A few days into the New Year and we have headed down to Wannsee, the resort on a lake that sits within Berlin’s city limits. In the summer thousands head for the bathing beach, or walk and ride the shoreline path, but in the early days of January it feels as if we have the place to ourselves. As we leave the villas that line the lake behind us and walk through the trees with the water just a few metres away, all we can hear are the birds, the distant hum of a main road, and the occasional airplane. The lake is still, and there is little breeze. It is almost as if the weather has taken a holiday, along with most of the city.
After a walk out to the headland and a long view down the Havel towards the Teufelsberg in the north, we head back to the statue of a lion that stands above the boathouses and marks the beginning of town. There are still remnants of the New Years Eve fireworks standing at the foot of the statue, and the odd discarded beer and sekt bottle. From the balcony where the lion stands it is possible to look out over the lake from a slightly elevated position, but there is little to see, except for a pair of kayakers chasing the slipstream of the BVG ferry that crosses each hour between Wannsee and Kladow on the opposite bank.
This is a peaceful place, but disturbing also, as next door to where we are standing is the villa which housed the Wannsee Conference, where leading members of the Nazi regime met in 1942 to plan the genocide of the Holocaust. Every time I come here it brings me up short, and I have written about it before on Traces of a Border:
“And beyond the sheer scale of the horrors unleashed by National Socialism in Germany, the millions murdered, damaged and displaced, it is this thought that continues to horrify; the ordinariness of these men, and the bureaucratic nature of their crimes. Numbers and figures pushed around on pieces of paper, whilst coffee sat in neat white china cups and the windows looked out onto one of the loveliest corners of the city.”
Today I am with Lotte, and once again am aware of the fact that one day we will have to talk to her about this history, the history of her country, but today is not that day, and although I know that day will come sooner rather than later, I am grateful that I have a little more time.
We make our way around to Wannsee harbour, the ferry long departed and the rest of the boats – pleasure cruisers mainly – are firmly tied up to the jetty. On the promenade an old lady sits on a bench and looks out over the lake. A couple of Turkish women in headscarves take it in turns to pose for smartphone pictures with the water in the background. We do the same, but it is starting to go dark in the early afternoon. No people, no boats and no weather to speak of. The landing as we slide into 2014 has been soft.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton
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