10 German War Movies You Must See Before You Die

In the last years Germany has made quite a few very good war movies but there are also some older ones that have stood the test of time. I am sure I have forgotten some and left out many that are co-productions with the exception of Joyeux Noël aka Merry Christmas because it is one of my Top 10. I will very probably mention it again when I will make a post on 10 French war movies you must see before you die.

Let´s stick to Germany for the time being.

Die Brücke aka The Bridge (1959): WWII, Germany. One of the best anti-war films ever. Shows how senseless some orders are. Young people fight for a bridge although the war can´t be won anymore. It is one of the movies on my list Children in War Movies.

Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben aka Dogs, do you want to live forever – Stalingrad (1959): WWII, Russia. A German classic. A grim look at the battle in Stalingrad.

Das Boot (1981): THE U-Boot movie. Conveys brilliantly what it is like to be helpless under water. Claustrophobic feel. Superb acting. Marvellous cast. Especially noteworthy the singer Herbert Grönemeyer.

Stalingrad (1993): WWII, grim infantry combat. German POV. One of the best war movies  ever, one of my Top 10 as well. The setting, the character portraits, the acting, the combat, the snow, the cold, the despair. A fabulous movie that gives an insight in one of the worst chapters of WWII. Another marvellous cast. Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong, Resident Evil, The Downfall, The Young Victoria) is in it. He is one of those German actors that are known far beyond Germany and Europe. (see my post on Stalingrad)

NaPolA aka Before the Fall (2004): WWII, Germany. Interesting look at the Hitler Youth. How they recruited their elite, how they brainwashed them. Poisonous Pedagogy. See my review for more details. This movie is also on the Children in War Movies list.

Der Untergang aka The Downfall (2004): WWII, Berlin. The final days of Hitler. Astonishing acting from the very great Bruno Ganz. A fascinating portrait. Eerie. Creepy.  An outstanding movie and a must see even for those who don’t watch war movies. (see my post on The Downfall)

Joyeux Noël aka Merry Christmas (2005): WWI, France. Especially noteworthy as it is about WWI. The movie depicts the so-called “Little peace”. It is Christmas and something strange is happening. The war stands still. The enemy soldiers prefer football over fighting and get to know and like each other. Based on a true story. You get a good feel for the differences of the trenches and the characteristics of the parties involved.

Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage aka Sophie Scholl (2005): WWII, Germany. German Resistance. One of the leaders of The White Rose, Sophie Scholl´s final days. I have hardly ever seen a movie like this. After watching it I did solemnly swear to become a better person (I am not too successful yet. It is an ongoing process. A work in progress). No, honestly, this woman or girl´s guts… So much selfless idealism and courage. I was awed.

Anonyma – Eine Frau n Berlin aka Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin (2008) : WWII, Berlin. One of the movies I reviewed recently. I included it as it tackles a lesser known and very painful subject. The mass rape of German women by the Red Army. See my post of Anonyma.

Der rote Baron aka The Red Baron (2008): WWI, Germany. The romanticized story of Baron von Richthofen the famous German fighter pilot. Beautifully filmed, good-looking cast, very intense air combat. See my post of the Red Baron.

Any movies you would add?

As I think Sophie Scholl is not known enough I added the trailer for you.

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Rape and Love among Ruins: Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin aka Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin (2008)

I was not sure if it was in good taste to use the title I gave this post but somehow it sums  up the film in a very few words. It is as if I had wanted to find two ways to speak about this movie: With brevity first and later at great length.
The Downfall of  Berlin has two contrasting parts taking place  shortly before and after the war ends. The beginning shows the taking over of Berlin by the Russian Army and the  mass rape that was soon every woman’s daily reality. The second half is dedicated to the love story with a Russian Major and the home-coming of Anonyma’s husband. All this takes place among ruins which accentuates the subliminal theme of the fragility of the depicted relationships.
The movie starts in 1945,  at the end of the war when the  Red Army troops enter the city of Berlin. What the German women had to endure from the moment the Russian Army set foot on the Ground of the city is an unparalleled horror.  Mass rape, brutalities and cruelty are the order of the day. One of these women, Anonyma,  kept a diary in which she carefully noted all the shocking events for her husband who had been sent to the Eastern front.
As the horrors go on she decides to look for a protector who might shield her from being constantly raped and abused by other men.

I have seen a few movies dealing with the German civilian population at the end of the war. There is a common moment in many of those movies. The inhabitants of a village or town hear troops approach and one of them is sent to find out who is coming. When the messenger returns there is this crucial moment when everybody just wonders whether he has spotted  Russian or American troops. Should it be the Soviet Army, the civilians flee in terror, whenever they hear it´s the Americans they are overjoyed.

A lot of the discussions whether this is a good movie circle around the comparison with the book and the liberties that have been taken to turn it into a movie.
First published in English in 1955 it has not been reissued until 2003, after the author’s death,  and this time under the pseudonym Anonyma. The reception of the book in Germany in 1959 was very harsh and aggressive and shocked the author a great deal. Germany was not ready for the  content of this  book.
The author of the diary was a  journalist and well-travelled woman. In  noting the horrible events and describing in great details the daily terrors of the women facing the Red Army she has left us an invaluable first-hand account.
The movie shows that hardly any woman, young or old,  escaped being raped.
There is a brief part in the movie when Anonyma meets a friend that she hasn’t seen in a long time and asks her “How many?” And they both know without any further clarification what they are referring to. Some 2´000´000 German women were raped in this time.  Payback for the massive loss of Russian lives.
It was criticised that the movie was not able to  transmit the whole extent of the horror that the book  shows. And of course the invention of the love affair which does not take place in the book was criticised as well. I  liked this doomed love story a great deal even though I normally do not like it when grim facts are sugar-coated by romance. But as a matter of fact this is a very realistic love story. Not very sugary at all and even though not in the book I think it manages to add another dimension.

Anonyma is a very fine movie, especially since it is in large parts bilingual German/Russian. The Russian cast is absolutely great. I especially liked Yevgeni Sidhikin in the role of Major Andreij Rybkin who becomes Anonyma´s protector and lover. Apparently already well-known in Russia we might see some more of him in the future. I was not too thrilled by the German actors. Apart from Nina Hoss who plays her role with an almost severe dignity, they are a bit too dramatic and wooden at times.

The shocking story of mass rape  is told in a very convincing manner. Evident but not voyeuristic. Without being shown  too explicitly we know what is going on.

I consider this to be an important movie as it shows how much the Germans suffered as well.
From reading German reviews on this movie I see that to this day the feeling of guilt runs so deep in Germany that they still feel uneasy to mourn these events.

And nowhere have I ever seen this called a war crime. Why not? Because the war was almost over? That would be a little bit cynical. Or because the aggressor has no right to complain?

Maybe it is just because no matter how it is called, no one really wants to speak about it. Rape like torture are hard to deal with. For both. Those who commit it and those who endure it.

I would really like to read comments, thoughts and whatever not about this movie from others.

amazon.com  Anonyma – The Movie

amazon.com Anonyma – The Book

Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin aka Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin (2008) Trailer

Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin is a German movie about a woman living in Berlin at the end of the war in 1945 when the Russian troops enter the city. A story of retribution and shame. Of the winners taking revenge on the weakest among the losers.

Watch the trailer today. The post will follow tomorrow.