Ok, I’m going to maintain a list here of all the websites where you can watch German videos (of whatever content: TV shows, news, random YouTube stuff someone created, etc.) online with a strong emphasis on free (if it costs money it’s going to have to be damned good). The purpose of this is to help other people who, like me, are learning German and believe that using popular media like TV shows, music videos, and such is a great way to go about learning a language.
This list will be continuously updated, with many new sites being added as I discover them and people are kind enough to tell me about them via e-mail and the comments section below (if you know a good site that’s not here, please let me know, I’ll give you credit!), and with any dead links being removed as I find out about them.
Let’s get started.
Sites Specifically Designed for People Learning German
This is a fantastic website and my top recommendation if you’re looking for German-language videos for the purpose of learning German. I emphasize the last part because that’s specifically and solely what this website is designed for and it’s the only one on this list (or in existence, that I’m aware of) that is solely intended for that purpose. It’s also the only one on this list that costs money, just so we’re clear (it’s cheap, but it’s not free, no). What they do is take German-language media that was originally produced in German-speaking countries and intended for native speakers (TV shows, cartoons, documentaries, etc.) and then integrate them into a whole German-learning interface they have that allows you to see word-for-word German subtitles and their English translation at the same time (you can turn either or both off while watching the video) as well as a dictionary, vocabulary learning game, and flashcard system that’s very easy to use and all on the same page as the video you’re watching. If this sounds like something that might interest you I’d recommend you just go on over to their site and try out the free demo videos right now to see if you like it. Oh, and they do provide volume discounts for educators and organizations.
TV Stations that Offer Free Streaming Videos of Their Content
These are the websites for television broadcast stations based in Germany that offer at least some of the content they produce online for free in streaming video format. They all have an enormous amount of free videos on their site you can watch, more than you could possibly have time to look at so you’re not at all spoiled for variety and can pick whatever interests you, and these videos all cover a very wide variety of genres: news, sports, documentaries, reality TV, fictional TV of the various flavors (action, comedy, drama, soap operas, etc.), kids shows (great for language learners!), weather, etc.
Useful vocabulary to help you navigate their sites
Here are just some common words I found to be useful in trying to find what you want on the below sites, I’ve placed them in alphabetical order to make it easier for you to find whatever word you’re looking for:
- “Alle Zeigen” – Show All.
- “Am Bestet Bewertet” – “Best Rated” or “Top Rated”.
- “Ausland” – “Foreign Countries” or “International”, typically refers to international news, that is news from outside Germany. See: “Inland”.
- “Bericht” – Report.
- “Bilder” – Picture.
- “Bildergalerien” – Picture Gallery.
- “Börse” – Literally means “exchange” and in this context will refer to the stock exchange and is typically used as a generic term for the finance section or financial news.
- “Doku” – Documentary.
- “Empfehlungen” – Recommendations.
- “Exklusiv” – Exclusive.
- “Folge” – Episode.
- “Ganze Folgen” – Full Episodes.
- “Gebärdensprache” – Sign Language.
- “Heute” – Today.
- “Inland” – “Home” or “Domestic”, in this context meaning something like “Domestic News” or “Domestic Matters”, refers to news and events from inside Germany. See: “Ausland”.
- “Kinder” – Children, referring to children’s programming.
- “Kultur” – Culture.
- “Mediathek” – Multimedia center, typically indicating an area on a site where videos and other media are to be found.
- “Meistabgerufene” – Most Viewed.
- “Meistgeklickt” – Most Viewed (yes, both this and the word above mean “most viewed”, it’s not a typo).
- “Nachrichten” – News.
- “Neuste” – Latest.
- “Programm” – “Calendar” or “Schedule”, meaning something more like “TV Guide” in this context. See: “Sendungen”.
- “Ratgeber” – Literally “advisor” or “counselor”, in this context the term refers to general life advice and indicates a station or section of a TV station’s website with programs of this genre, e.g. cooking, home improvement, health, fitness, medicine, travel, etc.
- “Reportage” – Reporting.
