The Same Lakeside House


Groß Glienicke lake, 1992

From The Guardian:

In the sand of Brandenburg, every square foot of ground has its story and is telling it, too – but one has to be willing to listen to these often quiet voices.” Thomas Harding chooses this quote, from Theodor Fontane, to open his personal, yet historically wide-ranging, account. One of Harding’s strengths is his willingness to listen and to record without fanfare the tales of generations of families who lived in the same lakeside house, of winters both beautiful and harrowing, of a garden’s way of counting time, of dreams fulfilled and broken. And tales, too, of dancing to the tune of bureaucracies and regimes of different hues, and how one place – a simple wooden one-level structure – came to represent a haven and sanctuary. For Harding’s grandmother Elsie, daughter of the original owner, the Jewish doctor Alfred Alexander, it was her “soul place” and she mourned it.

Harding’s purpose in revisiting the house in Groß Glienicke, a village on the edge of Berlin, shifts from a personal quest to something more all encompassing. As his knowledge of the building and its past grows, each account shared, each document perused, is another crumb along the path to a complete and very German story.

From the last years of imperial Germany, through the Weimar Republic and the heyday of Berlin in the 1920s, the story goes on to the Wall Street crash and the strain of war reparations and the Third Reich. It continues through Soviet occupation and communist rule, then reunification and the new “Ortsfremde” (“incomers”), thanks to whom the lake is once again used as a weekend retreat. In some ways, this book is the companion piece to Jenny Erpenbeck’s 2011 novel, Visitation, a superb fictional portrait of another Brandenburg house. Both are treasure troves of detail, narrated with a calm dignity.

“The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding review – the German 20th century story told through a single building”, Rebecca K Morrison, The Guardian