Berlin is such a picture-perfect small town, it belongs in a movie. And it was - twice. Berlin played the part of rural Hale in the 1999 film Runaway Bride, and a few years later it provided a setting for the movie Tuck Everlasting.
Today until Sunday, the town will play itself - as it was 150 years ago - during its annual Victorian Christmas Weekend. And more holiday events are slated throughout the month.
The birthplace of 19th-century naval hero Stephen Decatur, Berlin began as a small village in the 1790s. After the Civil War, the town grew into a tourist destination for hunters, fishers and folks on their way to Ocean City, which is seven miles to the east. Forty-seven Berlin buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town's name may have come from an old building that is no longer standing: the Burleigh Inn tavern.
Tonight, Santa Claus launches the holiday happenings in this history-rich town as he marches in the Christmas parade, which starts at 7 p.m. on Main Street with floats, marching bands and fire engines. Santa returns to town Saturday morning for some grub and quality time with the kids during the Breakfast Buffet With Santa at the 100-year-old Buckingham Presbyterian Church (8:30 a.m.-10 a.m., 20 S. Main St., 410-641-0234, adults $6, children ages 3-12 $3, children 2 and younger free).
Other Victorian Christmas Weekend events include the Victorian Tea and Fashion Show on Saturday at the lovely Atlantic Hotel (2 p.m., 2 N. Main St., 410-641-4775, $25, reservations required). But anytime is Victorian time at this 1895 hotel, which once accommodated turn-of-the-century "drummers" - traveling salesmen who worked the region. Even if you're not interested in tea or fashion, just take a walk through the period-furnished hotel, and if the weather is mild enough, relax in one of the rocking chairs that line the long brick front porch.
Horse and carriage rides, always popular during Berlin's holiday celebration, are conducted 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. The historic Calvin B. Taylor House (208 N. Main St., 410-641-1019), usually closed this time of year, is open Saturday and Sunday 1 p.m.-4 p.m. The 1832 Federal-style home, named after a local banker (the Calvin B. Taylor Banking Co. still has its headquarters in Berlin), houses area antiques and artifacts, including items from a Berlin fruit tree nursery that once operated the country's largest mail-order business.
Tomorrow night, the Globe Theatre (12 Broad St., 410-641-0784), once a silent-film venue, presents A Christmas Carol Dinner Theater - Charles Dickens' famous story in the form of a simulated radio show. Tickets are $35 for dinner and the show, $15 for the show only.
Holiday events beyond this weekend include a Parent-Child Gingerbread Workshop on Dec. 11 (1 p.m., Stevenson United Methodist Church Hall, 123 N. Main St., 410-641-4775, $20 per house), a tree-lighting at dusk Dec. 12 at the Calvin B. Taylor House and a classical Christmas concert and dinner Dec. 13 (seating at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Calvin B. Taylor House and Atlantic Hotel, 410-641-1019, $45, reservations required).
Where to shop
If you're in Berlin for the Victorian Christmas Weekend, it might make sense to visit the gift store Victorian Charm (100 N. Main St., 866-641-6416), where Christmas items range from the merry - such as colorful snowman jingle bell tree ornaments - to the maudlin, like printings of the poem "Merry Christmas From Heaven." The store, which doubled as the bridal boutique in Runaway Bride, also has a variety of nonholiday goods, including Red Hat Society headwear and boas.
Town Center Antiques and Gifts (1 N. Main St., 410-629-1895) is like a big flea market - so big that it occupies two separate spaces on Main Street. You can find everything from a set of four made-in-Japan Santa Claus mugs with most of the color worn off for eight bucks, to a grand 3-liter German beer stein for $158. The A Step Above art gallery upstairs sells works by 150 area artists.
For the hobbyist in your household, shop for a model rocket, dollhouse or the like at Dennison's Trackside Hobbies (14 S. Main St., 410-641-2438). Or, just admire the Christmas train displays.
For a more intense shopping experience, the nearby Ocean City Factory Outlets (12741 Ocean Gateway, 410-213-7898) has more than 40 stores.
Where to eat and drink
Dine in elegance with a meal of caramel duck, pecan barbecue shrimp or pan-seared wild Alaskan salmon in the Atlantic Hotel's formal dining room, or opt for slightly more casual and less costly eating at the hotel's Drummer's Cafe. Brunch is served on Sundays.
For an equally gracious dining experience, partake in the British tradition of afternoon tea, or a lighter tea earlier in the day, at Tea by the Sea (7 S. Main St., 410-641-4000). Reservations are requested.
On the opposite end of the eating spectrum, very plain and inexpensive food can be had at Rayne's Reef Luncheonette (10 N. Main St., 410-641-2131), a decades-old throwback that, refreshingly, seems almost unaware of its own retro-ness. Old black-and-white photos of Berlin hang on the wood-paneled walls.
For something a little more zesty, try El Charro Mexican restaurant (629 William St., 410-629-1693).
Berlin is about 2 1/2 hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 97 south to U.S. 50 east and cross the Bay Bridge ($2.50). A few miles before Ocean City, take U.S. 113 south to Berlin.
The Berlin Chamber of Commerce has more information on holiday events and year-round attractions. Call 410-641-4775 or visit www.berlinmdcc.org.
For more regional trips, see Page 36.