An interesting approach. Harding uses the inhabitants of a wooden summer house to tell the story of twentieth century German history. As they say with property, location is everything and this house certainly has the location to enable a good story to be told. Built by a Jewish family on the edge of a small lake on the outskirts of Berlin during the period of Weimar prosperity it is leased as the family flee Nazi Germany and then aryanised, each time occupied by families with their own tale of survival and/or deceit.
But back to location. At wars end the house finds itself just inside the Soviet zone of Germany and even has the 1961 Berlin wall built across its garden to block access to the lake and the west which is only a few hundred yards away on the other side. When the wall comes down the author (grandson of the daughter whose father built the house) returns to research the story and ends up setting up a charity to prevent its demolition and keep it as a monument.
In many ways the DDR part of the story is the most interesting, with its glimpses into everyday life, perhaps as this is the period with the most readily available material to the author. He is a journalist, and the approach relects that. Evidence is largely based on interviews (and as he confesses to little knowledge of German this suggests they were interpreted through a third party. Another admission indicates that interviewees were offered expenses for their time.), and the small potted history updates provided through the narrative to give the general reader a basic context are at times over simplistic (the explanation for the Berlin Blockade is one such case) or inaccurate (the Soviets did not fly jet fighters over Berlin or anywhere else in World War 2). Nonetheless the narrative is intriguing and compelling and reads easily. An attachment to the property soon develops.
The story is illustrated with ground plans that show how the design changed under different inhabitants. An accompanying web site also includes pictures and home movies taken by the original owners as well as updates on restoration progress. Unfortunately the publishers decision to put all explanatory notes at the back and not indicate in the body of the text where such a note exists has potentially deprived the reader of valuable insights. No doubt done to increase the appeal to the general reader who might be put off by footnotes this has been counter-productive as these notes are not academic, but rather complement what is in the main body of the book (background to interviews, additional details about decisions indicated in the narrative) and often are as interesting as the general text. Many readers will miss them until they are "discovered" after the last page is read.