Berger was born Heinrich August Wilhelm Berger in Prussia and became a member of Germany's imperial army band. He worked under the composer and royal bandmaster of Germany, Johann Strauss, Jr. Originally, the Kaiser of Germany loaned Berger to King David Kalākaua to conduct the king's band. In 1877, Kalākaua appointed Berger to full leadership of the Royal Hawaiian Band. In 1879, he became a naturalized citizen of Hawaiʻi.
Berger befriended the future Queen Liliʻuokalani, a composer in her own right. Berger arranged the songs she wrote, performed by the brass band. From 1893 to 1903, the Prussian bandmaster worked with the Kamehameha Schools to develop its music program. He also built what is today the Honolulu Symphony.
Later in his tenure as royal bandmaster, Berger took it upon himself to record traditional Hawaiian hymns, chants and other Hawaiian music in print to ensure their survival, a task never done before. Berger at the same time composed the classics: "The Hula March", "Hilo March", "Kohala March" and "Sweet Lei Lehua." His arrangement of "Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī", composed by Kalākaua became the national anthem. Today, the song serves as the state anthem.
His last resting-place is located at the Kawaiahaʻo Church Cemetery in Honolulu.
Berger's legacy continues today, celebrated worldwide especially in Hawaii and Germany, as the father of the Royal Hawaiian Band. It is the oldest municipal band of the United States of America.