Everything begins with a camera gliding through the station of a modern metro. We see our contemporaries carrying their smartphones, dressed in the latest fashion. As the camera takes the stairs up to the street the viewer starts noticing old-fashioned coats, canes, hats and it is the 20th century all over again. This scene alone is a declaration of what the movie is going to be — far from historical precision but rather a mixture of epochs, the influence of which lingers to 2021. The director is not afraid to spoil — everyone is doomed. He includes a shot of a monument commemorating the victims of Nazi concentration camps and scatters the advertisements of swimming lessons. The sense of tragic predetermination is felt in a line: "Which one of you will leave first is already written in a book of love". In Fabian's notebook we'll later read: "Learn how to swim."
Who are those doomed? Let me introduce you to the characters surrounding Fabian. His best friend is Stephan Labude (Albrecht Schuch). Son of a famous rich lawyer, he is a firm believer in leftist political change. He makes passionate speeches and writes a thesis on Lessing — German Enlightenment philosopher and poet, waiting for it to be acclaimed by the University. Most importantly, he is an idealist, kind-hearted but fragile, lumbering, even laughable. He is a man out of his time, his ideals are crushed by Hitler's juggernaut. "I should've become a teacher — only children need ideals today," — he says looking back. An eternal child himself, he becomes a tragic figure facing pointless, however, very meaningful for a 20th century's end.
At night Labude and Fabian frequent outlandish establishments — tawdry bars, brothels, art studios (the same brothels, in fact). It is the world of unfettered sexual freedom and moral decadence. The mentally ill are pushed to perform on a stage to the damnation of voracious crowd, lesbian models are sold to decrepit old sadists. In such a disorderly underground Fabian meets Irene Moll (Meret Becker). She is a nymphomaniac, whose unperturbed husband makes Moll's lovers sign a contract before sleeping with her. Having found that out, Fabian leaves. Irene's agony of unfulfilled desire is one of the most erratic yet capturing scenes of the movie.