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Stroszek, a German soldier wounded in combat, is sent in 1944 to a Nazi-occupied Greek island to guard an old fortress, accompanied by his wife, Nora, and two other soldiers, Meinhard and Becker. With nothing to do, they are forced to find ways to occupy their time. They paint their living quarters, acquire some chickens and a goat, and, discovering an ammunition depot full of explosives, make rockets. Becker begins to translate the ancient Greek texts carved in stone around the castle and learns that it was once occupied by pirates who were all hanged; Meinhard devises an elaborate contraption for catching cockroaches, which he executes in military fashion. A mysterious Gypsy appears and gives them a wooden owl whose eyes and ears are agitated by flies imprisoned inside. But the general tedium causes Stroszek to show signs of insanity, and he becomes visibly disturbed after hearing a pianist play Chopin. He then appeals to his commanding officer, who assigns him to patrol a nearby ridge with Meinhard. When they come to a field of windmills, Stroszek goes berserk, firing at the windmills; and Meinhard subdues him. Nora and Meinhard report the incident to the commanding officer, who decides to send Stroszek back to Germany. Feeling betrayed, Stroszek forces Nora, Meinhard, and Becker to leave the fortress and begins firing on the town, even threatening to blow it up. Though his rebellion ends in failure, his descent into madness has produced some "signs of life."