Julia Roberts lived in a perfect small town as the “Runaway Bride.” Hale, Maryland, was (despite its ridiculous name) perfect — filled with people who loved each other, took care of each other and did it all in the confines of a charming small town/rural setting.
Julia and Richard Gere and all the Hollywood types from the 1999 movie are long gone — but the town still lays out the ol’ welcome mat. In fact, there have been people living here since 1677, when this area was part of a plantation known as Burley. There’s been a town here since the late 1700s though the town didn’t incorporate until after the Civil War.
It still has a Civil War-era feel. Victorian decoration tops what otherwise might be straightforward brick storefronts. Signs run from fanciful to merely informational. The shopkeepers welcome you as old friends, even if this is your first visit. You’ll be old friends before too long.
Berlin (emphasize the first syllable to sound like a local, BER lin) is 10 miles from Ocean City and miles away in crowds and atmosphere. Known today for its wonderful little shops and scattering of restaurants, it celebrates its small-town vibe with a series of festivals, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce: jazz and blues bash in May, the well-regarded Fiddler’s Convention in September and holiday celebrations from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
But any day is a good day to stop in Berlin. In fact, it’s a great place for a girls’ getaway.
You’re going to like these shops: TaDa (where Julia bought presents before going home), Bruder’s Hill, Victorian Charm, a handful of antique shops, including one that deals in antique toys and another with all kinds of Tiffany-style lighting.
And when you’re hungry, you can stop in the Atlantic Hotel‘s Drummer’s Cafe, or the Italian SiCuli or the surprising Globe. Make sure to taste a local vintage at the Maryland Wine Bar or get a cup of joe or an ice cream cone at Berlin Coffee House (around the corner from the Atlantic Hotel.) If you prefer, head to Rayne’s Reef for an egg-white omelet like Julia’s — I know: I’m taking the Runaway Bride theme too far.
If you are a movie fanatic, go to the Chamber of Commerce office on Main Street for a copy of the brochure that lists a number of the sites for “Runaway Bride” or inquire about what else is going on. The office is also home to a few artists’ studios. Stop by if they are open.
Worcester County Arts Council Gallery and Shop displays local artist’s works. Jeffrey Auxer displays his own Venetian glass in his studio. I have always been a big fan of J.J. Fish Studio where you’ll see the artist’s own silver and a host of other local artisans’ works, as well. (However I the summer of 2016, the owners closed the shop and became an online shop only. I’ll miss them.)
Berlin is home to one museum which offers a glimpse at small-town life here in Berlin. The Calvin B. Taylor House Museum features fine antiques as well as exhibits on the town’s banker, and mementoes of War Admiral, who was raised on a nearby farm.
Or go to Burley Oak (outside of town) for a local brew and to meet some of the locals in person. A rustic, casual place, the brewery offers very short tours — it’s quite small, after all — and a host of brews with great names like Rude Boy and Aboriginal Gangster. You know, I think Julia would have liked it here….
© Text and photos. Mary K. Tilghman
Previously at A Day Away Travel:
Ocean City Essentials–what you should know if you’re
coming to this beach resort this summer. (Or any time.)