Before a movie is released in German theaters, the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Fernsehen ( FSK) decides on an
age rating so as to protect children from 'harmful influences'.
The FSK is based on voluntary self censorship to buffer the local film industry from controversy and state censorship. The organisation is based in the German Film House in Wiesbaden. Around 280 volunteers review thousands of films every year and
decide which age groups to show - from age 6, age 12, age 16 or 18.
FSK's 280 volunteers have no connection to the film industry. They pursue different professions, but have experience in dealing with children and adolescents, and know their stages of development. FSK spokesman Stefan Linz told DW:
Five days a week, we carry out investigations in various committees.
The basis for the work of the FSK is the German Youth Protection Act, which provides for different age ratings for media. The color white means that there are no restrictions for a movie. For the age group of six to twelve years is yellow. Green
requires parenting for ages of six or twelve. From the age of 16, the category is blue, while red indicates that a movie is not considered suitable for young people under the age of 18.
The law also defines the rules of assessment of media. For example, a film may not be shown to children of a certain age group if the examiners believe that it could affect their development as self-responsible and socially competent people. Linz
Of course this is totally abstract to the assessment of content that could potentially be problematic. But not only can we say that about us, but about all forms of protection of minors around the world, especially the portrayal of violence,
sexuality, the use of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, bad role models and antisocial behavior or threats to others.
The origin of the FSK dates back to the postwar period. At that time, the Allies strove to denazify all social and social aspects in Germany, and to build the then West Germany as a democratic state with freedom of expression. Representatives of
the German film industry, who had come back from exile, together with American occupation authorities in 1948 built a voluntary self-control system for the film industry after the model of the American system of that time.
From these initiatives finally the FSK was born, which gave its first film evaluation on 18 July 1949. The film Intimitäten by Paul Martin (1944) was not suitable for young people under 16 - and may not be shown on some religious holidays.
In the former GDR, all films were controlled by socialist authorities, until after the reunification of the new states joined the FSK.
German age guidelines differ those of the USA. For example the German film Toni Erdmann , which was produced in 2016 and became a worldwide hit and received an Oscar nomination, was rated R by the MPAA in the USA. This stipulates that young
people under the age of 17 are only allowed to watch the movie when accompanied by an adult. The rationale was: The film contains heavily sexualized content, graphic nudity, violent language and short scenes of drug abuse. In Germany, the FSK
judged the same film as suitable for adolescents from the age of 12, this restriction being justified by a somewhat strange, emotionless sex scene without intercourse. The aspects cited by MPAA , that is, language, drugs and nudity, played no role
for the FSK - despite a rather extensive naked party scene.
According to Stefan Linz, the differences between age ratings by the FSK and MPAA are explained by cultural attitudes. In particular, Germans and Americans have a completely different attitude to nudity. While there has long been a large naturist
scene in Germany, public nudity in the US is still considered scandalous.
The FSK does not classify nudity in itself as problematic, says Linz, referring to documentation on nudist communities that have been released for all ages. However, FSK is less generous when nudity in a movie has a sexual meaning or occurs in a
Linz is also of the opinion that attitudes to linguistic usage also differ in the German and English-speaking world. However, this aspect also points to differences in the approach of FSK and MPAA. In the eyes of the American institution, the
repeated use of sexual terms as a swear word justifies an age restriction.
By contrast, in the FSC, numerical ratios are irrelevant when assessing language. Instead, more emphasis is placed on the specific context. Who speaks like the swear word? When a couple of bad words fly back and forth between friends, for example
in hip-hop circles, that has a very different meaning than if the same nasty word is used in a discriminatory or even directly offensive manner, says Linz.
In 2002, the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets caused a change in the rules. From then on, children between the ages of six and twelve were allowed to watch films for children from the age of 12 if accompanied by a parent.
Germany's efforts to regulate the classification and sale of violent video games has brought a number of the country's authorities together to work on a set of legislation.
Legislation recently passed in Germany in July, for example, makes it easier to put such games on the banned list following the introduction of a rating index.
Games on Germany's banned list cannot be sold publicly. That includes any advertising and sales through mail order.
The decision to flag a game is made by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM). Since the July 1 revision of the Protection of Minors Act, the agency has been granted even more authority. That includes the authorization to list
games that propagate vigilante justice as the only solution to a problem. The criteria have also been expanded for the automatic inclusion of specific games in the list.
