A Finalist for the Costa Biography Award
Longlisted for the Orwell Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by
The Times (London) • New Statesman (London) • Daily Express (London) • Commonweal magazine
In the summer of 1993, Thomas Harding traveled to Germany with his grandmother to visit a small house by a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. It had been her “soul place,” she said—a holiday home for her and her family, but also a refuge—until the 1930s, when the Nazis’ rise to power forced them to leave.
The trip was his grandmother’s chance to remember her childhood sanctuary as it was. But the house had changed, and when Harding returned once again nearly twenty years later, it was about to be demolished. It now belonged to the government, and as Harding began to inquire about whether the house could be saved, he unearthed 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 widow and her children, a Stasi informant. All had made the house their home, and all but one had been forced out.
The house had weathered storms, fires and abandonment, witnessed violence, betrayals and murders, and had withstood the trauma of a world war and the dividing of a nation. Breathtaking in scope and intimate in its detail, The House by the Lake is a groundbreaking and revelatory new history of Germany, told over a tumultuous century through the story of a small wooden house.
Harding (Hanns and Rudolf), a British-American journalist and nonfiction writer, profiles five diverse families that over the course of nearly a century either owned or rented a single house on the outskirts of Berlin. Harding uses these families the Wollanks, the Alexanders (Harding's ancestors), the Meisels, the Fuhrmanns, and the K hns as a prism through which to look at the history of 20th- and early 21st-century Germany. Given his Jewish family's experience, he pays particular attention to the house and the town in which it was situated, Gros Glienicke, during WWII French POWs were housed there, and Soviet forces subjected the town's women to mass rape in 1945 and in the Cold War, when the house and town were located in East Germany. Harding notes how the town prospered after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but the house itself fell into disrepair, housing squatters until Harding and his family, as well as some locals, made an effort to clean and reconstruct it. Harding's well-written, thoroughly researched work brings a long period of German history down to a local, human scale. Maps & illus.