Watching German TV Shows Online [The Ultimate Guide]
There are endless ways to immerse yourself in German without ever leaving home thanks to the internet. Watching German TV shows online is one of the best ways to expose yourself to a tonne of German, including natural use of grammar and colloquial sayings.
The good news is that Germany, Austria and Switzerland have a large number of national TV stations, producing their own home-grown TV shows. Many of these TV channels can be accessed online, providing countless hours of language immersion.
After reading this post you will know:
- The exact method needed to access German TV online
- Why watching German TV is such a great way to boost your knowledge
- How to get the most benefit from watching TV & films in German
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Benefits of Watching German TV
Watching German TV shows online has so many benefits for your German learning journey:
- An excellent way to immerse yourself in the language
- A great way to add a bit of extra language learning into your day
- Hear everyday speech, sayings and phrases
- Learn loads about German culture
- Improve your listening comprehension
- Get used to understanding German spoken at a normal speed
How to Watch German TV Shows Online
There are a few methods for watching German TV online. Mostly it’s just a case of knowing the German TV channels, and searching for their livestream. However there are countless hours of programming to be found if you dig a little deeper.
Some of the larger TV channels have an online Mediathek which is like the online catch-up channels as well as a live stream
In some situations you may encounter something called geoblocking. When you live outside of the country the channel is intended for, geoblocking can prevent you from accessing the channel or Mediathek.
The good news is that you can get around geoblocking relatively easily using a VPN to trick the site into thinking you’re in Germany. I’ve used Windscribe for a few years and it works really well and very affordable.
Using a VPN to get around geoblocking is a bit of a legal grey area. Of course downloading copyrighted material is illegal, but for streaming it for your entertainment, the rules are more vague. The rules may vary depending on where you live.
If you decide against using a VPN, don’t worry, there are still loads of German language TV available online. You can also try the language learners streaming service, Lingopie.
With all that said, here are my best tips for watching German TV shows online. In each case I will let you know whether or not you’ll need a VPN to access each one.
Best German TV Channels & Resources
When I first discovered German TV I found it overwhelming. There is just so much to choose from and so many channels. Below is a list of channels, streaming services and TV shows which should clear things up a bit and give you somewhere to start.
ARD is a massive German public broadcaster with their main channel Das Erste producing a fantastic selection of entertaining shows. They also produce a number of regional channels, so if you’re interested in a particular region, you might want to spend some time watching the local news shows.
The live stream for ARD gives you access to Das Erste and all the regional channels without a VPN (that’s certainly the case here in the UK). Certain live programmes will not run without a VPN so you’ll just have to play around and see what you can access.
There is also the ARD Mediathek which is the archive for the zillions of TV shows it has produced. It really is a case of searching through it and seeing what you like. There’s everything you can think of there, from die Nachrichten (the news), Krimi (crime dramas to Dokus (documentaries). Even if you only used the ARD Mediathek, you’d never run out of things to watch and it’s constantly updated.
Das Erste is home to some of my favourite shows including the long-running crime drama Tatort and nature documentary Erlebnis Erde.
ZDF is the other huge player in German public TV. As before, you have two options, you can stream ZDF live where you can access not only ZDF but it’s other channels, and a number of partner channels which also produce great TV.
You can also access the ZDF Mediathek to watch hours of archived TV shows. In both cases with ZDF you will require a VPN. It’s up to you whether you’re happy to use one.
ZDF is home to some amazing shows including Der Bergdoktor, Heute Show and Terra X.
Lingopie is a unique TV streaming service for language learners. Using Lingopie, you can access TV shows and movies from Germany without a VPN.
You can read my in depth Lingopie review here
Among its fab language learning features are accurate German subtitles to help you with your listening comprehension. If there are any words you don’t understand, just click on the word on the subtitle and it’s translated instantly for you. No need to pause to look up the word on your smartphone.
There are countless different shows on offer, from all different genres so there really is something for everyone:
- Sci-fi & fantasy
- Travel & food
- Crime dramas
- Historical dramas
- Nature & adventure
Lingopie makes it so easy to watch German TV shows online, along with loads of helpful language learning features. It’s really affordable at $12 / month and you can try Lingopie yourself free for 7 days (cancel anytime).
Great German YouTube Channels
If endless hours of TV entertainment isn’t enough, we also have YouTube. I have written before about some of my favourite YouTube channels for learning German. But there are also a tonne of YouTube Channels aimed at native speakers that provide all kinds of entertainment.
If you don’t want to use a VPN to access ZDF or some of it’s shows, they also have a YouTube channel with has a load of shows on there, and should be accessible without a VPN.
It’s difficult to recommend specific channels because we all have different things that we enjoy watching, but here are a variety of options:
WDR Reisen, as the name suggests, is focused on travel. WDR is a regional branch of ARD, in this case west Germany. Needless to say, if you’re interested in travel, this should be interesting for you. The channel presenters travel the world and each episode focuses on one country. There are also shows about van life and camping etc.
