After having shot The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser with Bruno Schleinstein, Herzog had originally planned to use the actor again in the title role of his film Woyzeck, which was released in 1979. Eventually he considered Klaus Kinski to be more suitable for the part. To compensate Schleinstein for his disappointment, he sat down and wrote the script of this tragicomedy in four days, which is partly based on Schleinstein's own life.
Bruno Stroszek, a Berlin street performer, has just been released from prison on the condition that he will stay clear of alcohol. His first stop as a free man is a bar, where he meets Eva, a prostitute, who wants to leave that life behind. Bruno takes her home with him. Refusing to accept her decision, her pimps turn up for payback, deeply humiliating Bruno in the process. Deeming it time to leave Germany, they join Bruno's eccentric neighbour Scheitz, who is moving to the US, and end up in Wisconsin. Here life also turns out to be far from easy.