Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 667
Franz Biberkopf, a former cement worker, is released from Tegel Prison in Berlin, where he has served four years for murdering his girlfriend. He feels lonely and unprotected. A Jewish man brings him to his place, where good people surround him with attention. Franz feels relieved and encouraged, as he is at large again and can do whatever he wants. He swears to himself and to the world that he will mend his ways: “now he is back in Berlin, determined to go straight” (7).
Franz is in downtown Berlin, on Alexanderplatz, selling Nazi newspapers. Soon, though, he becomes bored and becomes a peddler, partnering with Lüders, who has been long unemployed. Offering laces to a pretty woman, Franz manages to get himself invited for a cup of coffee. The lady turns out to be a widow and is obviously interested in him.
Lüders comes to the widow, pretending he has been sent by Franz. He forces her to give him money; after this, Franz is no longer welcome at her place.
Franz feels confused and anxious again. When Lüders comes to have the matter out with him, Franz hardly keeps himself from killing him. He then decides to move and break with his friends who think that he is insane.
Finally, he returns to his business of selling newspapers. A friend introduces him to members of a gang who claim to be fruit sellers. One of them, Reinhold, becomes Franz’s close friend. Franz decides to educate Reinhold, “his pupil, his apprentice” (185). This provokes Reinhold to secretly hate Franz.
A gang of criminals invite Franz to work for them, and Franz accepts the offer but is apprehensive. As he stands on lookout, watching over the gang’s spoils, it comes to him that they have put him at risk. Escaping from his pursuers, he loses one of his arms after Reinhold pushes him out of the truck at full speed.
Franz survives. He now lives with Herbert and Eva, his old friends who have placed him into a good clinic. Franz gets onto Alexanderplatz for a third time:
Now behold Franz Biberkopf as a fence, a criminal, a new man has a new profession, before long he’ll take another turn to the bad. (241)
Eva finds a girlfriend, a prostitute named Mitzi, for Franz. Franz wants to impress Reinhold and introduces Mitzi to him. Reinhold entices Mitzi into the woods and tries to take advantage of her. When she resists, he kills her and buries her body.
When Franz learns that Mitzi has been murdered, he feels that he is beyond help. During a police raid on Alexanderplatz, he shoots at the policemen and is arrested. Because of Reinhold’s insinuations, he becomes the suspect in Mitzi’s case.
Franz is a broken man, and he is admitted into an insane asylum where he stays silent and refuses to eat. Doctors administer forced medical treatment, but Franz’s condition does not improve. When death approaches, however, he suddenly wants to live. The former murderer dies, and a new man is born: he blames himself, rather than life or fate, for his misfortunes.
Franz gives testimony in court and proves his alibi, and one of the gangsters betrays Reinhold. Franz, however, does not give any information about Reinhold beyond what is required. He does not even mention the situation in which he lost his arm.
Franz is finally free. He works as assistant porter in a factory and no longer feels alone. Franz knows that this is his battle and that many others are together with him:
Much misfortune comes of walking alone. If there are several of you, that is already better. You have to get used to listening to other people, because what others say concerns me. Then I see who I am and what I can take on. My battle is being fought on all sides of me, I have to pay attention, before I notice anything it’s my own turn. (438)