German Language Blog

German movies: Das Boot Posted by on Aug 13, 2011 in Culture, Literature

Beside the introduction of German music, I also want to show you some important German movies. The first one is called „Das Boot“ and was made back in 1981.

Due to its Erfolg (success), the movie was not only the breakthrough for director Wolfgang Petersen, but also for most of its cast. Here are some of them, maybe you have alreday heard of them:

Jürgen Prochnow: Kommandant („Der Alte“)
Klaus Wennemann: Leitender Ingenieur (LI)
Herbert Grönemeyer: Leutnant Werner
Martin Semmelrogge: 2. Wachoffizier
Uwe Ochsenknecht: Bootsmann Lamprecht
Ralf Richter: Dieselmaat Frenssen
Heinz Hoenig: Funkmaat Hinrich
Sky du Mont: Leutnant Müller

The movie is based on a Roman (novel) with the same title by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Meanwhile there are four versions of the movie which partly are pretty different. The most famous version is the first one, the „cinema version“ from 1981 that also has been nominiert (nominated) for an Oscar. In the USA this version was shown in 1982.

In 1985 a version for TV was made. This one is much longer (almost 5 hours) than the first version.

In 1997 the Director´s Cut was published. This version is totally remastered and has much better sound and images than the original one.

And last but not least, in 2004 the TV Version was also released on DVD. This one is remastered as well, but the Director´s Cut is still better in quality.

But what is the movie all about?

Well, the action takes place in 1941 during World War 2.  German U-Boote (submarines) have the mission to sink Handelsschiffe (merchant ships) that supply England with important goods. But the battle gets harder and harder because the merchant ships are accompanied by destroyers.

After a hard drinking party in La Rochelle (France), the submarine U96 also has to set sail. Kriegsberichterstatter (war correspondant) Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) is also aboard. He will soon change his romantic imagination of a dangerous trip with enemy contact like this. But first, there is no enemy contact so the crew is beginning to get bored and partly starts mobbing Lt. Werner.

But the situation changes. A torpedo attack to a single Zerstörer (destroyer) fails and the U 96 is being attacked by Wasserbomben (depth charges) for the first time. After this, heavy storms appear and the submarine has to dive from time to time because it´s hard to keep on track on the surface and it´s getting impossible to locate the own position. After meeting another German crew, they realize that other ships are off track as well, so there are big gaps in the Überwachungskette (supervisory chain).

Eventually, U 96 approaches to an enemy convoy and sinks two enemy ships and damages a third one seriously. The submarine again is hardly attacked by depth charges but can escape knapp (curtly). After  going up, they see the crew of a damaged ship burning and jumping into the water. But the captain refuses to held the enemy crew so every member of the U 96 who observed this is hardly disappointed and the moral of the crew gets down.

Back in La Rochelle, the U 96 gets a new Einsatzbefehl (mission order). The crew is supposed to go to La Spezia in the Mediterranian Sea. Therefore they have to pass the Strait of Gibraltar which is crowded by enemy battle ships. The crew tries to pass with a trick, but being attacked by Flugzeuge (airplanes) and battle ships, the submarine is forced to dive again. It´s getting out of control so it sinks down to the ground in a depth of 280 meters. The crew struggles to survive. Countless water inleakages have to stopped and the boat has to be fixed before there is even a chance to go up again. After more than 15 hours of fighting against time the boat finally reaches the surface again. The enemy thinks that they are all dead, so they can escape unbemerkt (unseen) back to La Rochelle. But while deboarding in La Rochelle most people of the crew are killed during a Luftangriff (air attack).

I have to admit, that it´s been years since I saw the movie, but I still remember that it was totally spannend (suspenseful) and during the research for this article I really got keen on seeing the Director´s Cut. So hopefully there will be a chance to see it soon.

Here´s some vocabulary:

der Erfolg – success
der Roman – novel
nominiert sein – to be nominated
das U-Boot – submarine
das Handelsschiff – merchant ship
der Kriegsberichterstatter – war correspondant
der Zerstörer – destroyer
die Wasserbombe – depth charge
die Überwachungskette – supervisory chain
knapp – curtly
der Einsatzbefehl – mission order
das Flugzeug – airplane
unbemerkt – unseen
der Luftangriff – air attack
spannend – suspenseful

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About the Author: jan

My name is Jan and I live in the south west of Germany. My profession is being a project manager at a company that creates digital media (first of all internet related things). This is my job since over a decade so I´m quite familiar with the web and its tools. Whereat today almost every school kid does. But that´s one of the main reasons why nowadays there are quasi no more limits in the internet and so it can be used for all imaginable types of things. For example learning languages! And that´s where we are at the moment. I first got in touch with Transparent Language when my family and I used to live in France a couple of years ago. I just had a break from work and by coincidence I produced some cultural videos in French. A few months later the whole blogging thing came up and I was lucky to be a part of it. So now my (second) job is to feed you with information, exercises, vocabulary, grammar and stories about Germany and German language. For being a passionate videographer I´m trying to do this more and more by videos. If you have any wishes or needs of topics that should be treated here, please don´t hesitate to contact me via a comment field. I´m open to your suggestions (as long as they are not too individual) and will try to satisfy your needs.


