The story begins in a fictional monastery somewhere in northern Germany, of the "Cantorianer" order. We gather that this order claims to encounter God primarily in music, and that it was excommunicated from the Catholic Church many years ago. The last four monks are eking out a poor existence (but singing beautifully) among otherwise deserted buildings, when the landowner comes with an impossible demand for back rent. The Abbot has a heart attack, tells the others to take the precious old book containing the order's rules, and travel to the only other monastery of the order, in Italy; he then dies. The remaining three set out on foot across country with little idea of the route. Benno (Michael Gwisdek) acts as leader; he is an ascetic lover of books. Tassilo (Matthias Brenner) is always hungry. Arbo (Daniel Brühl) is still young - he came to the monastery as a baby and has never known the outside world. They nearly get run over by Chiara (Chiara Schoras), an attractive reporter from Stuttgart out on a job; she gives them a lift, and when she runs out of petrol ends up spending the night camped out in the woods with them. Arbo, who has never met a woman before, is fascinated with her and she with him. Next day Tassilo realizes they are not far from where he grew up (he became a monk at fourteen). They drive to his home town and find his elderly mother; after an inner conflict he decides to stay with her when the others leave. Chiara takes the two to Stuttgart and puts them on a train; they fail to make the necessary change and land up in Karlsruhe late at night. On the street near the station they are seen by an old friend of Benno's, who takes them back to the Catholic church center where he works. Next day he successfully tempts Benno with all the old books in their library and gets him to stay - meanwhile he tries to steal the Cantorianer rules from him. Arbo deplores Benno's decision, smuggles the book out of the building and contacts Chiara for help. She can't come till next morning, so he's stuck on the streets... where he gets picked up by a group of young people who take him to a party and get him drunk. This makes him very ill and he wakes up in hospital to find Chiara and Tassilo, who has now reconsidered and left his mother again. Chiara takes Arbo back to a hotel where they have a love scene while Tassilo is out. Then together they plan to "rescue" Benno: they sneak in to the Cathedral on Sunday, Chiara persuades the organist to change one of the hymns, Arbo and Tassilo begin to sing their special harmonies to it until Benno is overcome and joins in. The three run from the people trying to hold them back, catch a train and proceed to Italy. They find the remote monastery and join in the life there. However, after a while Arbo receives a package from Chiara - the old tuning fork which he'd left with her - and is moved to leave once more... We last see him on an old bus vanishing down the road.