My 12 in 12 Challenge – October – History – Book 10

Thomas Harding’s family originated in Germany. During the 1930s they bought The House by the Lake but being Jews they were eventually forced to flee their homeland and their property was allocated to another. When the author returned to Germany in the early years of this century he found the house was about to be destroyed and was currently owned by the local authority. To avoid this he had to prove that it was a house of historical significance – this book is his proof.

This is the story of a house and the people who owned it. Designed originally as a holiday cottage for people living in nearby Berlin it moved from one owner to another depending on the circumstances of the time in Germany. Immediately following the war the house ended up in East Germany and the Berlin wall was eventually built at the end of the garden.

This is the story of a country during the twentieth century told through the story of the house and those who lived in it. It covers the Weimar republic, the rise of Hitler, WW2, the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall. As it is within living memory the book includes facts gleaned from interviews with people. It also has a raft of pictures and floor plans of the cottage showing how it changed with each new inhabitant.

This book is well told and easy to read. The stories of each individual family and their circumstances are fascinating and very human – we are asked all the way through to consider what we would have done in the situations which faced very ordinary people. The author includes lots of context information about living in Germany during this period which helps the reader to understand the decisions that people made.

I found that I couldn’t put this book down because I was so interested in the story – I think this is because the writing style is straightforward and very easy to read. This puts a human side on to a history that we know generally. The use of the house as a method of telling the story is inspired. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in people, history or even houses.