The House by the Lake

The House by the Lake

One House, Five Families, and A Hundred Years of German History

Book - 2016
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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 Jewishfamily, 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.

Publisher: New York : Picador, 2016.
Copyright Date: ©2015.
ISBN: 9781250065063
Characteristics: xix, 442 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations, maps, portraits, genealogical tables ;,25 cm.


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Jun 11, 2017

An incredible, engrossing well written account of one house and 5 families that spans a century - the 20th - of Germany's history. It is written and told in a way that makes it much more enjoyable than a straightforward history. I could not put it down! And I learned so much! I highly recommend this amazing true story.

Mar 20, 2017

An interesting way of viewing history: through the various owners and tenants of a much-loved house. The place was originally built by a Jewish doctor in the mid 1920's Germany, near to Berlin and sitting within view of a lovely lake. When the Nazis came to power, of course, then the original family fled and the house was then occupied by a variety of renters. This house saw the glory days of the 20's, the rise of Nazism, the days of Stalin and Soviet influence, and finally the fall of the Wall and freedom. Lots of photos and a personal tie to the house by the author make the entire story come alive.

Nov 25, 2016

Recommended by Jan Michalek

Sep 19, 2016

The Alexander family built, in 1927, a modest lake home near Potsdam, outside Berlin, as a weekend retreat. Their grandson, a British journalist, revisits it in recent years, finding it abandoned and ready for demolition. His book looks at those who lived there, but more interesting, writes a history of a small community just outside the Berlin Wall after World War II.

Reading this book is wonderful social history. It reminded me of a book read a few years back, Simon Mawer’s 'The Glass Room,' which tells the stories of those who built and lived in Villa Tugendhat, designed by Mies van der Rohe, in Brno in the Czech Republic. Theirs is a story, like the Alexanders, of a Jewish family who had to abandon so much that they loved to escape the Nazis.

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