It’s been two years since Budget Travel named Berlin the Coolest Small Town in America, but that doesn’t mean the town has lost its charm. In fact, Berlin now is cooler than ever (and I’m speaking to you as an expert on all things cool).
In 2014 Berlin’s residents, with their undying small town pride, nominated the city and helped it reach 28 percent of the vote among 14 fellow cool-town finalists. Budget Travel commends Berlin for its proximity to Ocean City and Assateague, and for famously providing the backdrops to Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting—statements that alone would provide sturdy support for any coolest small town nominee, but that aren’t even close to being the only reasons why Berlin is so special.
Berlin has more than earned its placement in the catalog of cool towns. Here are 5 reasons why this small town is still the coolest.
Berlin is surrounded by all the wonders of nature
Berlin is a green town both visually, framed by trees and sprawling foliage, and environmentally: the Grow Berlin Green campaign, which began in 2009, seeks environmental protection, conservation and smart growth practice for the community. GBG works wonders in its parks and playgrounds, which remain beautiful and clean year-long, and in ways that we can’t always see. Recycling, stormwater and wastewater management and, among many other initiatives. Increased activism among Berlin citizens and policymakers provides the support to keep the community green and friendly towards the Earth.
The three parks in the area, Stephen Decatur, Dr. William Henry and John Howard Burbage provide fun for children and atmosphere for adults, and there’s never a lack of places to hike, picnic and enjoy the natural surroundings.
There’s no shortage of cute, unique and slightly weird shops
Berlin is a hub for independent retailers and antique stores, where you can always find a somewhat off-kilter souvenir to bring home. It’s unlikely that most towns in 2016 can boast the presence of a video rental store the way Berlin can, and the prevalence of retail stores and wine bars makes for a great combo—one store even invites you to shop while you drink.
Berlin is heralded as the antique capital of the Eastern Shore—Culver’s, Stuart’s, Uptown and Town Center Antiques are all present on Main Street, and I can never simply walk past Toy Town Antiques—the Blues Brothers beckon me from the store window to come inside and sort through Barbies, Beanie Babies, and shelves upon shelves of tiny kitsch Santas. Very cool.
There’s almost always something to do
If you somehow grow tired of the shops, art galleries and restaurants, there’s almost always an upcoming event to bring you back into town. In the summer, local businesses turn bathtubs into “racetubs” at the Berlin Bathtub Races, and the Berlin Heritage Foundation sponsors the annual Peach Festival. Concerts on the Lawn are a frequent happening, along with the 2nd Friday Art Stroll, and nothing welcomes in the fall like Octoberfest with its sidewalk sales, beer garden and Corn hole tournament.
It’s got a rich and colorful history
Fun fact: the town’s name most likely came from an old Tavern, as “Berlin” is thought to have come from a combination of the words “Burleigh” and “Inn.” (Editor’s note: With due respect to the memory of Ed Hammond, we endorse Burleigh). Even before that, the path of Main Street was once walked by the Native Americans of Assateague and Pocomoke, and later became the Philadelphia Post Road that connected the north and west centers of commerce.
Stephen Decatur, the 19th century naval hero and namesake to the nearby park, high school and roads, was born in Berlin. While Decatur’s birthplace is unfortunately no longer standing, downtown Berlin is a National Register Historic District whose older buildings include Burley manor, the Chandler house and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
It’s probably haunted
Of course, most of the old places that contribute to the color of Berlin are supposedly totally haunted. A secret society known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, originating in Baltimore in 1819, once held shop in the heart of Berlin. Their duty was “to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan,” and they also partook in a number of mysterious rituals—one of which has resulted in human remains being found within the walls in many of the Fellows’ former lodges. Their former lodge in Berlin is now a yarn shop, but the letters IOOF still are etched proudly on the outside of the building.
Also, the landmark that is the Atlantic Hotel is notoriously haunted and is associated with at least five different ghost stories. Berlin’s Ghost Walk (one of many Chesapeake Ghost Tours) features the hotel and several other locations that are rumored hotspots of paranormal activity: the former Odd Fellows Hall, the Maryland Wine Bar, the Pitts House, St. Paul’s Graveyard, the old Dairy Queen and the Calvin B. Taylor Bank, where a woman in a long white dress is frequently seen standing near and where a soldier still in uniform walks nightly.
What could possibly be cooler than a haunted, historic town that hosts races in bathtubs and actually cares about the environment? There may be a few odd fellows in Berlin, but at least they have plenty of small town pride.