German Language Blog

German movies – Die Welle Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 in Culture

Hi everybody, it´s time for another German movie that I want to introduce you. This one is pretty interesting because it has it´s analogies to German history though it takes place in present time.

“Die Welle” is a drama that was made in 2008. A Lehrer (teacher), played by Jürgen Vogel, is doing a social experiment with his class to show his students how dictatorial society structures evolve. He lets his students take part in a Bewegung (movement) called “die Welle” that is affected by discipline and team spirit. The teacher himself is the leader of the movement.

Director and writer Dennis Gansel based his movie on the experiment “The third wave” that took place in California in 1967 and has been written as a novel by Morton Rhue in 1981.

But let´s take a closer look:

The movie is focused on secondary school teacher Rainer Wenger and his students. It takes place somewhere in a socially heightened area in Germany. During a one week school project with the headline “forms of governments”, Wenger has to deal with the topic Autokratie (autocracy), although he wanted to do anarchy. His students are gelangweilt (bored) because they already had National Socialism as a topic several times. They say that Germany is aufgeklärt (enlightened) enough and that there is no danger of another dictatorship at all. So Wenger decides to start a educational self experiment.

He changes the Sitzordnung (seating arrangement) in the classroom and requests the students to stand up while talking. They should answer questions shortly and quick. In addition he lets them move in Gleichschritt (lockstep) in order to physical training. Most of the students like the tight discipline and the sharp conversation and get more motivated. Finally he initiates a kind of autocratic movement with the principles “power by discipline”, “power by community” and “power by action”. To create an Identifikationsmerkmal (identifying feature), he lets his students wear white shirts.

Two girls don´t want to teilnehmen (participate) in this experiment and so they decide to change the course. As a result they experience more and more hostility by the others. Through word of mouth the movement becomes very popular. Even among other students. They create logos, a special salutation and think about other ways to spread the meaning of the movement that is called “Die Welle”. Soon the movement overruns the borders of the school and is also present in the private life of the students. The team spirit is growing, they beschützen (protect) themselves against others and during the nights they spray their logo all over the city.

One of the girls that quit recognizes the danger of the movement tries to stop the action. Even Wengers girlfriend tells him that he already enjoys his role as a leader. But Wenger ignores all the warnings. But then Gewalttaten (acts of violence) against others evolve and Wenger immediately decides to stop the experiment and to dissolve “Die Welle” with drastic methods. But for one student, the whole movement has already become the meaning of his life…

I won´t spoil the end by telling you, so you have to watch the movie for yourself 🙂

Of course the whole thing is a bit exaggerated in the movie but nevertheless it is very interesting to see how characters change within a short period of time and how things develop. No matter how enlightened a society may be: It´s always good to show and to remind of what can happen if we let ourselves go in communities like “Die Welle”.

Trailer German

Trailer English

Some vocabulary to this post:
der Lehrer / die Lehrerin – teacher
die Bewegung – movement
die Autokratie – autocracy
gelangweilt – bored
aufgeklärt – enlightened
die Sitzordnung – seating arrangement
der Gleichschritt – lockstep
das Identifikationsmerkmal – identifying feature
teilnehmen – participate
beschützen – to protect
die Gewalttat – act of violence

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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. mariska:

    Hello Jan,

    mein Mann und ich haben uns gerade the movie angeschaut as we missed it appaerantly when it was released. Wir meinen dass dieser Film should be part of philosophy or history lesson in every high school. We will ask our 16 ear old son to watch it too.

    Mit Freundliche grussen von eine Hollanderin die in Kanada Ontario wohnt..
    Hartelijke groeten/Tsuss
    mariska kriebel-brokamp

  2. Charles:

    Scary, how people will surrender their free will to authority.

  3. John M.:

    Eine interessante Geschichte. Ich möchte diesen Film sehen, danke für die Information!


  4. Mojca:

    Dear Jan!

    I watched this film few weeks ago and I completely agree with Mariska. I am working in secondary school and have also a drama club there. My really big wish is to put this story on the stage in this scool year. But there is a problem with screenplay or even better, dramatisation of this novel. Is there maybe any slight chance that you could help me with that. Maybe you now where can I get it? Thank you very much in advance.