You’re certainly familiar with Nouvelle Vague, the “French new wave” that shook up world cinema in the mid-2oth century. You’ve probably also heard of Hallyu, the “Korean wave” of pop music and television dramas (and, increasingly, films) now crashing across not just Asia but the West. As for Deutsche Welle, literally the “German wave,” you may know the term better in its abbreviated form: DW, the brand of Germany’s public international broadcaster. Here on Open Culture we’ve previously featured DW’s series Bauhaus World, a celebration of that influential German school of art, architecture, and design, but it’s just one of 415 documentaries free to watch on the DW Documentary Youtube channel.
DW’s documentarians have a thoroughly international mandate, as evidenced by their popular examinations of the dictatorial regime of North Korea, Bulgaria’s Roma marriage market, extravagant wealth in central Africa, and dire poverty in the United States. You can also browse the archive through themed playlists ranging from politics and economics to human nature and society to culture and arts.
That last section, no doubt of particular interest to Open Culture readers, demonstrates DW’s advantage as a long-standing broadcaster situated in the heart of Europe. Where better to start learning about Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals, top electronic dance music DJs, Martin Luther and the Reformation, or the truth behind the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa?
Even more interest lies in DW’s explorations of lesser-known topics like the treasures of Turkmenistan, fakery in the art world, and Berlin’s Little Hanoi. There are also profiles of such German figures as Peter Lindbergh, the late fashion and advertising photographer counted as an inspiration by the likes of Wim Wenders, and Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, outgoing president of the Goethe-Institut, a natural subject for DW to cover. Founded within a couple of years of one another, both DW and the Goethe-Institut take the promotion of German culture abroad as a large part of their mission — and both do so in the knowledge that, to get other societies interested in your culture, you’ve got to show genuine interest in all of theirs as well. Explore the complete list of DW documentaries here. And find more documentaries online in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.