This summer I read ‘The House by the Lake: a Story of Germany’ by Thomas Harding. This book was different from what I normally read, but I really liked it… Let me tell you why!
The House by the Lake: a Story of Germany – Summary
This is (part of) the summary I could read on Goodreads:
“In the summer of 1993, Thomas Harding travelled to Germany with his grandmother to visit a small house by a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. It had been her ‘soul place’ as a child, she said – a holiday home for her and her family, but much more – a sanctuary, a refuge. In the 1930s, she had been forced to leave the house, fleeing to England as the Nazis swept to power. The trip, she said, was a chance to see it one last time, to remember it as it was. But the house had changed. Nearly twenty years later Thomas returned to the house. It was government property now, derelict, and soon to be demolished. It was his legacy, one that had been loved, abandoned, fought over – a house his grandmother had desired until her death. Could it be saved? And should it be saved?
He began to make tentative enquiries – speaking to neighbours and villagers, visiting archives, unearthing secrets that had lain hidden for decades. Slowly he began to piece together the lives of the five families who had lived there – a wealthy landowner, a prosperous Jewish family, a renowned composer, a widower and her children, a Stasi informant. All had made the house their home, and all – bar one – had been forced out. The house had been the site of domestic bliss and of contentment, but also of terrible grief and tragedy. It had weathered storms, fires and abandonment, witnessed violence, betrayals and murders, had withstood the trauma of a world war, and the dividing of a nation. (…)”
The House by the Lake: a Story of Germany – My thoughts on this book
What attracted me to this book was what was printed on the cover: Berlin. One House. Five Families. A hundred years of History.
At first I thought this book would be a traditional family saga, spanning several generations over several decades. But actually this book is not about one family, but about five families who have one thing in common: the house they lived in… The House by the Lake.
The story is based on true events and is the result of years and years of research by the author Thomas Harding, whose ancestors once were residents of the house.
The house, which was built by Harding’s great grandfather in 1927, stands on the shores of the Gross Glienicker See, a large lake about 20 kilometers west of Berlin. Because of that location, it played in important role in the history of Germany during the 20th century. It lies close to Gatow Airfield which was built by the National Socialists in 1935 and which was an important training institute for the Luftwaffe.
After the war, the Berlin Wall was erected dividing the house from the lake. The house is cut off from West Berlin and the lake itself became a derilict place, polluted and unusable for many decades.
This book offers a fascinating look on the history of Germany. Of course I knew all about the rise and fall from the Third Reich, the persecution of the Jews and the division between the East and the West… bud did I really??
Harding’s book has really broadened my mind concerning the consequences of the 2nd World War for the ordinary Germans and how the defeat inflicted on everybody’s lives, especially on the ones living in East Germany.
As the House by the Lake was located on DDR-ground, the book gives a very good indication of how living in East Germany must have been. The many disadvantages included being constantly under the watchful eye of the Stasi, not being able to travel abroad or even to see your relatives in West Berlin, not being able to see, do and say what you please… it must have been so suffocating!
But when the Berlin Wall fell, it once again had its impact on the inhabitants of East Germany as they were exposed to the wealth of the West. Everything became much more expensive and they had to pay for everything (housing, childcare, schools,…) as opposed to everything being provided by the government…
This book isn’t romanticised at all. It gives you an honest and true insight on the history of Germany. Harding’s writing is clear and fluent offering a fascinating look on how the Second World War had its impact on numerous generations.
A book about German history… now that might not sound too appealing. But you should really give this book a try and you’ll be amazed by how much an impact this book has on your knowledge about a bit of history you might not have mastered…