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Waldeck, Germany

The Drowned Convent and Village of Berich

As lake waters recede, a German village reemerges after more than a hundred years. 

In 1905, Berich was just a sleepy village along the River Eder in central Germany. The small farming community grew up around a former 12th century Benedictine convent that had been dissolved in the wake of the Reformation. There were fewer than 200 people, but they had thriving and extensive farms, rock-solid buildings, and a nearly new stone bridge that connected them to neighboring villages.

It was an idyllic spot with deep roots and a long history, until a new dam and reservoir was planned—the largest in all of the state of Hesse—to flood Berich right off the map.

It took a few years to build the dam, but by 1914 the floodgates were ready to open. Hoping to preserve what they could before the deluge, pieces of the village were disassembled, carefully numbered, packed up and moved to a New Berich about 20 miles away. Unfortunately they weren’t able to move over seven centuries’ of graves, so plots in the cemetery were instead outfitted with concrete covers to protect them from the waters of the brand new Edersee reservoir.

Once the dam went up the basin filled, and for the next hundred years the old village of Berich was seen only by divers. That is, until recent draught conditions started drying up the lake. The water has receded so much that ruins of the village are now on full display. Sections of the stone bridge, walls of the convent and church, foundations of the local ironworks, and even the concrete-covered graves are visible again.

Hundreds of visitors, including some of the original villagers’ descendants, have flocked to the Edersee to explore, and to retrace their ancestors’ steps along the cobblestone streets. 

Know Before You Go

The Edersee reservoir is near the town of Waldeck in the German state of Hesse. The water level is unpredictable, but the best chance of seeing the old village on foot is after long dry spells, normally at the end of summer or the beginning of autumn. There are also diving tours for lower depths, or when the waters are at higher levels.