toils underground.
  • The Miracle of Bern (2008). This popular film sets a moving father-son story against the backdrop of the West German soccer team's unexpected win in the 1954 World Cup in Bern, Switzerland.
  • North Face (2008). Gripping and grim historical drama set in 1936 about a pair of German mountain climbers attempting to be the first to conquer the deadly north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps.
  • Nowhere in Africa (2001). In this Academy Award winner, a Jewish family flees Germany in the 1930s and settles in Kenya.
  • Schindler's List (1993). Steven Spielberg's unflinching, Oscar-winning drama recounts a Nazi factory owner's inspirational efforts to save his Jewish employees from deportation to concentration camps.
  • Shoah (1985). This 9.5-hour Holocaust documentary includes no wartime footage, only interviews with those who lived through it.
  • Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005). This drama delivers a beautiful, devastating account of a German student who defied Hitler and paid with her life.
  • The Tin Drum (1979). This Academy Award-winning film is based on Günter Grass' seminal novel (listed above).
  • Triumph of the Will (1935). Leni Riefenstahl's infamous Nazi propaganda film shot during the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nürnberg is notable for its groundbreaking cinematography.
  • Two Lives (2012). Bouncing between Norway and Germany, this film explores the struggle of children fathered by German soldiers in Norway during the Occupation.
  • Valkyrie (2008). This historical thriller chronicling the July 20, 1944, attempt to assassinate Hitler includes scenes shot on location in Berlin's Bendlerblock, the nerve center of the failed coup and now a memorial to the resistance effort.
  • The Wave (2008). Students at a high school quickly learn how easy it is to give in to the same social forces that enabled Nazi Germany (based on a real-life classroom experiment from 1967).
  • The White Ribbon (2009). A remote village in early 20th-century Germany, plagued by disturbing events, becomes a study in the roots of evil.
  • The White Rose (1982). This historical drama follows a group of Munich university students who form a resistance cell in defiance of the Nazis in 1942.
  • Wings of Desire (1987). Set in the former West Berlin, Wim Wenders' romantic fantasy tells the story of an angel who falls in love with a human. The story concludes in Wenders' 1993 sequel, Faraway, So Close.