One of the hardest things about moving to a new country is leaving behind the entertainment you enjoyed at home. Sometimes it’s nice to just kick back and binge-watch your favourite shows in your native language and in Germany, that can be surprisingly hard to do (legally, anyway). Nearly all TV shows are dubbed and a lot of popular series take ages to reach this side of the world. To make things worse, you can’t access US and UK streaming services like Hulu from a German IP address.
One thing you will quickly notice when you get here is that Netflix doesn’t operate in Germany. Apparently, it will launch here in September of this year, but until then, we are still Netflix-free. At the moment, the market for streaming services is pretty fragmented, which means that you get a pretty large selection of services offering a lot of different things. Generally. There are a number of “premium” services that charge a small fee and differ in terms of quality, alongside several free, ad-based services available.
All in all, most services rely on dubbed content. This doesn’t tend to bother me so much and I enjoy most dubbed movies and shows as much as I enjoy the English originals. You do get used to it and it’s a great way to learn German. In some cases you lose a lot in translation (word-related humour, Oscar-worthy performances, etc.) but most movies and shows translate decently and most don’t feature amazing enough acting to get bothered about. I do encourage you to use German-language content to improve your German skills, but I’ve tried to make a point of mentioning services that have English-language content. Some of you probably don’t speak German at all and sometimes it’s nice to have a taste of home.
Update 6 July 2017: I am happy to report that we now have a better selection of films and TV shows in the original language. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both include most options in both English and German, as well as other languages for international productions. If you’re trying to boost your skills in French, Italian, Spanish or another European languages, you can also find dubbed shows on Netflix to help you out.
Disclaimer: the opinions here are entirely my own. I was not paid by any of these services to write reviews. I just wanted to provide a helpful guide to other expats and newcomers to the country. My opinions may not represent everyone’s and any info can be subject to change.
Netflix (Update 6 July 2017)
When I originally wrote this post, Netflix was not yet available in Germany. It finally launched here in September 2014, giving us access to both its original content and its library of shows and movies. The selection isn’t as good as it is in a lot of other countries, but I still think it’s worth the few Euros a month. Netflix has purchased the international rights to a lot of different TV shows, which means that some shows are available on Netflix before they are on traditional TV networks. I find that I don’t get to shows that fast anyway, so it’s not much of a problem when they’re available later. The movie selection isn’t fantastic, but it’s continually improving, and I get through movies pretty slowly anyway. Plus, there’s Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Glow, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Master of None, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and a whole host of other originals that are worth watching.
Watchever is by far the best service available right now in Germany, though we’ll see how it stacks up once Netflix launches. As it stands, I think it could be a serious competitor. I tried out Watchever last year and was pretty impressed with its offerings. It had a good list of movies and shows and most titles were available in both English and German. Most content wasn’t that recent by North American standards, but it was about as recent as you can get in Germany. I was impressed with the fact that it managed to have the final season of “Breaking Bad” shortly after it aired in the US. I think it’s probably comparable to the Canadian and UK versions of Netflix in terms of access to content.
I got a trial for Maxdome a little over a year ago, and I can’t say I was overly impressed. That being said, that was a while ago and from the looks of things, the service has improved. Maxdome lets you rent videos individually and also offers a subscription package that lets you stream movies in the package for free. I’d say that Watchever’s selection is generally better than Maxdome’s package selection, but the latter isn’t a terrible service when it comes down to it. It’s also useful if you don’t want to subscribe to a streaming service and just want to watch the odd movie in English.
Amazon Instant Video
I used to have a LoveFilm subscription way back when sending DVD rentals through the post was still an innovative idea. I ended my subscription when streaming started to take over, as I wasn’t really thrilled with the selection. Amazon owned LoveFilm and now it has absorbed its instant video service into its own Prime service. You have to have a Prime account to access Amazon Prime Instant Video. I already had one, so I decided to check it out. The selection has not improved much since its LoveFilm days; the movies and shows are decent enough, but there are very few recent titles available, even by German standards. There is also next to no English-language content on the platform, which makes it less appealing to expats. I still use it because it’s free with my Prime account and it’s there, but I wouldn’t decide to get a Prime account based on this service.
I think you can also rent some titles individually and buy digital licenses through Amazon’s regular service, but I’ve not yet tried to do so.
Update 6 July 2017: Amazon Prime Video has improved drastically in the years since I wrote this. Along with its original content, it has picked up the international rights to a number of TV shows, which means that we don’t have to wait months or even years to watch them. Most shows are available in both dubbed and original versions, so you can enjoy your favourite titles in English. The film selection has also improved, and you can find both classics and new releases in both English and German.
Sky Snap is run by Sky, so you get a discount on your registration if you are a Sky subscriber. I am not, so I took advantage of its free trial offer.* It has a decent selection of quality TV shows and movies, but the titles are all a bit older. If you are looking for more recent content, Watchever or Maxdome are better bets. It does get some brownie points for offering its content in English and German. My overall verdict here is that if you subscribe to Sky and just want to watch the occasional movie, then this service is passable. Otherwise, I’d skip it.
MyVideo is a free, ad-based streaming service similar to YouTube and DailyMotion. Anyone can upload videos, but it also has contracts with ProSieben, Sat1, and several other private networks. Most of the content is the same schlock you watch on German TV; basically, a lot of horrible reality shows and soaps. I also find the that the ads are really annoying. Still, there are some decent shows on there. I like some of the German comedy programmes like “Switch Reloaded” and “Knallerfrauen.” There is also quite a bit of anime and I find that most of the dubbing on anime is better in German than it is in English (I usually watch TV while I do crafts and things, so I don’t have much interest in Japanese originals).
Update 6 July 2017: This service no longer exists as a free video service. It has pivoted and is now an online video rental service.
Viewster has a fairly small selection and a lot of it really sucks, but it is free and the ads are less annoying than those on MyVideo. The upside to Viewster is that most of the content is in the original language, which means that most of it is in English. There are a few good British shows on there like “Black Books” and it has a treasure trove of classic cartoons.
I tossed and turned over including YouTube on this list, because everyone knows what YouTube is and what to expect from it. However, there are a few Germany-specific issues that I wanted to address. First of all, don’t expect to watch music videos on German YouTube. GEMA has a long-standing dispute with Google over royalties and it has blocked a good chunk of music from the platform. A lot of web series are also blocked, which is no fun. Still, you can access a good chunk of content. I usually get my “Saturday Night Live” and “Conan” fix through YouTube.
Update 6 July 2017: GEMA has reached an agreement with YouTube, so we can now watch music videos through the platform. Yay!
If I forgot any services, contact me and I’ll add them to this list!
*Free trials are very common in Germany and pretty much all of the paid services on this list offer them. I just wanted to make a note to remind you to cancel subscription before the end of the month if you decide not to continue the service. Germany uses automatic billing, which caught me by surprise, as it’s banned in Canada. Companies are not required to give you any notice that your trial period is over or to automatically cancel it and most will simply start charging you after the trial is up.