It is August 1931. From the Mexican port of Veracruz sails German passenger ship "Vera", which is scheduled to arrive in Bremerhaven in mid-September. From torn by political passions Mexico ship should be in Germany, where National Socialism raises his head. Passenger community consists of different nationalities - Germans, Swiss, Spaniards, Cubans, Americans.
At first, life on the boat goes in the usual way: passengers get acquainted, exchange ritual remarks. But gradually in the speeches of some of them eloquent phrases are beginning to slip, which has not yet been officially decorated existing at the household level of totalitarian ideology, trying to express itself publicly. Lizzie Shpekkenkiker, a trader of ladies' underwear, will insist that true German is spoken only in her native Hanover; Frau Rittendorf, a retired governess, writes in her diary that she believes in the role of the conquering race; and a hunchback Herr Glock with his miserably appearance, brings her to think that children born with disabilities, should be put to death for the benefit of humanity.
Herr Rieber, a women's magazine publisher, thinks the same. He intends to enlighten the minds of ladies' with articles on the most important issues of the time. He boastfully said that had already reached an agreement with one luminary about a highly scientific treatise on the need to destroy the crippled and the other inferior. When flirting with him Lizzie asks how to help the unfortunate inhabitants of the lower deck, where Spanish laborers travel, he says, "drive them into a large oven and let gas" than his companion plunges into paroxysms of laughter.
Even before the Nazis came to power, until the establishment of a totalitarian regime, inhabitants-passengers show a remarkable political vision.
When it turns out that German Freitag has a Jewish wife, steamer elite unanimously expels him from its rows the Defiler of race. E is set at a table with a businessman Leventhal, who supplies Catholic Church with objects of religious items. Jew Leventhal, in turn, pours scorn on Freitag and especially on his missing wife, who had married a "goy" and defiled the purity of their race.
Gradually on the ship, commanded by Captain Thiele, the prototype of the great Reich is established. So far, to open terror is not reached, but the majority of the steamship, including the ship's ideologue, thoughtful fool professor Hutten, psychologically already adopted the "new order". The only what they need is a Fuhrer. In those eager to get is suffering from indigestion and feeling of lost opportunities Captain Thiele. He watches an American gangster film and dreams of power, "he secretly reveled in this picture”. The Discreet Charm of fascism captivates not only failed heroes like Herr Ribera and Captain Thiele. Quiet, gentle creatures find in the idea of race a considerable consolation.
Most of the characters are torn from their usual residence, deprived of strong roots. Frau Schmitt carries the body of her dead husband back home, where she has not been long ago. Director of the German school in Mexico Hutten returns to Germany, although he does not knownwhat awaits him there. A former owner of the hotel Lutz with his wife and daughter of eighteen years, exchange Mexico for Switzerland. Many do not know what the warmth of the hearth is, while others are smothered in its suffocating atmosphere. These wandering atoms are quite capable to merge into a totalitarian mass according to the laws of social chemistry.
Writing a collective portrait of gloomy future Führer's loyalists, Porter does not discount the representatives of other nations. Love between Americans Jenny Brown and David Scott fades. Jenny, by the way, is too fond of the struggle for the rights of those to whom she had the most distant attitude, and constant dissatisfaction and anger of the artist David - a dangerous symptom of creative inconsistency.
Porter’s heroes are very successful in the science of hatred. Aryans hate Jews, Jews in the name of the merchant Leventhal - Aryans. Young Johann hates his uncle Willibald Graff, a dying preacher, for whom he cares, like a nurse, fearing being left without an inheritance. Engineer Danny from Texas is convinced that negros are beings of a lower order, and his thoughts are focused only on money, women and health. It seems that a clever and kind Mrs. Treadwell does not want anybody to stick around her and not to bother her with their stupid problems. She despises Lizzie Shpekkenkiker but calmly tells her family secrets of Freitag, which he told her in a moment of revelation. And during a party with dancing and lottery Mrs. Treadwell, beat hapless Danny, who in chasing a Spanish dancer had misunderstood the door. She thrashes his face with a heel, as if venting all the resentment and frustration accumulated over the years.
The fire of hatred burns on the ship, hiding behind the need to keep up appearances, and follow the instructions. Polite and prudent is a ship treasurer having for many years experienced the desire to kill anyone who is forced to smile and bow to. The maid resents, who is commanded to bring a cup of broth to Hutten’s the dog. Old Bulldog was thrown overboard by mischievous children of Spanish dancers, but the stoker-Basque saved him - at the cost of his own life, an act puzzled passengers of the first and second classes. Feast on the ship becomes a real battle, when under the influence of alcohol and general excitement townsfolk turn into barbarians. There is a war of everyone against everyone.
However, after an evening orgy life the ship reenters the normal course, and soon enters the port of destination. With the sounds of "Tannenbaum" passengers without further ado go ashore.