In the summer of 1993, Thomas Harding travelled to Germany with his grandmother to visit a house by a lake. It had been a holiday home for her family, that she had been forced to leave as the Nazis swept to power.
As he began to piece together the lives of the five families who had lived, he realised that this house had witnessed violence, betrayals and murders, had withstood the trauma of a world war and the dividing of a nation.
©2015 Thomas Harding (P)2015 W F Howes Ltd
"A gripping thriller, an unspeakable crime, an essential history." (John Le Carré on Hanns and Rudolf)
I am a linguist fascinated by anything and everything, especially things that are a bit German or Indian or have something to do with a cat!
Mark Meadows narration is excellent. It is clear throughout and his pronunciation of German words/terms is spot on, which I appreciation.
This book is actually very unique in my opinion in that it is the history of a century told from one central location, a small house in the village of Groß Glienicke close to Berlin. However, it is also a history of the village itself, and of Berlin and of Germany. I also think that the best history books are those that tell the story through they eyes of the people who experienced it, which this book does brilliantly.
I felt a lot of the characters touched me in their own way. The Jewish Alexander family, who bought the house as a family retreat, only to have to abandon it following anti-Semitic persecution by the ruling Nazi party. Then the famous German composer Will Meisel and his famous actress wife who also abandoned it following Soviet occupation of East Germany. Then Kühne who lived their probably the longest but could never look out and see the lake due to the Berlin wall blocking the view. It is fascinating how world events outside had such an impact on all who lived in the little house.
I felt quite amazed toward the end of the book, just looking back at how time passes and life goes on. I did feel quite emotional after finishing the book and then looking online at the restoration project, Alexander Haus. There are some videos on that site, one is filmed when Elsie Harding (one of the Alexander daughters) then elderly returns to the house and meets Wolfgang Kühne who then shows her around her past childhood retreat. Elsie recalls how it all used to be, and I felt a tear well up then.
This is a very special and important book in European, and indeed, world history. I speak German so I was able to understand the occasional German word. This isn't essential but it is nice to understand the title of a song, or something written on a sign, there aren't loads of these and the important ones usually have translation by the author. As someone who is very interested in Germany this was especially interesting to me. I also enjoyed learning about the composer Will Meisel, whose film scores I will now have to dig out and listen to! Overall this is a remarkable story of people and of a place that connects them all together throughout generations.
The book depicts the history of this house near Berlin which saw inhabitants from the mid 1800s whose lives together make up a history lesson about Germany. German society and politics under the Kaiser, before and after WW1 and WW2 are illustrated through the series of owners and inhabitants of the house, including the author's ancestors.
Especially the early parts of the book were interesting, although much of the personal details of the inhabitants seemed unnecessary and the descriptive details were too concise to keep my attention all of the times.
The stories about the house after WW2 began to be more interesting again, with a variety of information about life in Eastern Germany that were impressive. Again, I felt uncomfortable knowing some of the more personal details of the inhanitants, thinking that I would not have that kind of information out there about me and my family.
At that point the book lost me again, as I wondered how ethical is was to document such information for the purpose of the book. It dawned on me that this was going to be a literary museum ratehr than an edited story.
The main point about the house is that many parties lay claim to it, due to changes of laws and misappropriations at various stages in history.
The house has become somewhat of a symbol of the history of Germany. Like I would in a museum, I wanted to skip the parts that weren't of interest to me and that contained too many details.
The ending made up for it with a rather moving last chapter and epilogue. Definitely recommended for people interested in European history and probably better read, as it is easier to skip parts and to benefit from the illustrations.
Brilliant! I have listened to this several times and have painted images in my head of the house, the people and Berlin ... Great that it is now listed and I want to visit sometime in the future.
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