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  • Writer's pictureOldbury Cottage

Great Walks in Berrima: No.1 The German River Walk

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Track: Simple bush trail, a little uneven here and there, slight inclines

Fitness: Low to Average

Time: Allow 1 hour

The tiny Southern Highlands village of Berrima offers a rich tapestry of early settler stories but few are more intriguing than the story of the Wingecarribee River during World War One.

German Internees on the Wingecarribee River Berrima during WWI
German prisoners of war in Wingecarribee River, Berrima

Painting of SMS Emden
SMS Emden

Between 1915 and 1919, over 300 German nationals comprising merchant naval captains, senior officers, senior executives of German owned shipping companies with Australian offices, and prisoners of war from the German cruiser SMS Emden found themselves interned in Berrima's gaol. However, unlike every other Australian WWI internment camp, internees were allowed to leave the gaol between the hours of 6:00 am and 6:30 pm.

While staying at Oldbury Cottage, this walk is one that we highly recommend you take. It affords a fascinating insight into the vivacious former life of the Wingecarribee River as well as the extraordinary lifestyles of the gaol's industrious internees and is one of the top 10 things to do in Berrima.

German POWs in Wingecarribee River behind Berrima gaol
The riparian delights of Wingecarribee River behind Berrima gaol

Although imprisoned each night, many internees had wives living in rented cottages throughout the village, some received half pay from Germany during the war, and they all made very good use of their daytime 'leave', shopping in Berrima and using the Wingecarribee River as well as its banks as a productive kitchen garden, playground, beach, and bootleg distillery.

Finding The Walk

Walk or drive to the western end of Oxley Street, where the Berrima Picnic and Camping Ground and swimming hole is found. The walk is well signposted, with images of the various huts and establishments constructed by the internees. You'll need walking shoes, the ability to manage slight and uneven grades, and about one hour to return.

Berrima River Walking Map Location
Finding the German Walk in Berrima

Secrets Along The Riverbank

Internees weren't required to work so they had plenty of time to put their ship-board skills to excellent use along the river. They firstly built a footbridge across the river so both river banks could be accessed with ease. This was later swept away in a flood but served the internees well between 1915 and 1919.

Bridge built by German prisoners across Wingecarribee River
Bridge built by German prisoners
Early B/W photo of German internees
German internees enjoy the Wingecarribee River pedestrian bridge

Next, a dam was constructed downstream in order to raise the Wingecarribee's water level and achieve better depths of water immediately behind the gaol. Construction began, soon afterwards, on brush and bark huts, wooden huts, larger log cabins and even a privately screened area used for nude sunbathing! At the very end of the walking track you'll find images of a gigantic vegetable garden as well.

German Walk Vegetable Garden c.1916
The huge vegetable garden at the end of the German Walk c.1916

accommodation in Berrima- Berrima Wingecarribee River huts built by German Internees

Being naval engineers and seamen, the Germans put their skills to the building of all manner of water craft, using scrap metal, bush timbers and general scraps. Regattas were held to celebrate the Kaiser's birthday and boats were festooned with decorations that showed great imagination and skill.

accommodation in Berrima- regatta
Sporting pursuits on Wingecarribee River c.1916

Along the walk, you'll find signposts showing images of the Kaiser's yacht, a Zeppelin airship, a hydroplane, mini ocean liner, and a four masted barque. The regattas were clearly very popular, with local Berrima villagers also attending and enjoying the spectacle.

German Yacht on the Wingecarribee River Berrima
Kaiser's yacht

Over time, since the departure of the internees, most of the villas and gardens have disappeared. However, the foundations of several huts can still clearly be seen.

One stretch of the Wingecarribee River reminded the internees of the Alster River lakes near Hamburg. What you see here are the foundations of “Alsterburg”, which resembled a hunting lodge. It had two spacious rooms and a storage loft, which drew cries of wonder from visitors when they first saw it.

Alsterburg Wingecarribee River Berrima

Here's a little video of the remaining footings.

Frieda Wingecarribee River Berrima

Sentry Box Nude Bathing Area Wingecarribee River Berrima
Berrima nude sunbathing area - Sentry Box

 'Alstertal' Wingecarribee River Berrima

Villa Marcella Wingecarribee River Berrima
The charming Villa Marcella

Examples of Walking Track Signage

Track Entrance

accommodation in Berrima- Start of the German River Walk Track

accommodation in Berrima- Wingecarribee River Berrima | The German Walk

accommodation in Berrima- Wingecarribee River Berrima

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