The nearly blind Frau Wilhelmina Waitzmann, unable to carry on the enormous responsibilities of running the family business (the Waitzmann Industries Group, a conglomerate that includes pulp and textile mills), tells the board of directors at her residence in Bergedorf, Bavaria, that she intends to surrender responsibility to her firstborn son, Alfried. The decision does not sit well with her other son Ruprecht, who believes that he is worthier of succession than his elder brother.
Ruprecht tells Alfried how he feels, but Alfried, who has recently returned from the United States, where he was running the firm’s branch in Baltimore, taunts him by saying that he will relinquish control tonight, if Ruprecht promises to be “the birthday king for the rest of [his] life, growing nobler and more generous as every year passes.” In fact, Alfried is ambivalent; he wants to marry Ruth Lubbe, who is considering becoming a nun, and, if the wedding goes forth, he will step down. He tells Ruprecht, however, that the final decision will probably not be made for two more years.
A year and a half passes. Ruprecht has managed to get a posting to the headquarters of the Aeronautical Institute in Berlin. He is a frequent visitor to the house of Carin von Hoffbach, whose husband, Baron Nicolas von Hoffbach, is a friend of Ruprecht and is associated with Waitzmann Industries. The real reason for Ruprecht’s visits is his interest in Alexandra von Boehling, whom he met previously, at the Baron’s castle outside Bergedorf. Ruprecht is still unreconciled to having his brother take over the family firm. Carin sympathizes with him—so much so that at a soiree, attended by a Nazi Party official, she implies that Alfried is a danger to the regime. This denunciation results in Alfried’s arrest.
(The entire section is 743 words.)