Vasili Ivanovich, a mild-mannered Russian emigre living in Berlin, wins a pleasure trip at a charity ball. Although Vasili is reluctant to travel anywhere, he finally decides to go when he discovers that getting out of the trip would involve cutting through all sorts of red tape in the bureaucracy. The tour group gathered at the railway station consists of four women and four men, each a kind of double of the other. The group leader is assisted by a sinister man called Schramm, from the Bureau of Pleasantrips. After their train departs, it soon becomes obvious that Vasili Ivanovich is the odd man out. When he attempts to read Russian lyrical poetry or observe the beauties of nature, his German companions interrupt him and force him to join them in singing uplifting songs or playing games. At first their teasing is good-natured; later, as nightfall approaches, it turns malevolent.
The group disembarks from the train and begins hiking through the countryside, eventually arriving at a blue lake with an old black castle on its far side and a beautiful cloud hanging over it. The insensitive Germans ignore the view, but Vasili is enthralled by its beauty. He sneaks away from the group, follows the shore, and comes to an inn. After the innkeeper shows him a room for rent, with a view of the cloud, castle, and lake, Vasili decides to take the room for the rest of his life. He runs joyfully down to the meadow to inform his companions. The collective of pleasure trippers, however, refuses to accept what they see as a betrayal of their common venture. Infuriated, they seize Vasili and drag him, “as in a hideous fairy tale,” down a forest road to the train. On the return journey they torture him, using a corkscrew and a homemade knout. On his arrival back in Berlin, Vasili goes to see the narrator, his employer. He tells the story of what happened and begs to be released from his position and from humanity. The narrator graciously lets him go.