A Congressional committee visits Berlin, and the Congresswoman from Iowa learns about a German singer and the American captain she loves.
The Congressional committee flies into the ruined city of Berlin to investigate American morale. Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) brings Captain John Pringle (John Lund) a birthday cake from Iowa. He barters it for a mattress and takes it to Erika Von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich). Two MPs come in and say Erika must go to a denazification camp, but Pringle says he will take care of it. Col. Rufus Plummer (Millard Mitchell) gives the committee a guided tour of the ruins.
Phoebe pretends to be German and goes to the Lorelei with two American soldiers. Erika sings "Black Market." Phoebe asks about the birthday cake, and John says it was stolen. Col. Plummer tells the committee what they have done to rehabilitate Germany, but Phoebe raises moral issues and complains about Erika. Phoebe asks John about her and shows him a newsreel showing Erika with a top Nazi and Hitler. Phoebe wants to find the officer who is protecting her. They stake out her place in his jeep. Erika comes out, and John pretends he does not know her. Phoebe and John search in the records, and he kisses her. Phoebe is happy.
In the morning Phoebe sees a photo of Erika on Plummer's desk. Phoebe tells John, who gets a call from Erika. John goes to see Erika at night. She wants to marry him and asks about Phoebe. John finds Phoebe wearing a glamorous dress. She wants to go to the Lorelei, and they hear Erika sing "In the Ruins of Berlin." Erika sits at their table. Phoebe wants John to go home. John is summoned to Col. Plummer. Phoebe sings the "Iowa Corn Song." The place is raided, and in the truck Erika explains to Phoebe they have to show their papers. Plummer tells John to stay away from Phoebe and to get close to Erika so that they can find her Nazi boyfriend. Erika bribes the officer to get Phoebe released, and they go to her room. Erika tells Phoebe that John is her man. Phoebe sees John come in and kiss Erika, saying that Phoebe means nothing because she is leaving. Then he sees Phoebe, and she leaves in a daze.
Phoebe waits with the committee for the weather to clear. Plummer tells Phoebe that Pringle is a target, and he gives her his letter; but she leaves the letter when they go back to the hotel. Erika sings "Lovely Illusions," and Hans Otto Birgel comes in and aims his gun at John. The light is shot out. Plummer is telling the story to Phoebe in a car, and he goes in to see the results of the shooting. Plummer says the man is dead, and Phoebe faints. Plummer lets Erika go with the eager MPs and sends more MPs to watch them. John revives Phoebe, who indicates she wants him.
This satirical black comedy explores the unusual situation
of destroyed Germany being revived by the American military and
aid, contrasting the misery of the Germans to the prosperity of
the Americans and Erika's hard experience to Phoebe's naiveté.