For some reason people tend to think of the Germans as bitter, über-correct and insanely anal. For those who don’t actually speak the language, German sounds very strict and harsh, especially when it’s yet another WWII movie soldier barking commands at others. On top of that, the general consensus seems to be Germans have no sense of humor whatsoever. Germany even won first prize for most humorless nation in a 2007 study.
Jawohl, it’s all bull-schei?e! German humor is based on wordplay, past and present politics and a unique type of dry sarcasm and irony that may take some time to get used to. That doesn’t mean to say you won’t understand it at all, but it does take some knowledge of Germany’s historical background (let’s lay off the Hitler jokes, guys) and its regions to get a true sense of what it is that makes German beer bellies jiggle with laughter.
We’ve put together a list of some of the best German comedies that features post-war as well as modern movies by directors as varied as Loriot and Marcus H. Rosenmüller. Oh, and we even managed to sneak a little stoner comedy in there too. These movies will have you yodeling with laughter.
10. Werner – Beinhart! (1990)
Director: Niki List, Gerhard Hahn and Michael Schaak
Beer lovers and Oktoberfest enthusiasts have probably learned the German word for “cheers” by now: Prost! But if you happen to find yourself surrounded by beer-slurping German biker folk, don’t be too surprised if you hear the expression Hau wech die Schei?e (down that shit) to accompany the clinking of bottles. This expression originated from the Werner comics that first became popular in 1981. Werner is a plumber who spends his free time causing chaos on the streets with his motorbike, drinking his beloved Bölkstoff beer and obsessing about football. He works for his plumber master Röhrich and his sidekick Eckat and always manages to instigate the biggest construction site accidents and conflicts imaginable.
In the first film adaptation, Werner – Beinhart!, we are introduced to Werner creator Rötger “Brösel” Feldmann, who is being kept prisoner by König Griesgram dem Groben (King Sourpuss the Gruff) and is forced to create a film that will make the king laugh. Only the king has a weird disease that affects his laughing muscles, ergo he cannot laugh. He has beheaded great comics like Woody Allen, Otto Waalkes and even Buster Keaton for failing to make him snicker. Rötger has three days to sketch an animation film in his dark dungeon. With the creation of Werner, Rötger is sure to have saved his own ass. The animation film starts out with Werner kicking a football into the open marketplace below his penthouse apartment. As the ball bounces from stall to stall, destroying everything in its wake, Werner narrates from his window as if it were a real football game. Having had his kicks for the day, he goes off to work where fecal disaster strikes.
Hau wech die Schei?e wasn’t the only expression Werner fans adopted for their everyday vocabularies. Post-Werner, the police became known as the bullerei (bulls), a bottle of beer was no longer eine Flasche Bier but Fläshbier, and plumber workshops became known simply as Gas, Wasser, Schei?e (Gas, Water, Shit).
9. Otto – Der Film (Otto – The Movie) (1985)
Director: Xaver Schwarzenberger
Otto Waalkes, born a Friesenjung (a boy from Frisia), is one of the most popular German comedians of the ’80s and ’90s. Otto had his first public appearance in a shopping mall when he was 11 years old. He performed the “Babysitter Boogie” and was paid with a 30-deutsche-mark gift certificate and a copy of Mutiny on the Bounty. He started playing guitar when he was 12 and toured East Frisia with his band The Rustlers, mainly performing Beatles songs. In the late ’60s he moved to Hamburg, where he lived in the “Villa Kunterbunt” with the likes of Udo Lindenberg and Marius Müller-Westernhagen. In order to finance his visual arts studies he started performing in small clubs around Hamburg. Stage fright and nerves often got the better of him, so much so he’d often drop the mic. To make up for his clumsiness he would crack jokes in between songs and apologize profusely. His jokes and apologies soon started doing better than his music, and before long he booked huge venues with his comedy routine.