A network of organizations decide on age classifications. Tthe age labeling system will be significantly broader in future. Some games are currently open to a general audience. The next levels are "6," "12," and "16." Any
game assigned an "18" is banned for youths. There are also games that cannot be rated at all. Such titles require action by the BPjM frequently land on the index.
The labeling system is organized by the so-called Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK) in Berlin, with support until now from the Association for the Promotion of Youths and Social Work. Two industrial associations assumed sponsorship from June 1:
the German Association of Computer Game Developers (G.A.M.E.) and the German Association of Interactive Entertainment Software (BIU).
The USK functions as a service provider, commissioning a circle of independent experts. These observers first play the game, present their results to a five-person committee consisting of at least four of roughly 60 expert appraisers from the USK,
including teachers and employees of the youth agencies. The committee is then completed by a permanent representative of the Supreme Youth Agencies of the states. The majority decides, but the permanent representative always has a veto right.
Despite their popularity, violent video games are widely criticized in Germany and the country has some of the strictest video-game censorship laws in the Western world. For example, German laws prohibit the sale of Counter-Strike and titles with
The Protection of Young Persons Act (PYPA)
The Act was enacted in 2002 and was Amended in 2003, 2004, and 2008.
The Act defines children as individuals under 14 years old and adolescents as those between 14 and 18 years old.
The Act requires business operations to publish legal notices with movie codes and ratings; they are also required to request identification from those with parental power accompanying minors. Children and adolescents are not permitted in public movie
performances unless those performances are cleared for them by the Supreme state authority.
PYPA, section 12 establishes that video games or any other games cannot be publicly accessible to children or adolescents unless they are cleared and labeled for their appropriate age group by the supreme state authority.
PYPA 2008- Amendments Relevant to the Video Game Industry?
In 2008, an amendment to PYPA entered into force. Under the amended Section 15 of the Protection of Young Persons Act, a video game that contains exceptionally realistic, cruel, and lurid images of violence as an end in itself is automatically indexed
and subject to severe restrictions on distribution and advertising. Further, these games may not be sold to underage persons. This kind of violent media is automatically indexed -- that is, it does not have to be assessed and rated by the supreme state
authority that is generally responsible for indexing, known in German as the Bundesprfstelle.
PYPA Section 18 –List of Media Harmful to Young People- states: Data media and telemedia which might have a severely damaging impact on the development and education of Children and Adolescents to responsible personalities in society shall be
registered by the Review Board and included in a List of Publications Harmful to Young Persons. Included are media and other publications with immoral and brutalizing content or those instigating violence, crime and racism. The 2008 Amendment added
some requirements to this section regarding violent video games. German authorities are to index media that contain acts of violence like murder and mass killings as ends in themselves as well as media in which self-administered justice is presented as a
successful and proven means for serving justice. This kind of media, according to the amendments, has to be assessed, rated, and placed on a list of media that is generally considered to be dangerous for young people.
The County Court in Munich decided to confiscate all versions of Manhunt in July 2004 because it violated a penal provision prohibiting the depiction and glorification of violence. Other games, including the violent video game Dead Rising ,
were placed in the Index and confiscated by a Hamburg County Court decision of June 2007.
International: German Video Censorship
I have received word from Germany that the German
censorship laws changed on April 1st 2003. The following debate has
therefore been rendered obsolete.
I soon as I hear about the replacement laws I will get the
All rating and censorship IS voluntary; however, it is a 'hard' ratings system - if you
are under the age given, you may not watch the film in question (this is enshrined in the
law). The possible ratings are: suitable for all ages, 6, 12, 16 and 18.
Once a film has been rated, that is its rating for both cinema and video. It is quite
legal to have two versions of a film. Quite often there is a cut 16 version and an uncut
18 version on video. With few exceptions, they tend to be less strict here, e.g. Face/Off
was rated 16 with no cuts.
It is a bit harder to get hold of 18 vidoes - many shops do not stock them.
Nevertheless many video rental stores do - both for hire and for purchase at standard
prices (comparable/cheaper than UK).
There is also a category above 18 - 'indiziert', or 'on the index'. You cannot
advertise these films, nor can they be openly on display - unless a shop is open to
'adults only'. However, it is quite legal to sell and buy such material. Simply ask at a
shop counter; if they have such films, and you are obviously above 18, they will let you
browse. Many video rental stores have back rooms/basement for such stuff.
