The House By the Lake by Thomas Harding- History of a Home


House by lake hardingThe House by the Lake by Thomas Harding: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time reading books I would have avoided a few years ago… books about Germany in the 20th century. The emotional toll was just too high. But, despite my anxiety about going down that road, a number of interesting and informative books have been published lately, and I felt it was time to understand that part of history. “The House by the Lake”  by Thomas Harding subtitled.. Berlin, One House, Five Families, A Hundred Years of History… was handed to me by good friends, and I’m so glad they did. The book draws you in from the start, and keeps you intrigued until the last page. This is not a book about politics, not a book about evil, not a book about who is right and who is wrong… it’s a book about a house, and the people who lived there… and how their lives were affected by the events of the 20th century.


The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding

Thomas Harding the great-grandson of the original owner of Glienicke, the House by the Lake, describes his  quest to find the house again, not to own it, rather, to preserve it. To let help the house stand as a memory of a time that used to be. Thomas’s Grandmother, Elsie, spent summers at the house on Groß Glienicke Lake… on the edge of Berlin.

The land around Groß Glienicke lake was owned by the Wollack family, and part of a huge estate. Alfred Alexander (Harding’s Grandfather) was a wealthy Jewish doctor in Berlin, a WW1 Veteran and hero, who leased a plot land, and built a rustic summer house in view of the lake, with access to the water. The house was close enough to the city to commute if needed, but far enough from the center to provide a real break from the bustle of Germany’s capitol. 

Glienicke was not your typical “German style” home. It was built without insulation from simple materials. Rooms were small and the children’s bedrooms had “pull down” beds or bunk beds. The dining area was an L-shaped bench around a table, and there was an open fireplace in the corner. French doors showed off the primary focus of the home, the outdoors. This was a place where kids could roam free, splashing in the water and adventuring in the woods.  And it was also a place for the adults to really let their hair down, to wear comfortable clothes, and live with fewer restrictions. Life at Glenieke was idyllic.

house by lake harding

Political Changes, and a New Family in the House

The original owner, Alfred Alexander always assumed that his military service in WW1, and his status in the City as a prominent doctor, would make him immune to Jewish persecution, but it was not to be. The Alexandar family left for England, and composer August Meisel and his wife moved in.

In time, 5 families would have an impact on the little house. It survived active families, bombing raids, and the Russian Army. It remained standing when the Wall was built across the backyard, separating it from the lake.

House by Lake Harding

The Border between East and West ran right down the center of the Lake…

When Thomas Harding was able to find the home again, it was a filthy mess. The last tenant used the cottage as a party house, and the locals wanted the eyesore torn down. Still, there was hope. The building was still structurally sound… and contained beautiful architectural elements. Harding was able to convince his family to lend a hand, and they managed to clean the house, and convince the city that the little house at Groß Glienicke lake was worth saving.

Witnessing History

What makes this book so fascinating is how much information there is about the lives of ordinary people who lived in the house. These weren’t particularly famous people, yet Harding was able to piece together the stories of their lives through research and interviews. The composer, the Stasi informant, even the children who lived in the house are fleshed out and made real. And central to it all… there is a house.

The House by the Lake is a story of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. I think part of what drew me to the story, is the parallels to my own life. My mother had to leave the home her grandfather built in Silesia, and today a Polish family lives there. Do they ever wonder about the people who lived there before?


Buy Your Copy of The House by the Lake Here

The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German HistoryThe House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History


Other Books About German History You May Enjoy

house by lake harding

5 thoughts on “The House By the Lake by Thomas Harding- History of a Home

  1. This book sounds like a very interesting read. I am very curious to check it out.

  2. I think I would like to read this book! I love historical fiction and narrative non-fiction, especially around WW2, and this one sounds like it mirrors some of my family’s history.

    1. Although this book is non-fiction, it reads like fiction. He tells the story very well.

  3. I bought the book after your recommendation . I loved it. Harding made me feel like I was there and like any good book was sad when it was done.
    I was born in Germany post war, we left in 1954 when I was 8. I had heard so many stories from my parents about the war and all that they went through. Having the events brought to us from year to year made me understand the history and what the German people all went through. Makes you wonder how people can possibly treat other people that way. It made me understand the events so much better than I ever had. We are not Jewish, therefore did no experience that horror but my Mother said she didn’t know what was really going on. Jewish friends were no longer there. She though they were just in camps. My father was in the war and probably had an idea and never really talked much about those details.
    Having grown up in the US yet having a strong German influence made for a somewhat confused upbringing. I rejected most everything German for many years but now that I am older and wiser and been working on my family tree, I appreciate learning what I can and passing my history on to my children and grandchildren.

    1. I understand what you are saying… how could such a thing happen? I think people get swept up into a belief, or feel safer not digging deeper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!