Otto – Der Film is the first in a series of five Otto movies. He also appeared in 7 Zwerge – Männer Allein im Wald (7 Dwarves – Men Alone in the Woods) alongside Nina Hagen, Harald Schmidt and Tom Gerhardt. His cartoon creation the Ottifant appeared in various publications and also had its own show and movie, Kommando Störtebeker. In Otto – Der Film, Otto escapes from his smothering mom and makes his way to the big city of Hamburg in the hopes of opening his own business: OSSI, Otti’s Super-Service International. “Ossi” is also a term used to describe people from the East; wordplay is an essential part of Otto’s comedy routine. Otto meets the loan shark… erm, Shark, who gets him to sign a contract without reading the small print, seeing as it is “bad for the eyes.” OSSI doesn’t quite take off, but Shark expects a payout and Otto is forced to find catastrophically hilarious ways of getting the money.
8. Charley’s Tante (Charley’s Aunt) (1996)
Director: Sönke Wortmann
The beloved travesty-comedy Charley’s Aunt goes back to 1892. Brandon Thomas was a trained ship’s carpenter from a poor background who, against his father’s wishes, moved to London to become an actor. He also wrote a few plays, but only one became popular: Charley’s Aunt. It premiered in February 1892 in Bury St Edmunds and within a couple years was translated into German and French. There are several German film variations of Charley’s Tante, most notably the 1963 version starring the legendary Peter Alexander and the 1996 edition directed by Sönke Wortmann. Both films differ from Brandon Thomas’s original script but guarantee laughter of the bellyaching kind.
In Wortmann’s version, Waldemar (Horst Krause), the owner of a Berlin meat franchise, is cheated out of 5 million dollars by Stefan Lohman (Thomas Heinze), an investment adviser based in Hong Kong. Waldemar has just one week to sort out this mess before the bank seizes his business, so he travels to Munich to meet Argentinean “Beef Baroness” Lucia d’Alvarez (Anya Hoffman) in the hopes of getting into business with her. What he doesn’t realize is that Lohman has also come to Munich to hide out in the house of Lucia´s nephew Charley. He is planning a big party with Charley (Niels Ruf), to which Waldemar’s daughter is also invited. When Lohman almost runs into Waldemar, he realizes his game is up. But then he comes up with the brilliant idea to save himself by posing as Lucia, which leads to various comical situations…
Unfortunately we couldn’t get the trailer for Wortmann’s version of the film, but the Austrian edition with Peter Alexander will give you a taste of what to expect.
7. Go Trabi Go (1991)
Director: Peter Timm
Often described as the “cult film for the children of the East,” Go Trabi Go was the first film to depict life after the German reunification. The story follows the Struutz family on a turbulent road trip to Naples shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Father Udo (Wolfgang Stumph) insists on using Goethe’s Italian Journey as his guide as the family makes their way to Italy through Bayern in their little blue Trabi (Trabant) “Schorsch.” After a quick stop in Regensburg where they visit relatives (here we get to see one of Bavaria’s favorite actors, Ottfried Fischer, in the role of a typically grumpy Bavarian), the family’s journey is put to the test with car troubles, creepy accommodations and, ultimately, a ride with a lorry driver who brings them closer to their destination. Once they finally make it to Rome, Udo slips into the role of the ignorant tourist, often using every language but Italian to make himself understood. When their camera, “Opa’s Japaner” (Grandpa’s Japanese), is stolen, Udo’s wife Rita (Marie Gruber) and his daughter Jacqueline (Claudia Schmutzler) chase the thief through Rome and finally get it back, pocketing the rest of his loot, too. Instead of putting a little more effort into rejoining Udo, Jacqueline and Rita use their newly acquired money to check into a luxurious hotel. Meanwhile, Udo lives it up with some Italian beauties and accidentally drives his overladen Trabi down a flight of stairs, leaving the car pretty much ready for the scrapyard. The Struutz family drives back home in a roofless Schorsch.
Delivered in a strong Saxon dialect and highlighting the typical stereotypes surrounding the “Ossies” (people from East Germany) and the “Wessies” (people from Western Germany), the film offers an exaggerated portrait of repeated culture shocks and clashes. With a lot of love and humor, it introduces us to naïve characters who are still adapting to the role of the modern, worldly German.