In 1772, Johann Goethe (Alexander Fehling) is a handsome and rebellious student who fails his bar exam. His domineering and wealthy father (Henry Hubchen) is dismayed when he learns of his son's yearning to be a poet. In order to instill in him more discipline and responsibility, his father uses his influence to get Goethe a job as a lowly county clerk in a small town. There he is befriended by Jerusalem (Volker Bruch), another clerk who is ridiculed by his peers for his slow work habits. At a dance Goethe has a surprising encounter with Lotte (Miriam Stein), a beautiful young lady with a wild tangle of red hair. She lives with her large family in a slum and takes care of the household. When the two clerks stop by to visit her they have a grand time together. Goethe learns that she is an exquisite singer at church and a lover of poetry and drama.
Back in the court room, Kestner (Moritz Bleibtreu), an ambitious prosecutor and Goethe's persnickety boss, is quite impressed with the young man's skills. In fact, he sees him as his number one clerk. None of this means much to Goethe whose romance with Lotte has moved on to a new stage of intimacy. He shares a poem he wrote with her and that seals the deal between them. They are soon hoping to be together for the rest of their lives. But Lotte's father (Burghart Klaussner) has been secretly meeting with Kestner about the prosecutor's enchantment with his daughter. He is convinced that Lotte can save her siblings from financial catastrophe by marrying this older man.
Those familiar with Shakespeare in Love will be reminded of such themes as the link between love and creativity and the necessity for following one's bliss. Philipp Stoelzl keeps the energy flowing in this biopic about the romantic Teuton writer who would go on to an illustrious literary career. The drama presents a vivid portrait of another father whose obsession with money compels him to emotionally blackmail his daughter into a marriage to a man she does not love.
Goethe would later write: "To know of someone here and there whom we accord with, who is living on with us, even in silence — this makes our earthly ball a peopled garden." Not a bad description of the role of the muse that Lotte plays in his artistic development and the success of his autobiographical masterwork The Sorrows of Young Werther. Miriam Stein is luminous as Goethe's lover and muse.