German Cinema: An Incredible Journey in a Crazy Plane

Have you ever been in German cinema? Or – have you ever saw a foreign film in German cinema? I know, the dubbing is hopeless, but that’s not the point. Have you ever seen a movie whose title was translated into German?

I know that every translation from American English into European languages is decided on a European level, but hey, Germany is still unique when it comes to titles, and everybody has to admit that. Last year, before I moved to Berlin and was just visiting, my couchsurfing host told me a very funny story, which is a perfect illustration of the German approach to the subject of translations. He worked for a company which organised promotional events for new movies, so he knew everything there is to know about this. Once they were promoting a superhero movie, and the Germans added a very long subtitle which was, at that time, funny but appropriate. A few years later, when the Americans released a sequel it turned out that the German subtitle to the first part was actually the main title of the second movie (in English of course). What then? They did another translation which was even more complicated and ridiculous.

The same goes for Pirates of the Caribbean Germans gave the first movie the title Fluch der Karibik (The Curse of the Caribbean), completely ignoring the second part, The Curse of Black Pearl. But what to do when the sequel was released? Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest became Pirates of the Caribbean: Fluch der Karibik 2. What a mess.

Look at this: the movie title Cellular was changed to Final CallWenn er auflegt muss sie sterben which means Final Call – when he hangs up, she has to die. Not only a gigantic spoiler right at the beginning, but also an impossible sentence. Just imagine the conversation:

- Hey guys, do you want to go to the cinema?
- Yeah, awesome. What do you want to see?
- I was thinking about Final Call – Wenn er auflegt muss sie sterben.

The Internet is full of funny examples, like The Thing (surely Das Ding?) was renamed Das Ding au seiner anderen Welt (The thing from another world). It seems that the Germans want to precisely instruct you on what you’re about to watch. Airplane! which should be just Flugzeug! suddenly became Die unglaubliche Reise in der verruckten Flugzeug which is The incredible journey in the crazy airplane. So, once again, what is this movie about?

I knew that German producers give ridiculous translations to movie titles, but I didn’t know that they also do it to Pokemon.

Last Wednesday, my roommates and I had a little party. My roommate’s boyfriend is German and he brought some of his friends with him, so it was a really nice occasion to do some anthropological experiments. We started listening to music from our childhoods to compare musical tastes in Poland and Germany, and by “childhood” I mean the nineties – the golden era of girl bands, boy bands, and the glorious beginnings of a few hip hop careers… Ah, nostalgia! The Spice Girls – yeah, we know them. Boomfunk MC and Freestyler – that was a hit. Butterfly from Crazy Town too. And then, suddenly we started to talk about games, movies and… Pokemon.

And this was where the problems started.

When my boyfriend said that of course Charmander is the best (in the Polish version, it’s the same, like all Pokemon), the German boys didn’t know what the hell we were talking about. Charmander? What’s that?

Everybody knows Charmander, I said.
Yeah, maybe I know. But which one was it? I think he has a different name in German.

Because, for some reason, in Germany every Pokemon sounds different.
You cannot even imagine how different.

For example, my favourite, Charmander, is… Glumanda. Even translating Staryu to Sterndu sounds more reasonable (stern – “star”, du – you).

But what about Bulbasaur? It’s Bisasam. Jigglypuff – Pummeluf. Squirtle – Schiggy. In my personal opinion, the crown goes to Butterfree who is named Smettbo. Seriously? Is this a table from IKEA? It sounds almost like Kottbular or Bollkar. Hey people, check our new wardrobe, Smettbo!

What do you guys think of German movie titles? Do you know any more examples? Or you don’t find them funny? Or, if you work in the German movie industry, can you please explain WHY?

By Martyna Poważa

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