Franz Bieberkopf, a former cementer and loader, had just been released from a Berlin prison in Tegel, where he stayed for four years for killing his girlfriend. Franz stands on a busy street, amidst a noisy crowd and sparkling shop windows. This strong and broad-shouldered man, just over thirty years old, feels lonely and defenseless, and it seems to him that “punishment” is just beginning. Franz is seized with anguish and fear, he is hammered into the entrance of some house. There he is discovered by a stranger, a Jew with a big red beard, and brings Franz to his room, into a warm room. The recent prisoner is listened to and encouraged by benevolent people.
Biberkopf calms down and feels a surge of energy. He is again in the street, among free people, and can himself manage his life. At first he only sleeps, eats and drinks beer, and on the third day he goes to the married sister of his murdered mistress and, without encountering resistance, takes possession of it. After that, Franz feels the same – irresistible and strong. Once upon a time a pretty daughter of a locksmith fell in love with him, a dissolute guy made a prostitute out of her and eventually beat him to death. And now Franz swears to the whole world and to himself, that from now on he will become a “decent man”.
New life Biberkopf begins with the search for work, and he already found a girlfriend. One fine morning, Franz stands in the center of Berlin, on the corner of Alexanderplatz – “Alexa” and sells fascist newspapers. He has nothing against the Jews, but he stands “for order”. At lunch, Franz comes to the pub and hides his bandage with a swastika in his pocket – out of precaution. But beer patrons, young workers and the unemployed, they already know and condemn him. Franz excuses himself, he participated in the first world war, in the eighteenth year he escaped from the front. Then in Germany there was a revolution, then inflation, ten years have passed since then, and life still does not please. The workers cite Russia as an example, where the proletarians are welded together by a common goal. But Franz is not a supporter of proletarian solidarity, he “has his own shirt closer to the body,” he wants to live in peace.
Soon Franz is bored with selling newspapers, and he sells random goods, including laces, by taking in himself the companions of the long-standing unemployed Luders. Once with Franz happens a pleasant incident. In one house, offering laces to a pretty lady, Franz asks for a cup of coffee. The lady turns out to be a widow and shows an obvious interest in a big man with gay “bull eyes” and blond hair. The meeting ends with a mutual pleasure and promises a meaningful continuation.
Here, then, Franz has to go through the first shock in the new life, which “pushes the leg”, prepares deception and betrayal. Friend Lyuders, whom he trusted, comes to the widow, introducing himself as Franz’s envoy, takes away her cash, insults her and leads her to a faint. Now the road to the house and heart of the widow for Franz is closed.
Franz again has a fit of confusion and fear, it seems to him that he falls to the bottom of the abyss, it would be better not to let him out of Tegel. When Lyuders comes to him to explain, Franz hardly restrains the furious desire to kill the offender. But still he copes with his experiences and convinces himself that he is firmly on his feet and can not take it with “bare hands”. Franz resolutely changes his housing and work and disappears from the sight of his friends, leaving them in the conviction that he is “crazy”, because Franz is a “hero”, engaged in all his life with heavy physical labor, and when he tries to work, she “gives” .
Franz begins to understand that his plan to become a decent person, with all the seeming simplicity, is fraught with some kind of mistake. He goes to consult his Jewish friends, and they persuade him once again to try to live honestly. However, Franz decides that “in their own way” he will not live, tried, but did not work, he no longer wants to work – “the snow will catch fire”, and then the finger will not strike a finger,
For several weeks Franz is drunk – with grief, out of disgust for the whole world. He drinks all that he had, and what he will do next does not want to think. Try to become a decent person, when all around are scoundrels and rascals.
Finally, Franz crawls out of his hole and again sells newspapers to “Alex.” A friend introduces him to a group of young men, allegedly “fruit traders.” With one of them, the skinny Reinhold, Franz converges quite close and renders him involuntarily, and then consciously some “services.” Reinhold quickly bored his mistresses, he “forced” to change them every two weeks, “selling” the bored girlfriend Franz along with the “dowry.” One... of the “babes” so well “accustomed” to Franz, that he does not want to exchange it for the next. Franz decides to “educate” Reinhold, teach to live as a decent person, and this causes hidden hatred.
