The House by the Lake


Writer Thomas Harding’s grandmother, Elsie called The House By the Lake her ‘soul place‘. When Thomas Harding sought it out in 2013, he discovered a ‘building overgrown by bushes‘ with windows broken and the inside ‘full of broken furniture and rubbish‘. As he worked to rebuild it, he traced the story of the families and people who’d lived there. It began with his great-grandfather, Dr Alfred Alexander.

When his family was forced to flee as Jewish immigrants to London, the home was taken over by the Gestapo. A music-publisher and film star lived in the house during the war, with their Hitler Youth sons, until they sought safety in Austria as the war ended. Soviet forces, thereafter, compelled the Hartmanns to leave the house in which they’d taken shelter. At that point, a street cleaner/ Stasi spy occupied the house before the Berlin Wall separated it from the lake. It lay empty from 1999.

Not only is this a captivating history, but it is told with such eloquence and sympathy. Britta Teckentrup’s pictures are glorious, tinged with nostalgia, grief and longing, or slanted with bright beams of hope.

Bookwagon is moved and awed by The House on the Lake. We recommend this beautiful book as a gift, a title to be cherished at home, and shared and read at school.

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The House by the Lake

The Story of a Home and a Hundred Years of History

Thomas Harding, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

(Walker Studio)

Writer Thomas Harding shares the story of The House by the Lakeon the outskirts of Berlin’. It begins with the ‘kind doctor and his cheery wife’ who want ‘to live with their four children away from the busy city‘. Thereafter, they enjoy an idyllic life of asparagus growing and bedtime stories. However years pass and the mood changes until ‘angry men in uniform’ order the family to leave.
A second family includes two boys who march ‘on the wooden floors’ while the house surrenders its metal guttering for guns. However the family departs when the father is instructed to join the war. At that point, the house stands abandoned apart from a couple who seek shelter ‘from the fear and the fighting‘. Thereafter, it is discovered by ‘a man with a fluffy hat‘ and ‘his two children‘. How might they make the house feel alive again? Moreover, could the ‘giant wall‘ built through the garden harm this chance of happiness? Might it usher in a time of spying and unending greyness?
The concept of homes and families, history and change is examined with such sympathy and foresight by Thomas Harding. Furthermore, the pictures are glorious. Somehow Britta Teckentrup is able to conjure up feelings of nostalgia, loss and hope. Her tones, colour palette and framing are sublime.
Bookwagon is awed and moved by The House By the Lake. We recommend it for home bookshelves and sharing in schools. This is a very special picture book that would be appreciated by readers of all ages.


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