Examples of 'indizierte' films - Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the
Left, The Exorcist, From Dusk till Dawn, Profondo Rosso. All these films are fully uncut,
but subject to the limitations listed before.
'Indizierte' films cannot be ordered by post - you have to prove in person that you are
18 or over. This is adhered to very strictly by the larger Lasrdisc/Video/DVD supliers;
the smaller, less well known ones will ignore this rulling if you a known, good customer.
Any foreign home video material (be it US, GB, Dutch or whatever) will only be sold to
you if you are 18 or over; however, unless 'indiziert', it will be openly desplaid and
Finally TV: Any film rated up to 6 can be shown at any time; 12 only after 8 pm
(correction: 12 are allowable any time of day); 16 only after 10 pm;
18 only after 11 pm. As far as I know, the 'indizierte' version of a film will NOT be
shown on TV (correction: may be edited down to TV standards and shown
after 11pm) - though I have heard rumours of exceptions concerning Nekromantik and
First, the information you have written on your page is not wrong but censorship in
germany is more complex. No film/video label is FORCED to go to the german FSK (which
means Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle = voluntary self control) with a film but such movies
that opt out are automaticly only for persons of 18 years and over. So if you want films
to be shown to a younger audience the film/video label MUST go to the FSK.
The only reason to go to the FSK for an 18 certificate is because two german paragraphs
of German law (§131/violence and §184/pornography) could be used to ban the film. This
happend to such movies like Halloween II, The Evil Dead (uncut version,
the new version with an FSK18 certificate is cut), Dawn of the Dead
(uncut version), Day of the Dead and lots more (actually there are over
130 movies banned in germany most of them because of violence). To avoid such trouble most
video labels go to the FSK to be on the safe side, i.e. films with an 18 certificate are
NOT automaticly uncut!
The second problem is that it is strictly forbidden to sale videos with an 18
certificate via mail order. This is the reason for the problem with cut versions and
FSK16-certificates in these mail order shops. You will only able to find films with an 16
certificate (or lower, i.e. 12, 6 or 0/suitable for all ages) in mail order shops.
Sometimes movies are cut to get in the next lower certificate region, e.g. Beverly Hills
Cop has been cut to get an FSK12 certificate so it has been watched by more children.
The biggest problem for the german censorship is still violence so lots of movies with
an FSK18 certificate have been cut (e.g. RoboCop, Terminator, Cobra, Predator)
and lots of them have also been put on the "index" which means that anyone who
sells, rents or hires such a movie to a person under the age of 18 will be prosecuted an
could be sent to prison for up to one year, i.e. all indexed movies are still available
for adults, all banned films are unavailable. Therefore all indexed movies have an 18
certificate you will also unable to buy the via mail order in germany.
The biggest problem for fans of video nasties is that is strictly forbidden to import
films via mail order (e.g. per internet) which are on the index or even banned in germany;
this problem also occures to all porno videos because of the §184 described above.
I read the extended german censorship section, it´s ok except of the following:
Examples of uncut 'indizierte' films - Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust,
Last House on the Left, The Exorcist, From Dusk till Dawn, Profondo Rosso.
All these films are NOT uncut in germany except "The Exorcist"
Cannibal Holocaust was released cut under the title "Nackt
und zerfleischt", it was re-released this year uncut by another video label
but is still indexed,
Last House on the Left was released cut under the title "Mondo
Brutale", it was re-released uncut this year by the same video label,
From Dusk till Dawn was NOT released uncut on video in germany - this
didn´t stop the BPS from indexing the film,
Profondo Rosso was released cut by 22 minutes (!) and was re-released
uncut by Screen Power this year
All re-released versions are NOT for video rental shops it is very difficult to get
them, all these videos have no FSK-certificate i.e. the german censors could bann them anytime. Most of the movies re-released uncut on video
are produced as export versions by the german video labels therefore they are all indexed
or even banned in germany e.g. Cannibal Ferox - this movie is banned in
germany - not just indexed, that´s what I know.
As I told you already german videos with an FSK18-certificate are NOT automaticly uncut
also indexed movies are not. It is very difficult to get information because cut videos
are of course not wanted by the fans of this kind of films so the video labels don´t
write this information on the covers - unless the movie is uncut / the director´s cut.