- “Sendungen” – This means “programs”, as in shows. This is likely what you want, look for this in the menu bar at the top, it’ll typically be a drop-down menu with a listing of all their various programs/shows. Note that “programm” usually refers to a calendar of upcoming shows (what we would call a “TV guide”) intended to be used by people in Germany so they know when to tune in to watch something they want to see – this is not what you want, “programm” doesn’t mean “TV programs” as we know it in English, it’s more like “schedule” or “calendar”.
- “Serien” – Series.
- “Sportschau” – Literally “sports show”, refers to the “Sports” genre.
- “Staffel” – Literally means “echelon”, “squadron”, or “rung” but in this context (TV shows) it means what Americans would call a “season” and Brits would call a “series”, e.g. “Season One” or “Series Two, Episode 4”, etc.
- “Startseite” – “Homepage”.
- “Tagesschau” – Another word for “news”.
- “Tatort” – Literally “crime scene”, typically referring to crime dramas like CSI here in the U.S.
- “Unterhaltung” – Entertainment.
- “Untertitel” – “Subtitles” or “Captions”, frequently this is abbreviated “UT” and, if available, will be seen as a button you can click in the bottom portion of the video player screen.
- “Wetter” – Weather.
- “Wirtschaft” – Economy.
Alright, let’s get started with the list…
This is going to be my number one, by far and away, top free recommendation to people trying to learn German. Go to this site. It will help you. It has many, many features specifically designed to help people learn German (it’s the only such broadcaster which does that I’m aware of). It’s also huge, extremely well-funded and well-designed due to being Germany’s official international broadcast station (very much like the BBC in the U.K.).
- German lessons in 4 different flavors: Deutsche Interaktiv which is a large collection of comprehensive German lessons organized as per the CEFR Common Reference Levels, Mission Berlin which is an audio-only 26-episode story (includes manuscript, exercises, and solutions for them) that teaches you German as you follow Anna on her adventure to save Germany, Radio D which is a similar sort of thing except a different storyline, and the Audio Trainer which is an audio-only beginners’ program designed to teach basic pronunciation and essential vocabulary.
- A TV show / soap opera designed specifically for teaching English speakers German called JoJo Sucht Das Glück (“JoJo Seeks Happiness”) .
- Das Bandtagebuch mit Einshoch 6 – Another TV show specifically for teaching people German that has, most importantly, yes: German subtitles. The theme is that you sort of follow around this German band, Einshoch 6, backstage and on tour and what-not. There are 52 episodes with each one being a very manageable 3 1/2 minutes long. Included are interactive quizzes for each episode, manuscript, and everything is downloadable (video, subtitles, quiz, answers for quiz, manuscript, etc.). Perfect for beginning and intermediate German learners.
- If you’ll go to the ‘Learn German’ section’s homepage you’ll frequently find something called ‘Learning German with the News’ where a news story is read slowly aloud (in German) and the verbatim transcript for it is directly below, allowing you to follow along and look up anything you don’t know.
The word “tagesschau” literally means “news” and this program (it’s actually a program, not a whole station) is both the oldest and most watched news program in Germany, being so popular that it has its own dedicated website. You can read more about it here (wikipedia article).
Also, some of their videos offer German subtitles, so this one immediately gets bumped right to the top of my list, I was very excited to find this. The programs that offer subtitles (as best I can tell, if you find differently tell us in the comments) are:
To activate them, all you have to do is play a video and then click the button labeled “UT” in the bottom right corner of the video player (“UT” stands for “untertitel” which means “subtitle”).
This is the Central German Broadcasting Channel, one of seven regional stations in Germany. They, too, offer subtitles on some of their videos. To watch with subtitles go to the Mediathek page and choose from one of the three sections: TIPPS, NEU, or MEISTGECKLICKT. All three of these offer videos with subtitles but I found that not all of those videos had subtitles, though most did. The criteria seemed to be that if it was a fictional show, it didn’t have them, but if it was something non-fictional, like a news report or documentary, it did. Basically, everything except the fictional TV series has subtitles.
The other programs offered on the site (which you can find by going to the menu at the top labeled “Sendungen A-Z”) do not appear to offer subtitles, though you can still watch them via the site.