ARTEde is a documentary based channel. It is full of current affairs, news and culture. It’s fairly advanced stuff, so you probably want to be around B2 to be able to enjoy this one.
MrWissen2Go is an independent YouTuber who creates videos around 10 minutes long. As the name suggests, it is a factual channel which covers many topics. You’ll find current affairs, science, technology and history here. I really enjoy this channel. I’m around B2 for listening and although the presenter does talk in that fast YouTube style, he speaks very clearly and I really enjoy his videos even if they are a bit challenging and crammed with information.
ZDFHeute Nachrichten is a news based channel from ZDF. Great for keeping up with German news on ZDF without a VPN, you can also watch heute-journal here, a well known and long running news show.
Terra X is paradise for documentary lovers. It is produced by ZDF, so normally you need to use a VPN to access it. However on YouTube you can stream whole episodes without one. I particularly love the nature documentaries, but there are history, science and lots of documentaries about Germany on there.
The German dub of Peppa Pig, Peppa Wutz is great if you’re just starting out. It’s very visual so you can use context to work out what the characters are talking about. They use everyday speech and situations, and despite being made for children, the stories are pretty interesting and shouldn’t drive you too mad!
I actually watched 10 hours of Peppa Wutz in total (not all in one go!) and found it incredibly helpful.
Recommended German TV Shows
So we’ve had a look at how you can watch German TV shows online and some of the channels that are available. But let’s narrow it down a bit more to actual shows you can watch. As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to give recommendations because everyone has different tastes. But here are some of my favourite shows to watch.
The long running crime series, Tatort (translated as ‘Crime Scene’) follows various regular police teams around Germany as they solve crimes and deal with their own personal stories.
Each Tatort episode features a different police team in a different city in Germany. Not only can you enjoy the story as you try to solve the crime, you are treated to loads of shots of the city that episode is based in and the local accent.
Tatort is produced by ARD so you can watch it without a VPN. You can also enable Untertitel (subtitles) in German and audio description. Watching an audio described show is amazing because you can cram even more German into your brain. A narrator describes what is happening in the scene for visually impaired people, and it’s something I’ve found really helpful.
Der Bergdoktor is my current favourite drama to watch. It follows the life of the ‘mountain doctor’ Martin Gruber in the beautiful Austrian Alps. The viewer is treated throughout each episode to stunning Alpine scenery, which is reason enough to watch.
The stories are exciting and engaging with very long story arcs following Martin and his family and friends, and weekly stories following his patients.
It is produced by ZDF so you will need to use a VPN on this one. You also get subtitles, which for me are essential as it gives me a chance to understand some of the complicated medical terms.
I’ve picked up a lot of idioms and everyday speech (especially from Martin’s friend Alexander) and despite it being set in Austria, the actors all speak in Hochdeutsch (standard German) with neutral sounding accents.
Tagesschau is a daily news programme produced by ARD (no VPN) . You have a few choices, you can watch 100 Sekunden which are news stories condensed into 100 second long chunks. You can also watch the longer Tagesschau news programs.
MDR Märchen (Fairytales)
If you want something a bit more relaxing and simpler, why not spend some time relaxing with some Märchen (fairytales). ARD have produced some films recently depicting many of the well known (and lesser known) fairytales. They are aimed at a younger audience, so the language is fairly simple, and the stories are great. Here are a few links to my favourites:
- Die Kleine Meerjungfrau (The Little Mermaid)
- Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood)
- Des Kaisers Neue Kleider (The Emperor’s New Clothes)
- Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (The Town Musicians of Bremen)
- Schneewittchen (Snow White)
Getting the Most Out of Watching German TV
If you want to get the best learning experience out of watching German TV shows online you need to treat it like a learning experience. There are several ways to getting the best out of watching TV in German and ensuring you’re absorbing as much of the language as possible:
- Choose a show that is suitable for your level of understanding, make sure it’s not too difficult
- Give it your full attention
- Use context and the visuals to help make sense of anything you don’t understand
- Use the subtitles (in German)
- If available, turn on the audio description. This will give you even more valuable information to process.
I hope this post has helped guide you through the confusing world of German TV. If I have missed any of your favourite shows, drop me a comment, I’d love to check them out myself.
Amazing list, Emma! Thank you 🙂 I ended up clicking so many of them and can’t even decide which one to watch and read, and which one to leave haha 😀
Hi Ellie, I’m so glad you found this post helpful! Have fun checking all these shows out 😀
This is incredibly helpful! Thank you so much!
I am able to see some ZDF shows in the U.S. without using my VPN, but others seem to be geo-blocked.
Now enjoying the “Friesland” crime drama with its helpful subtitles!
You’re welcome, I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂
Hi Emma. I would really like to watch Tatort, but I can’t find a way to turn on subtitles. It seems obvious but doesn’t work!
Perhaps instructions including screenshot?