Walking through the lakeside village of Pieskow in Brandenburg is a lesson in history through architecture. There is the grand manor house, with a garden that sweeps down to the lake, high fences to keep out the riff-raff, and mysterious initials on the doorbell where – in a more humble abode – there would be a surname or even two. There are the classic, single-storey Brandenburg farmhouses arranged around cobble courtyards. There are prefab blocks from the GDR-era, once belonging to a holiday camp, now abandoned in the woods. Further along the shore there is a functioning holiday camp, built after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the style of Swedish or Danish boathouses… all wooden decks and stoves to keep out the cold. And there is the village church, of uneven brick and a tiled roof, the tower looking out over it all…
The village church also has a graveyard, including the final resting place of silent film stars and others from the interwar period when this lake about an hour from Berlin became a popular residence for the glitterati of the big city. But it is another gravestone that catches my eye, as well as the imagination:
Four names and a handful of dates, that offer up so many possibilities when you try to elaborate on the stories that might be contained in there. Werner and Irmgard, growing up in the Weimer Republic, both still at high school when the Nazis come to power. Werner is twenty at the outbreak of World War II, no chance of escaping the conflict. Returning at home at some point, on leave, and Irmgard is then pregnant, now in her early twenties herself… and the tragedy of Sigrid, born in 1943 and dead two years later. You have to wonder whether Werner ever knew his daughter or whether the war separated them for all of her too-short life.
No more children are buried with Mr and Mrs Schultze. Perhaps there are more, siblings to Sigrid, and they are still alive, living in Berlin or Hamburg, or perhaps even here in Pieskow itself. Or perhaps the couple lived on alone, through the years of the German Democratic Republic, when the Red Army made their presence felt on the banks of this lake, and through the changes and reunification, and the retreat of the Soviet forces both from and to countries that no longer existed. The arrival of a new century, the Schultzes well into retirement… and then that solitary year, when Werner lived alone after Irmgard had left him. He was soon to follow…
The church bells begin to ring and I am jolted from these imaginings. We are close enough to hear the pull of the rope a fraction before the sound of the bells, before we walk on, to the edge of the village where new plots of land have been carved out along the water’s edge. A couple of new houses have been built, in a kind of sub-Bauhaus-Californian style, with floor-to-ceiling windows to allow for great views of the lake. Some of the plots are empty, and we speculate on what we could build if we were to win the lottery.
After the last of the new houses the village gives way to a patch of wasteland before the forest begins in earnest. Here quad tracks have churned up the soil and flattened some young trees in the name of local entertainment. Beer bottles and crisp packets can be seen nestling in the undergrowth and there, behind a patch of saplings, a single white plastic chair, waiting for its fisherman to return. We walk home, through the village that the Schultzes once called home. It is peaceful here, in this village by the lake, but there are stories too, from the present and the past. If only there was someone here to tell them.
Words: Paul Scraton
Picture: Katrin Schönig