Berlin History

Schlachtensee 1940

These photographs taken last autumn I found unbearable to contemplate only a few weeks ago. But now, with warmer days, summer afternoons by one of Berlin’s many lakes do not seem that far away.

The Schlachtensee is in Berlin’s southwest. You can get there by S-Bahn train. With a long walk along the lake’s edge, you come to a very good beer garden. I love to swim in the bracing water and then drink lager or flinty white wine. As the sun falls, the light reflects from the lake to the tables, the empty glasses, and the sun-dazzled bathers.


The beer garden is in front of what was originally a 1750 building, the Fischerhütte, or Fisherman’s Hut, where there is a restaurant. Inside there are historical photographs and postcards.

One postcard records the dining room and the view over the lake in the year 1940. The tables are set with fine china and crystal, but the places are not yet occupied. To see the dining room deserted in that year leaves me with an eery feeling. I feel anticipation for the guests to arrive, but we will not see them. The sense of anticipation seems shared; the guests I think must be speculating about what lies ahead with the new war. I now know what these guests would like to know. They might all be ghosts by now. The view to the lake through the dining room windows has remained unchanged. The view connects the past to the present, the missing guests to us. The lake is quite indifferent as to whether the photograph was taken in 1940 or 2010.

Now, it is spring in Berlin and the trees are about to bloom. I am thinking about the lake and wine and the sun and how I will go swimming as soon as I possibly can.


Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

One thought on “Schlachtensee 1940

  • James Helgeson

    I love these photos, and this post. I didn´t know the Fischerhütte was from the 18th century! Soon it will be like this again. PLLP.

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