This press photograph doesn’t have the year printed on it, but the caption on the back contains some clues:
National festival of the American colony at Berlin on the 4th of July, the day of the declaration of independence of America. The festival was held in the garden-plot of the “Esplanade-Hotel” at Berlin. Our photo shows the members of the American colony with the American ambassador Mr. Gerard (1) and his wife and the American consul-general Mr. Lay (2).
James W. Gerard served as American Ambassador to Germany under President Woodrow Wilson from 1913 until the cessation of diplomatic relations between the two countries on February 3, 1917.
Update: In the original version of this post, I dated the photo to July 4, 1916, based on information about Consul General Julius G. Lay on Wikipedia, which says that he was in Berlin in 1916-17. However, since then I’ve come across references in news reports to a party he hosted on July 4, 1915, at the Esplanade Hotel. I’ve found no references to a party the following year (although it can’t be ruled out). I therefore conclude that the photo was likely taken in 1915, not 1916. (See one report from 1915 here.)
I have to admit that my first reaction to this photo was to feel appalled at the thought of any kind of celebration in the middle of such a terrible war. That said, this was a period of intense diplomacy for the United States, which was still formally a neutral power, and a gathering like this one could have served as an opportunity for diplomatic interaction. German and other guests were likely in attendance. Ambassador Gerard’s Wikipedia page gives an idea of the complicated position of the American Mission:
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Gerard assumed the care of British interests in Germany, later visiting the camps where British prisoners were confined and doing much to alleviate their condition. His responsibilities were further increased by the fact that German interests in France, Great Britain, and Russia were placed in the care of the American embassies in those countries, the American embassy in Berlin thus becoming a sort of clearing house. […]
After the sinking of the RMS Lusitania with many United States residents on board, on May 7, 1915, Gerard’s position became more difficult.
I won’t try to show close-ups of everyone in the photograph, but you can see Gerard and Lay below. Ambassador Gerard is on the left and Consul General Lay is on the right:
In the foreground, a couple is seated prominently in what might be interpreted as a position of honor. The man looks very familiar, but I haven’t managed to identify him:
At the left edge of the photo is a woman in a white hat and dress who also looks familiar, but again, I can’t figure out where I might have seen her:
Not many people are smiling, but two of them can be seen below, at the back of the group:
If you’d like to look at the rest of the photo in high resolution, I’ve divided it in half below, along with a large scan of the back. To see an image in full size, click a thumbnail below and then select “View full size” in the lower right corner of your screen. A stamp on the back identifies the photographer as American photojournalist Paul Thompson.
Post updated July 8, 2020.