But that´s the next problem: e.g. the film Scream was released in germany with
"Director´s Cut" written on the cover - but it wasn´t the "real" un-
rated US director´s cut! Director´s cut means in this case uncut cinema version which
was the same as the R-rated US-version which was cut also. I think that´s the same
version released in the UK. You have to compare the running times to get all information
about cut/uncut films in germany, UK or wherever.
The german FSK was previously cutting more than the BBFC, but this was changing, over
the last two years lots of movies got FSK18- certificate without cuts - like Starship
Troopers. Therefore lots of the good horror films from the 70's and 80's are cut or
banned in germany [e.g. Hellraiser, Hellraiser 2, Halloween 2 (also
banned), Friday the 13th (the uncut part 3 was banned, also the cut part
4), Pet Semetary 2 (uncut in cinema !), Scanners, Intruder, A
Nightmare on Elmstreet 2 (cut down to a 16-certificate to avoid being indexed),
Nightmare on Elmstreet 4 (same version in cinema as on video, but 16-certificate
in cinema/18-certificate on video !) and and and ...
Since 1997 there is a new certificate for video films from the "Spitzen-
organisation der Filmwirtschaft" (SPIO) which certificates that the film does not
break german law (§131/violence only). I don´t know a correct translation for it because
it contains juristic terms so here it is written in german: "Strafrechtlich
unbedenklich / SPIO/JK" - "JK" means "Juristen-kommission". There
are a lot of newer movies (e.g. Dead Presidents) with this SPIO-certificate, there is just
one problem: the video label has no "insurance" for the film not being banned.
All movies with an SPIO-certificate are handled like movies without an FSK-certificate,
i.e. only suitable for persons of 18 years and over. All movies without an FSK-certificate
could be indexed AND ALSO banned. Movies with an FSK18-certificate could just be indexed.
It is important to understand the difference between "indexed" and
"banned" because even here in germany people think it means the same - but all
indexed movies are still available in almost every video rental shop, banned films are of
On TV 18-films are often cut to be broadcast earlier (after 22:00), also 16-films are
cut to be broadcast after 20:00. Indexed movies MUST be cut to be braodcast because it is
strictly forbidden to show these films on TV.
Unfortunately I can´t say anything about Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2,
but I can´t believe that these movies are shown UNCUT on television in Germany.
Censorship is voluntary, fair enough, films and videos are indeed never refused in the
way that they are in Britain i.e. 'no certificate, that's it folks' however they can be
banned or indexed afterwards. The list of banned movies has a count of at least 250
(including illegal pornography) and there are nearly 3000 indexed videos. So as a
distributor you can never be sure if your movie will stay on the market...
That classification is less strict may be true at the moment but it wasn't some time
ago, especially horror films get cut to shreds (Hellraiser 5 minutes, Hellraiser II 12
minutes) a lot of movies that have 18 certs in the UK are cut more heavily in Germany,
also action movies more often got 18 ratings in Germany than in the UK. Where Germany is a
lot less strict is for language(nearly no special restrictions) and for sex. 'Thoughtful'
movies also nearly never get 18 certs even if they're quite violent, which weighs things
up a bit. On the otzher hand, they're NOT consistent over there especially direct-to-video
movies are treated very unfairly. *Indeed 18 cert videos cannot be sold in normal video
shops only in rental outlets
'Indiziert' doesn't mean higher than an 18 cert. but it means the film came out on
video and some months or years later it was submitted to the BPjS (organisation to set on
the index material that's considered harmful to minors) and was duly indexed. The
organisation to give out certificates is the FSK and has nothing to do with the index!
Indeed most other media(CDs, books) can alos be put on the index (eg American Psycho,
Naked Lunch) with the same restrictions applying.
The examples for indexed films are not really correct, 'The Exorcist' and 'Profondo
Rosso' are not on the index, while Cannibal Ferox has been banned entirely. These films
are NOT all uncut, they are the normal German video versions, for example Cannibal
Holocaust was cut by 7 minutes, PR by over 20 minutes including dialogue etc. A great
number of indexed films are cut like the Hellraiser movies. The cuts were inflicted in
hope that the film wouldn't be banned entirely(a fact of which one can never be sure as I
said because every court may decide otherwise just as in the UK Video Nasty era, and since
the films can only be banned after release, unlike in the UK)
TV: Actually films up to 12 can be shown anytime, indexed films may be shown on TV but
only in cut versions and if submitted to a TV monitoring board like the ITC called FSF.
