1957: the family has gathered in the dining room of the Villa Hügel and is sitting here in awkward silence. Arndt, Alfried Krupp’s 19-year-old son and sole heir, has come to dinner - but his grandmother Bertha (71) is pretending to have a headache. She is unwilling to receive him. Arndt is sensitive and dressed with immense care – which does not at all correspond to her concept of how the heir to the Krupps' throne should behave. When Alfried (50) confronts his mother and demands that she should accept his son, there is a furious argument. We discover that it is the first open conflict between two people who have tried for decades to conceal their resentment of and disappointment in each other. Alfried accuses his mother of having brought him up too harshly - and of having destroyed his marriage. Bertha claims it was her responsibility to compensate for Alfried's weaknesses by being strict with him... in order to shape him into somebody capable of ruling the Krupp empire. They both sense that it is not just the past which is a heavy burden for them: the future of the company is also at stake here, along with the unity of the family. Alfried makes it absolutely clear that the old days, which Bertha remembers so fondly, are gone for ever. In future he alone will decide whether the company will continue, and how. Being brutally rejected like this shakes his mother’s world to the very foundations: she throws Alfried out of the house and then suffers a heart attack. She collapses, as if dead.
Nursed by the young maid Anna, Bertha Krupp now reminisces about the past from her sick bed. Memories of happy times come flooding back - but so does the awareness that, even in those days, an impending catastrophe was developing behind the facade.
1901: Bertha (15) enjoys a sheltered youth in the Villa Hügel, the magnificent home of the family in Essen. Her mother Margarethe raises Bertha and her younger sister Barbara according to a strict code of conduct. Her father Fritz is a close friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and with Fritz at the helm the growing company flourishes now, in the period of German high capitalism. He is an intelligent, soft-spoken man, and Bertha in particular is devoted to him. She has no idea that her father leads a double life, and on the island of Capri, where he has a holiday home, he is known as a connoisseur of pretty young fishermen and pages rather than a man of science. When Margarethe asks the Kaiser to protect Fritz against slander, she is diagnosed with hysteria and locked up in a sanatorium for some time. Meanwhile the Social Democratic press reveals the scandal, and now that Fritz Krupp is cornered he dies suddenly under unexplained circumstances. This terrible shock makes a deep and lasting impression on the young Bertha and forms the principles according to which she will bring up her own children: a Krupp must never let himself go. Self-discipline is the ultimate virtue.
1957: Alfried, who lives in a modern bungalow not far from the Villa Hügel, receives a visitor. It is his younger brother Harald, who has only returned recently from a Soviet prison-of-war camp. Harald demands to know what has taken place between Bertha and Alfried. He is also suffering from the oppressive silence which has dominated the family for so long.
1918: Bertha, now 31 years of age and the mistress of the Villa Hügel, prepares a magnificent reception for Wilhelm II. The family business is now run by her strict husband Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, chosen for her by the Kaiser himself and awarded the honorary title Krupp. They already have five children. Alfried (11) is the oldest, and the Kaiser himself is the boy’s godfather.
To make sure the "crown prince" will be able to run the business one day, Bertha has brought him up to be extremely harsh with himself, especially in matters of self-denial. Largely isolated from his younger brothers and sisters, Alfried is constantly under surveillance and forced to avoid making any mistakes. Nevertheless, he deeply admires his mother and feels close to her. The Krupps are well respected in Essen, because they have established a comprehensive welfare system which has the effect of permanently binding the workforce to the company. From comfortable housing estates to subsidised shops and hospitals, from pension provisions to health insurance, the Krupp workers enjoy excellent conditions. But now that Germany has lost a war that was waged with Krupp's weapons, and throughout the country a revolution is brewing, for the first time the mood begins to turn against this powerful commercial family. The family has to flee from Essen…