1921 in the first German Republic: World War I has ended three years ago, but it’s long shadows lie heavy on the country – and on the family von Briest. Otto and Hermine von Briest are broke and about to loose their family heirloom, Briest Manor. Their daughter Luisa hopes for a career in the rising film business. Depression and the loss of money value make the German people poorer by the hour, and so the forlon masses seek destraction in the cinemas, the cabarets and the automobile race tracks.
There Max Brandow tries to prove himself. He is Otto’s and Hermine’s stepson; the Briests have saved the former urchin from an early death in the gutters. Max feels heavily indebted to the Briests because of that, and he is bound to Luisa by a promise he will keep forever.
Sigurd von Cramm persues his personal happiness on the race track, too. His family and the Briests are bitter enemies since the days of Alvin and Louise von Briest. When Sigurd comes into contact with the most radical of the new right wing parties that rise all over Germany, he suddenly finds comrades in his twisted ideals – and in his hatred for Max Brandow and the Briests.