A gang of bandits, engaged in the guise of trading fruits with large-scale robberies, invites Franz to work with them with “first-class” goods for “brilliant” earnings. Franz has some kind of unclear suspicion, he realizes that you need to keep an “ear” with these people, but still agrees. When he is put at the gate of the warehouse to guard the loot, it comes to him that he fell into a trap. While he thinks about how to “get out” from the “damned punks”, he is pushed into the car – he has to get away from his pursuers. On the way, Reinhold decides to settle scores with the “fat-browed” Bieberkopf, refusing to take from him the girls and pretending to be “decent”, and at full speed pushes him out of the car.
Franz survives, losing his hand. Now he lives with Herbert and Eve, his friends from earlier times who cured him in a good clinic. Herbert calls himself a “broker” and does not need money, Eve has rich admirers. Franz’s friends know a lot about the gang, from which he suffered, but they do not know anything about the role of Reinhold. Hearing about Franz’s vain attempts to live “honestly,” they understand why after the prison he did not come to them for help. Now, Franz does not care where his friends’ money comes from, he wants to recover.
And this is the third time that Franz appears on the streets of Berlin, on “Alex.” He seemed to have become a different person, everywhere he saw cheating and deceit. It does not matter to him how to make a living, just not to work. Franz sells stolen goods, just in case he even has “fake” documents. He looks like a venerable “burgher-sausage-maker”, on holidays wears an “iron cross” on his chest, and it is clear to everyone where he lost his hand.
Eve finds for Franz a girlfriend – an underage girl, a prostitute. Franz is very pleased and lives with his Mizzi soul in the soul, he can easily give up his “job”, as the little girl has got a constant fan with big money. Franz himself often plays the role of husband in one company with a fan. He believes that in “pimps did not ask”, this life has treated him so, so he is not ashamed. He does not even want to hear about honest work, his hand was “chopped off”.
Franz can not wait to meet Reinhold, he does not know why – maybe he will demand a new hand from him. Soon he is again in a gang and voluntarily becomes a hijacker, getting his share, although he does not need money. Herbert and Eve can not understand him, and the faithful Mizzi is very worried about him.
Wishing to show off to his girlfriend Reinhold, Franz introduces him to Mizzi, and for that it’s a convenient opportunity to get even with a self-assured one-armed fool. Having enticed Mizzi for a walk into the forest, Reinhold tries to take possession of it, but encounters the serious resistance of the adoring Franz girl. Then, in blind hatred and envy towards Franz, he kills the resisting Mizzi and bury the corpse.
When Franz learns of the murder of Mizzi, he feels like a “finished” man, to whom nothing will help, still “crush, break.” During the round-up in the pub on the “Alex” his nerves can not stand, he starts a shootout with the police. Franz is imprisoned, and Reinhold manages to direct the police’s suspicion of him as a murderer.
Franz is finally broken and goes to the prison psychiatric hospital, where he is silent and refuses food. Assuming that the convict simulates madness, he is given compulsory treatment. But Franz still fades, and the doctors back away from him. When the death that seems to Franz in his delirious dreams really turns out to be very close, the desire to live in a stubborn patient flares up. Pimp and killer dies, and another person comes to life on a hospital bed, who blames not all destiny, not life, but himself.
At the trial, Franz gives testimony and proves his alibi. Reinhold gives out one friend from the gang, Franz does not say anything about him, except for what he considers necessary, not even a word about the circumstances of the loss of his hand. Franz believes that he himself is guilty, it was not necessary to contact Reinhold. Franz even feels some affection for the defendant, who was sentenced to ten years in prison. Reinhold wondered: Bieberkopf behaves “strangely enough”, it is clear that he still has “not all at home.”
Franz is free, he works as a shift watchman at one plant. There he is not alone, as happened on Alexanderplatz, around him are people, workers, boiling battle. Franz knows that this is his “battle,” he is among the fighters, and with him – thousands and thousands of others.