This is currently the most popular public TV station in Germany and, thankfully, they make a large portion of their content available to watch online including full episodes of their shows. Regrettably, no subtitles in either German or English are offered but I wasn’t really expecting that (that’s more of a pleasant surprise when you find it rather than something you can usually expect).
Also, their live stream doesn’t seem to be available in the U.S. I suspect that if you can connect to a proxy inside Germany you could watch it. Everything else seems to be available no problem.
To watch episodes from their TV shows just go to the menu at the top and select “Sendungen” (“Programs”) and choose from those.
This is Germany’s second largest public TV station and I found it was a little less clear-cut what was available for viewing outside Germany and what wasn’t, it seemed rather random. It appears that all the news is available but then when it comes to shows it varies from one to another and you just have to try it and find out. Tons and tons of available videos regardless, though, you’ll never run out.
This is Germany’s largest private (for-profit) TV station. Their news videos are all free to watch however everything non-news will not play in the U.S. (even if it’s labeled “Free”). I do not know if they will play in countries outside Germany, you’re welcome to try if you like.
“Ratgeber” literally means “advisor” or “counselor” and this particular station caters to general life advice advice such as cooking, home repair, medicine/health, fitness, etc. It has stories (most in the form of videos) along the lines of “12 Best Tips for Treating a Cold”, “Dangerous Germs in Turkey Meat” (and how to avoid them, of course), “Is It Worth It to Change Mobile Phone Providers?”, etc. Those are some examples of stuff that was on the front page when I looked at it while writing this.
This is a very popular comedy channel in Germany that is focused entirely on that genre. It’s a private network so it does run ads but I can view everything I’ve tried from here in the U.S. without a proxy, so that’s nice. Odds are you can watch this from wherever you are.
No subtitles but it is a nice break from the typical news/politics stuff that dominates this list and it gives you more insight into the culture by showing you what they find funny. Lots of stand up, talk shows (similar to The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, Conan, etc.), reality TV, fictional comedy shows (e.g. Stromburg, which seems to be something akin to The Office here in the U.S.), etc.
This is the most popular sports program in Germany, lots of videos covering all different sports, all appear to be available internationally.
This is their main financial news network.
This is a regional station covering Northern Germany, one of seven such regional stations.
This is the first privately owned TV broadcaster in Germany, they focus mainly on reality shows, travel shows, telenovelas, and other fictional scripted shows. Full episodes seem to be restricted to only those in Germany but shorter clips are viewable for me here in the U.S.
This is a TV show specifically made for teaching people languages and I’ve been recommending the (very popular) Spanish version for a while now to my fellow Spanish students. It’s typically somewhere on YouTube though I’ve noticed it tends to get taken down for copyright violations every now and then, but of course it just gets reuploaded under another user’s account and the game goes on, haha.
The actors speak slowly and clearly and use vocabulary that’s not too advanced. I’d say it’s intended for beginner and intermediate adult learners, probably high school and college level, so it’s perfect for most of you. A summary of the plot, from Wikipedia:
“Sam, with only a very basic grasp of the featured language, comes to stay with his penpal, Lola. Sam’s efforts to get to grips with the language provide the central dynamic for the series’ language learning content. The series is particularly suitable for adolescents and young adults who can relate to the contextual setting and implied meanings in the screenplay.”
I love these guys, I’ve been using/recommending them for Spanish for years as well and, thankfully, they do what they do for several different languages including German. It’s very simple: they make an animated video out of a children’s story that includes a narrator slowly and carefully reading it aloud and subtitles in the language spoken (German in this case).
They’re fun and short, and since they’re using children’s stories the language used (vocabulary and grammar) tends to be very simple which is perfect for someone learning the language (hence why I strongly recommend children’s media as a source of material to learn a language from).
To be continued (I’m still working on it as of today, February 3rd 2015)! I published it because I know it’s useful information for people, figured there was enough here to be worth your time to read, and wanted to get it out there.
Wait! Are you a beginning German learner?
Then I highly recommend you check out my post called: How to avoid wasting months learning German the wrong way (and learning the wrong type of German)–get started the right way, learn to talk like native speakers do, where I talk about who should consider getting a prepackaged German course, why, and which ones I recommend based on my own recent experience as a beginning German learner.