The House by the Lake – Machine Learning really works!

book_coverAs some friends know, I’ve been using the Goodreads site and app, rating all my favorite books, and seeing what recommendations pop up – kind of my own personal big data & analytics research project to see if their machine learning algorithms pass muster!

Not that I plan to write a book report for every book I come across, but for history buffs, I think I struck gold with this one. In my opinion, The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding (not to be confused with the Lake House) is a real treasure.

As one reviewer wrote, it is the best kind of history – it takes you right into the past and makes it real. I’ve found myself thinking about this book for the past several weeks.

It’s a true story set in Germany starting in the early 1900s. It chronicles the history of a Lake House owned by a Jewish family, the Alexanders.  Anyone with a family cottage will be able to relate even though it is almost 100 years in the past.

It chronicles the history and tragedies in Germany over the past hundred years telling the story from the perspective of the house and its many occupants. It takes you through the post WW I period, through the depression, the rise of the Nazi party, WW II, the division of Germany, the Berlin airlift, the cold war and building of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet union and more. It turns out that this particular Lake House was located just a few kilometers from checkpoint Charlie, and at one point the Berlin Wall actually ran a few meters from the house dividing West Berlin and East Germany. The author is a descendant of the Alexander family (the original owners) living in the UK. He describes his efforts to save the house from demolition and to have it preserved as a German historic site.

What’s even cooler (this part is my contribution) is that if you read the book while studying Google Maps you’ll get an even better sense of the area.  Although they don’t provide an address in the book, there is enough information to locate satellite imagery of the house in present day. As you read the book you can find the ruins many structures referenced (airfields, tank training grounds, military barracks, the Berlin wall etc.

Anyway – if you decide to have a look, the book us on the Apple Bookestore or Amazon. (There are at least two books with the same name, so check it is the correct one before you buy it!)

You can see the website at http://www.alexanderhaus.org/ and the latest blog entries on the site from August 2016. (scroll down the page for English translation)

It took me a while to find it, but If you key this address into Google Maps, you should find the house where it stands today. (I’m almost positive this is house from studying maps in the book and other details – you can tell from the floor plans in the book that the roof-line matches and pictures in the blog show the adjacent properties )

Am Park 2, 14476 Potsdam, Germany

Here is a direct link with the lat / long coordinates.

the_alexander_house

Screen capture from Google Maps showing location of the Alexander House today

You can find most of the ruins of WW II and Cold War era structures they refer to in the by zooming into different areas using Google Maps.

the_alexander_house_2

Wide area view showing WW II era airport and Tank Training grounds in West Berlin to the North East and house which found itself just on the East German side of the border (in this area, Eastern Germany was actually to the west of West Berlin)

Anyway – if you decide to read it I’ll be interested in what you think.