Captain von Schlett is trying on a new uniform, ordered in the tailor’s studio of the military tailor, the Jew Adolf Wormser, in Potsdam. This is a very well known at the beginning of the century officer’s studio, Wormser – the royal court supplier.
Despite the assurances of the cutter Vabshke, that the uniform sits on the captain as glued, Von Schlett’s “skin” feels some inconvenience, something elusive “ungovernable.” Inspecting himself from all sides in the mirror, he notices that on the back, on the buttocks, the buttons are arranged wider than prescribed by the statute. Using a centimeter, Vormser himself makes the necessary measurements and recognizes that the buttons are sewn half a centimeter wider than the statutory norms. The
Wilhelm Voigt, a former shoemaker, then a criminal who has spent many years in a correctional prison, is trying to find work. Without a passport, he is not accepted anywhere, and he comes to the police station. Voigt humbly talks about his problems and asks for documents necessary for employment. The accountant explains to the stupid visitor who has such a dubious past that first he must become a decent, working person. To Voigt it comes that he, apparently, will have to drag his conviction with him, “like a nose on his face.”
On Sunday morning, after a night at the station, Voigt sits at the Berlin cafe National with his former cellmate named Kalle and drinks coffee for the last few pennies. Kalle suggests that he become a member of the thieves’ gang and earn decent money, but Foigg categorically refuses, he still hopes to find an honest salary.
Captain von Shlettov plays in a cafe in a pool. He is without uniform, since officers are forbidden to visit
In the cafe, a drunken Guards Grenadier makes a scandal. Insulted for the honor of the uniform, von Shlettov as a captain demands from the grenadier to leave the cafe. He refuses to obey the “lousy staff” – a civilian who calls himself a captain, and strikes him in the face. Von Shlettov rushes to the grenadier, a fight starts, then the policeman leads both. The sympathy of the assembled crowd is clearly on the side of the grenadier, not the civilian one. As a witness of this scene, Voigt perfectly understands its meaning.
After the scandal in a public place von Shlettov forced to resign. He will no longer need a new uniform with impeccably sewn buttons.
The uniform is acquired by Dr. Obermüller, who works in the city government. He was given the rank of reserve lieutenant, he must participate in military exercises, which is very important for his civilian career.
The new shoe factory announces recruitment, and Voigt comes to the hiring department with an excellent recommendation from the prison director, where he sewed boots for the military. Voigt is again refused – he has no passport, no track record, no army spirit. Leaving, Voigt ironically notes that he did not expect to get into the barracks instead of the factory.
Voigt and Kalle spend the night in the doss house, where the police arrest them as a deserter of a frail boy who escaped from the barracks. Desperate for trying to start an honest life, Voigt conceives a daring plan – to penetrate through the window into the police station at night, find and burn a folder with his “case,” pick up some “real” passport and take him abroad. Kalle is ready to help Voigt, intending to seize the cash register with the money.
They are both caught in the crime scene and sent back to the correctional prison. This time Voigt spends ten years in it.
The last day of Voigt’s imprisonment comes. The director of the prison conducts with the prisoners a traditional “lesson of patriotism” – combat training for the purpose of teaching the “essence and discipline” of the Prussian army. The director is satisfied with Voigt’s brilliant knowledge and is confident that this will be useful to him in later life.
After leaving the prison, Voigt lives in his sister’s family, which he did not dare to do ten years ago, so as not to cause her trouble. But now he is fifty-seven years old and no longer has the strength to sleep wherever. Hopreht’s husband serves in the army and hopes that he will be promoted to vice-feldwebel. Khoprecht refuses to help Voigt speed up the receipt of the passport, everything should go in order, by legal means and without violations. He is sure as in his long-awaited advancement, and in the organization of Voigt’s affairs, “for this we are in Prussia.”
Dr. Obermüller, the mayor of the town of Köpenick near Berlin, was summoned to the imperial maneuvers. He orders a new uniform for himself, and the old one returns it to the creator, the cutter of Vabshke, as an advance against the payment for a new one. Wabschka sneers that for a masquerade he can still come in handy.
