Schadenfreude is derived from a German word meaning “harmful pleasure.”
It is all about pleasure derived from bringing about or witnessing the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures. It is an expression of pleasure or self-satisfaction at another’s failure.
The prescriptive easement (there are very few of these complex legal access permits in the entire country) that allows for the existence of the Geneva Lake Shore Path has brought this German word right into the forefront in trying to understand how and why this really neat public access has come under such scrutiny and fire lately. Quite innocently, the myTeam Triumph organization recently attempted to schedule a run around the lake for participating members. Many other much smaller groups had filed for similar permits through the years, but little comment was made about their events. The size of the myTeam Triumph event, however, caught everyone’s attention.
It was only after some considerable study that the true nature of the path was revealed. The path was established informally over a hundred and fifty years ago, going back to the very origins of the lake’s settlement in the 1800s. The ‘prescriptive’ nature of the path is in the word’s definition (restraint). The easement was confirmed in the nineteen thirties by the courts to allow a restrictive covenant to be added to all lake shore owned properties that required a two-foot wide section to run across the lower part of any lake shore property around Geneva Lake. Although the courts confirmed the existence of this easement, they did not assign authority, or responsibility, or even accountability. Since the path’s origin it has depended upon locals
and visitors to treat the path as a gentle blessing, and to care for it themselves.
That worked for a long time. Recently, however, that all changed, as first the myTeam Triumph people (who’ve cancelled their event out of care for the
path and community), and now an even larger veteran’s group, sized up the path as an acceptable place to funnel huge groups of people over the landowner properties on that two-foot wide stretch of scenic undeveloped walkway. The land owners have reacted to protect the path and their rights.
The community of Lake Geneva, however, and a few other organizations, have gone the other way. The different groups and key individuals have been
named in this issue of the Geneva Shore Report. Why would any group of people, particularly those organized and grounded in and around Geneva Lake, not support protecting and preserving the path, and the pristine nature of the lake it meanders around?
A one-word description of the elated Lake Geneva City Council meeting, when the path was discussed and permission was given (to myTeam Triumph, before their cancellation) seems most appropriate. It’s the headline of this papers’ front page. That night there seemed to be a sense of heady elation, as the path was considered for large group and running access. There was little rationality evident on the council that night (except for John Halverson, former editor of the Lake Geneva Regional News and now alderperson) with respect to giving myTeam Triumph a permit.