'Nekromantik' 1 and 2 would never, believe me be shown on German TV. Cut films include
'Hard-Boiled' which was cut by 12 minutes at 12 am! Films rated too strictly for the time
at hand (e.g. rated 16 for a showing at 8 pm) will be cut, and lots of action/horror
movies are cut for this reason (eg Indiana Jones)
Additional Information: It is legal to own banned videos.
I am grateful to both Ingo and Jaques for their comments concerning the original
'German censorship' notes; thanks for expanding on, clarifying and correcting some of the
points. One area where I have to disagree with both is the availability and form of
certain films, 'Cannibal Ferox' in particular.
The film may well be banned, but it is available - from the German 'Astro'video
company. I can attest to this because 'Ferox' is present in both my local video stores.
'Astro' appears to specialise in classic/cult horror/violence films. A few of their
releases are classified 18 (e.g. Wild at Heart; Angelheart). However, most of them
(Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the Left, Cannibal Man, The House by
the Cemetary, Aenigma, Manhattan Baby, Mangiati Vivi (?), Mark of the Devil, Braindead)
simply carry the warning (translated into English) 'Do not sell or rent to minors' (i.e.
people under 18). I have always taken this to mean that the films were 'indiziert' and not
All the films in question are advertaised as uncut; many are additionally advertised as
containing scenes previously not shown in Germany (e.g. 'Ferox'). I have watched 'Last
House on the Left' and I believe the claims - the running time suggests that the print is
uncut; moreover, at certain points in the film, the dialogue is not German but English
with German subtitles - implying material has been added at a later stage.
I do not reckon they were prepared for export. Firstly, I doubt the export market would
be big enough (remember, these films are dubbed); secondly, the above-mentioned warning
looks too similar to standard German video ratings symbols - black writing inside a bright
I am at a loss to explain why these films are being rented/sold. Anyonegot any ideas?
Bad news from Germany: The german video label Astro started to re-release banned movies
in the so-called "Black Series" at the beginning of 1998. All uncut and without
any FSK- or SPIO/JK-certificate. It seems that all these movies have again been banned and
that all of them will be part of the new prosecution process against Astro Video.
This series included movies like:
Geisterstadt der Zombies (L´Aldilá - The Beyond)
Muttertag (Mother´s Day)
Nackt unter Kannibalen (Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali)
New York Ripper
Sado - Stoß das Tor zur Hölle auf (Beyond the Darkness - Buio Omega)
Die Weiße Göttin der Kannibalen (La montagna del dio cannibale)
Zombie (Dawn of the Dead)
Ein Zombie hing am Glockenseil (City of the Living Dead)
Other just indexed Astro videos are still available though, eg:
Last House on the Left
The banned movies were produced as export versions with "Not for sale in the
Federal Rebuplic of Germany" written on the cover, this didn´t stop the prosecutors
from banning them all. One reason could have been the fact that some video shops did sell
them in germany.
Having read the second contribution on German censorship by Stu Watts, I think I can
answer his question as to why the 'Astro' company is able to sell copies of allegedly
banned films. The answer is simple: They can't! Indeed only about 8 or so of the movies
they distribute (the so-called 'Black Series') have been banned by the German government,
e.g. 'Paura nella città dei morti viventi' (City of the Living Dead), 'L'Aldila' (The
Beyond) or 'New York Ripper'. I don't know why exactly they sell copies of films ('Wild at
Heart') that have been available uncut through regular means....
Some films like 'Last House' are 'only' indexed, but now Astro is to be dragged to
court(this is no joke), and half a dozen of their titles have been snatched by police
throughout Germany. While some bans may not be upheld by courts, a lot still are(e.g.
'Maniac', 'Dawn of the Dead') and it is still illegal to just try and sell nearly
identical versions to the ones that have been banned.
Astro were very courageous, and were all the time walking on thin ice, and I think even
the rest of their catalogue is being seized from video shops. Actually there is a very
small note on the back cover of the 'Black Series' videos that they are not for sale in
Germany, only in Austria and Switzerland(I think), this hasn't been adhered to however...
This whole affair proves again that you may, indeed sell uncertificated material in
Germany but if you get caught, and if the films are then deemed obscene, that was bad