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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here's a little video of the remaining footings.
Examples of Walking Track Signage
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