In the chic restaurant of Potsdam, a lavish celebration takes place on the occasion of the imperial maneuvers. It is organized by the respected military tailor Vormser, who now has the rank of commerce adviser. His daughter dances in officer’s uniform – the same one, still from von Shlettov. Causing general ecstasy and affection, she declares that she is ready to establish a women’s regiment and start a war. Wormser’s mood is overshadowed by his son Willie, who in six years was promoted only to the rank of corporal and obviously not fit for officers. Trying to serve one officer, Willie overturns the champagne and pours out her sister’s uniform. Now the uniform comes true in the shop of the junkman.
Voigt twice submits a petition for documents, but does not have time to receive them in due time, since the police station participants in military maneuvers. Voigt comes with an order for eviction for forty-eight hours.
Khoprecht returns from the teachings without the long-promised rise in rank. He is annoyed and understands that he was circumvented unfairly, but Foigg reacts to the indignant remarks “like a pastor” – sooner or later everyone will get “his own”. “You – do not raise, I – expel” – this is how “tired” Voigt determines it. But Hopreht is confident that his beloved Prussia is ruled by a healthy spirit. He calls Voigt to show patience, obey, follow the order, adapt. Voigt loves the homeland, like Khoprecht, but he knows that lawlessness is with him. He is not allowed to live in his country, he does not see it, “there are only police stations around.”
Voigt declares to Khoprecht that he does not want to leave a miserable life, he wants to “poke around.” Khoprecht is convinced that Voigt is a dangerous person for society,
In the shop of the junkier Voigt buys all the same uniform, dresses in him in the station lavatory and comes to the station Kepenik. There he stops an armed street patrol led by a corporal, leads to the town hall and orders the arrest of the mayor and treasurer. To the stunned Obermuller, the “captain” declares that he has the order of His Majesty the Emperor. Both obey almost without objection, accustomed that “the order is an order,” the “captain” apparently has “absolute powers.” Voigt sends them under the guard of the magistrate’s guard to Berlin, and he takes the cashier himself – “for revision.” Voigt did not know the main thing – there were no passports in the magistrate.
In the morning Voigt wakes up in the beer cellar and hears drivers, drivers and waiters discuss the incident, the hero of which was himself. Everybody admires the lightning-fast operation and the “Captain of the Köpenick”, who were also “lime”. Voigt reads the urgent issues of newspapers, delightfully telling about the trick of the “daring joker”, Voigt hears how the ad about his search is read aloud, with the signs of the “captain from Köpenick” – bony, crooked, sickly, feet “wheel.”
There were already forty detainees in the Berlin detective department, but there is clearly no “captain” among them. The detectives are inclined to close the case altogether, especially as secret reports say that his majesty laughed and was flattered to learn of what had happened: it is now clear to everyone that “German discipline is a great force.”
At this moment, Voigt is being introduced, who decided to confess himself to everything, hoping that it will be reckoned to him and after another otsidki he will not be denied the documents. He needs to “get a passport at least once in his life” in order to start a real life. Voigt tells us where the uniform is hidden, which is soon delivered.
Convinced that before them really “dashing” “captain from Kepenik,” the head of the investigation department condescendingly and graciously interested in how he came up with the idea to turn the whole thing under the guise of a captain. Foigg responds innocently that he, like everyone, knows that everything is permitted to the military. He put on his uniform, “gave himself an order,” and executed it.
At the request of the chief, Voigt again puts on his uniform and cap, and all unwittingly stand at attention. Carefully putting his hand to the peak, Voigt gives the command “Freely!”. Under general laughter, he makes a serious request – to give him a mirror, he has never seen himself in a uniform. Having drunk a glass of courtesy of the red wine offered to him, Voigt looks at himself in the big mirror. Gradually, he is seized by uncontrollable laughter, in which one word is heard: “Impossible!”