By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Oct. 18, 2018) The town of Berlin got a break in the weather Saturday, as the sun came out and people flooded the streets for a well-attended Oktoberfest event and to honor the anniversary of the town’s incorporation, 150 years ago.
Thousands watched live music on four separate stages – from traditional country, to traditional German music from the “other” Berlin – and filled the downtown shops and restaurants, including the newly opened Greyhound bookstore on South Main Street.
Fins Alehouse and Raw Bar hosted its annual Oystoberfest, the Atlantic Hotel and Burley Oak Brewing Company each provided beer gardens, and, later in the afternoon, the Burley Inn Tavern hosted additional live music and its annual cornhole tournament to help buy Christmas decorations.
Over on Artisan’s Green, the Ocean Pines Players showcased several decades of music, farmers and artisans sent up tables, and at 2 p.m. Mayor Gee Williams offered a brief speech to commemorate the milestone anniversary.
Also attending the ceremony were Town Councilmen Thom Gulyas and Zack Tyndall, and District 3 County Commissioner Bud Church.
Williams welcomed residents and guests to what he said was a joyous occasion.
“As anyone who is familiar with Berlin’s history, our community has several different years that can all be properly termed the origins of today’s Berlin,” Williams said.
“This week, both of our local newspapers have done an outstanding job in recounting the milestones that preceded us. I encourage you to read a print copy, or an online version, of these articles to get a greater appreciation of Berlin’s history.
“So, whether you point to the 300-acre land grant that dates to 1677, known as the Burley tract, the development of the Burley Plantation and opening of the plantation’s Burleigh Inn guest house and tavern in 1683, or the many other historic markers that have endured the test of time, we see an enduring story line of an innovative, resilient, community that in good times and bad has always successfully adapted to changing times.
“Although our community’s beginning is largely owed to the creation of a successful classic southern plantation, the first major test of our endurance and determination to overcome adversity, came immediately after the end of the Civil War.
“With the plantation system gone, residents of this community determined their future rested with the creation of an incorporated town.
“After the opening of Town Hall in 1867, in less than year the Town of Berlin was formerly chartered in 1868.
“Within a generation, Berlin built upon its agricultural heritage with the opening of Harrisons Nurseries. In just a few years, Harrisons Nurseries grew into what was the largest employer in town and for several decades the largest grower of fruit trees in the world.
“This first revitalization of our town’s economy soon led to the opening of the Calvin B. Taylor Bank in Berlin, today the largest locally owned bank in Worcester County.
“Berlin became a hub of commerce and trade through the early years of the 20th Century until the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when once again Berlin’s economy was challenged to its foundations.
“Like thousands and thousands of towns throughout America, Berlin endured the double impact of the Great Depression, which included both the national financial crisis and the mass migration of populations from rural areas to cities across America.
“There were committed efforts to modernize in many ways, including the popular belief after World War II, that to be a modern, vibrant community, it was very important to remove, or cover over, the architecture of earlier times.
“Berlin energetically went about covering over our downtown buildings with either Form Stone – tin – or other coatings considered more contemporary in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Even the Atlantic Hotel, which had fallen on very hard times, was blocked out of sight by a more modern commercial building.
“But it did not take long for community leaders and citizens of all stripes to soon realize that in our well-intended efforts to modernize, we had lost much of our historical and architectural heritage.
“There was an understanding that the more our town tried to be like the rest of the country, the less we became Berlin.
“With typical Berlin determination some Main Street property owners started restoring downtown buildings to their original, authentic architecture. The initial momentum created by the restoration, of what is known today as Renaissance Plaza, was shortly followed by effort to save the Atlantic Hotel.
“Embracing National Historic standards, a group of 10 local investors, all longtime local families, unselfishly and with great foresight, came forward to save the historic Atlantic Hotel from being demolished.
“The belief of these Berlin families, motivated not for profit but for what would be best for Berlin, became the tipping point in the revitalization of our town.
“This important investment in our town’s future created a momentum and movement towards the rediscovery of Berlin’s historic architectural and cultural heritage that continues today.
“The continuing story of Berlin overcoming not only change, but adversity, is very much a part of our community’s DNA.
“It is clearly evident that this can-do spirit of not only overcoming challenges brought on by change, but also the commitment to not give up our history, culture or appreciation for our natural environment, are the foundation of our Town of Berlin’s ongoing legacy, as we pass the torch from one generation to another.
“Berlin is not backward, but we are most certainly resilient.
“In the early years of the 21st Century, we have embraced a transition where we willingly share our community with people of all backgrounds and origins who also share our traditional All-American values.
“These values are based on mutual respect, tolerance and a belief that we can build a better community together than we ever could solely as individuals.
“We have a wonderful melting pot where your importance to our Berlin today – and tomorrow – is not based on how long you have lived here, but on how much you share in our common commitment to be actively involved in not only making out town a great place to live and work today, but for the generations that will follow.
“Such a commitment is often associated with traditional families, but with the complexity and speed of change in contemporary American life, our extended family of Berlin is becoming a community that is welcoming, diverse, optimistic and yes, in these early years of the 21st Century, even younger.
“Our values have influenced not only our endurance, but also by the potential for our future.
“In Berlin – we honor our past, but we don’t live in it.
“In Berlin – as long as you are not annoying anyone, or breaking the law, we will tolerate almost anything – except intolerance.
“In Berlin – we understand that just because we choose to live in a small town, does not mean we choose to live in a small world.
“In Berlin – we realize that just because we are a small town, we are never too small to lead by example.
“Looking forward to our 200th Anniversary – 50 years from now – we can truly say, based on our past and our present, with optimism and confidence, that for our Berlin, ‘The Best is Yet to Come!’”