Autumn, sometime in the 1800s. Heinrich Schultze, innkeeper of Hotel Paradis in the hamlet of Kirchhausen, is in a tight spot, unable to pay the rent due on the inn. His wife, Emilie, who still bears traces of her past beauty, has won them extension before by not too vigorously parrying the advances of the miller who owns the inn. Again she tries to appease the greedy miller, but no luck this time. A ray of hope arrives when a carriage belonging to the rich Jewish merchant Salomon pulls up at the inn. Escaping the autumn storm, he decides to spend the night at Hotel Paradis, but Crazy Grethe, a fortune-teller and the village eccentric, reads Salomon’s palm and sees a terrible fate in store for him unless he immediately leaves the inn. Spooked, Salomon hastily departs.
That night, a small mail steamer off the coast of Kirchhausen is fighting a losing battle against the angry sea. Onboard is a young legation secretary, von Krakow, who has been dispatched to Kirchhausen by his government to deliver some important documents and a considerable sum in gold coin. Two greedy sailors try to steal the chest of precious gold, but von Krakow shoots them dead. Once he is safely ashore, he drags the chest across the dunes to the country road leading to Hotel Paradis. The next morning, the townspeople get wind of the shipwreck and the authorities assume that von Krakow made off with the gold, killing the sailors to get rid of witnesses. Meanwhile, the innkeepers receive a certified letter with a lottery winning of 4000 marks that enables them to pay their back rent.
Soon, the wife of the vanished legation secretary arrives in Kirchhausen with their son, Cyril. The first thing she does is inquire at the inn, where she is told that no one has seen her husband, but young Cyril finds a cufflink that Mrs von Krakow is convinced is her husband’s. She immediately suspects foul play by the Schultzes and has them arrested as suspects in the murder of von Krakow, but they are eventually released for lack of evidence. Eighteen years pass. The Schultzes have left Kirchhausen and now reside in the capital with their daughter, Rosa, haven taken the name Bremer. But Mrs Bremer, the former innkeeper, never has a moment’s rest. Her mind is constantly going back to the horrible events of 18 years before. One day, an elderly lady pauses outside the Bremers’ store. She is the widow von Krakow and with her is her son, Cyril. Mrs Bremer grows pale, thinking she is seeing the ghost of von Krakow. She falls ill and soon dies with fear etched on her face. Rosa asks her father if it’s really true that they didn’t commit a crime back in Kirchhausen. Throwing himself on his wife’s grave, he swears they did not.
Rosa finds a home with the widow von Krakow. She is going to marry Cyril. For a while they live happily and Rosa forgets all about the ghastly accusations against her parents. Then a letter arrives from the Foreign Ministry: the bones of Alexander von Krakow were discovered during an excavation of the cellar of Hotel Paradis. It becomes instantly, horribly clear to Rosa that her parents were murderers. Her grief and despair are boundless, but Cyril vows not to let past events poison their happy marriage.