Cold War Recreation on Berlin's Wannsee

The Wannsee is a lake that sits along the western edge of Berlin from Potsdam in the south until it narrows into the Havel River northeast of the British Yacht Club south of Gatow. The American military ran a recreation center at the southeast end of the Wannsee that consisted of a chateau, a large sloping lawn from the chateau to a marina, and a swimming pool. I never took a dip in the pool; there were precious few days in my three years in Berlin that I considered suitable for outdoor swimming. But I did go to at least one raucous party at the chateau. And I spent a day sailing on the Wannsee courtesy of the American Yacht Club Berlin located at the rec center. It was a leisurely "follow the leader" sail. The winds were light and the sailing was nice and lazy. The highlight of the day was docking at the British Yacht Club for a lunch of shepherd's pie, beer, and camaraderie. On a summer day sometime later, Kerry and I and a number of friends (fellow Field Station linguists Ken Burland, Kevin Lacroix, and, as I recall, Tom Wilson, along with Ann Burland and Brenda Lacroix) chartered a small cabin cruiser for an afternoon/evening cruise of the Wannsee and Havel. The weather was unusually mild for a cruise that featured food, beer, and lots of laughs. I spent a number of other days at various spots along the lake just walking around, sometimes taking pictures, sometimes stopping for lunch, and always enjoying the setting. The Wannsee and all it had to offer were significant parts of West Berlin's self-contained charm.

My two experiences on the water were the inspiration for a couple of scenes on the Wannsee in my spy novel The Heraklion Gambit. I also used the chateau, or a fictionalized version of it, as the setting for the first meet and greet between Nick Temple and Vanessa Porter in the same book. I had to dig out a few photographs and do a bit of research to make sure I was getting the geography of the place right. But the main source for all three of the scenes are the wonderful memories I still have and will always treasure from three years in Berlin.

The Chateau at the Wannsee Rec Center, February 1985

The Chateau at the Wannsee Rec Center, February 1985