  1. Daze:

    Best movie ever! Now I want to watch it again. Great post ^^

  2. David:

    A better translation for “die Wasserbombe” is “depth charge” rather than water balloon. In English, the term water balloon is a small inflatable toy balloon that is filled with water instead of air. Children toss water balloons at one another hoping they burst on contact to soak the intended target. It’s all in good fun.

  3. shaihulud:

    “The Boot” is without a doubt one of the best German movies ever made AND one of the best WWII movies as well. I prefer such films much more, where the events are shown from the Germans’ point of view. And not just Herbert Grönemeyer makes a fantastic job in the movie, but also Jürgen Prochnow together with the unforgettable Hubertus Bengsch and Uwe Ochsenknecht 🙂
    What makes the movie really special is that the crew talks in different German dialects (so it is especially worth to watch the movie in its original language :))

  4. Timothy Colt:

    I love this movie. I believe that it should have won the Oscar. Thank you so much for your blogs. By the way it’s depth charges, not water balloons. :0

  5. jan:

    thank you for the hints (depth charges), just made some corrections 😉

  6. Randy:

    I have seen this movie. It is excellent if one wants to improve ones German. Ich habe dieser Film gesehen. Ausgezeichnet wenn man sein deutsch verbessen will. Randy

  7. shaihulud:

    Wegen der vielen Fachtermini (z.B. “die Wasserbombe”, wie David es bemerkt hat) habe ich diesen Film ein wenig schwer gefunden, als ich Deutsch für meine Sprachprüfung üben wollte. Aber das ist nur meine persönliche Meinung – wenn er Dir geholfen hat, um Deine Deutschkentnisse zu üben, ist das dann sehr gut 😉

    Wenn es um verschiedene Filme geht, ist das möglich, dass Du auch über Fernsehserien (z.B. “Alarm für Cobra 11”) schreibst? Ich weiß aber nicht, ob Du (oder jemand anderer) schon so einen Betrag geschrieben hast, aber wenn es noch keinen gibt, wäre ich daran sehr interessiert 🙂

    (So, what I wanted to say is that “Das Boot” was a bit too difficult for me, when I wanted to practice German for my language exam, because there are way too many technical terms in the movie. But it’s just my personal point of view, and if it helps anyone – like Randy -, then it’s great 🙂

    And I just wonder if we could read posts about German TV-series as well, e.g. “Cobra 11” – I don’t know if there are such posts already, but if there aren’t, I’d be glad to read about them as well :))

  8. Randy:

    Thanks to everyone who had comments about the movie Das Boot. I agree that it had some technical words that I did not always understand. However it is the same when I am talking to Germans.the longer the conversation the greater the possibility that some words will be “technical” or more difficult than what is spoken in general daily situations. Each time is a good opportunity to improve your German.

  9. Randy:

    I can recommend another good movie available on DVD. “Nowhere in Africa” 2002 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The story is interesting and the spoken German was easy to understand. I liked it very much and bought the DVD. One of the best for improving your German. Randy

  10. Carlos BARRON:

    I have seen das boot with English subtitles many years ago, I enjoyed very much, in the end it only probes that war is nothing to admire but feel sorry that us human beings had to kill each other for ideals that maybe is not worthy.
    Life without war is always better.
    Humanity is leaning slowly, in fact it has been long with no world war again

  11. Julio Yañez:

    This is one of the first german movies I watched since I wanted to learn the language. An exceptional film. Thank you.

  12. A Tril:

    I first saw this movie with subtitles when it came to the U.S. And you’re right, it IS an excellent movie. It is also the only German movie I have seen. I also believe it shows pretty accurately what life aboard a submersible was like then. It portrayed the desperation and hopelessness grippingly.

    Even though I took 7 years of French, I always spoke German (3 years) easier. There is a lot of minor conversation aboard the sub that was not translated. At the time my German was still fresh enough that I could understand it all. I enjoyed the Platte dialects as well.

    Also as I have served time aboard Navy ships I enjoyed the conversations being similar to some I had had in my native English in a similar environment. We aren’t really all that different…

    Now (28 years later) my German is failing grammatically and vocabulary wise. I have found some German cousins on FBook that I chat with but they chuckle at my measly attempts. I know I’m struggling when they say, “Was meinst du??” Uh oh. At least they are still talking to me so it must have not been that bad…

    As for the technical words, hey. It’s a German movie in German. Germans are collectively a technical bunch and the main characters live inside a submersible machine. Look at how Germans design things.

    Besides, Germans seldom name anything, they describe it. French name things. In German everything is in order. To speak it you grab your spanners and wrenches and construct yourself some Genuine German. In French, it is all blended together and poured out for your perusal with a little heat added for emotive flavor. Maybe the first German could have built a proper lesson plan to help the first Frenchman with his spelling lesson…

  13. Randy:

    I enjoyed latest comment about German language movies and learning the language. I wanted to recommend some additional movies that I liked and also helped me to improve my German skills. Hope they will help others too! 1. Hanussen (Klaus Marie Brandauer)2.Colonel Redl (Oberst Redl also Brandauer)3.Die ehe der Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla) also called The marriage of Maria Braun 4. Sophie School-The Final Days (Die Letzen Tage) 5. The White Rose ( Die Weisse Rose) with Lena Stolze 6. Untergang (Downfall) ALL of these were, in my opinion,very good and helped me improve my German. For a long time I was a member of a video rental company in America called “German Language Video Center”. They have a large selection of comedy, mystery, war, classic and others. Watch movies and learn! lots of luck. Randy

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