As the “fun grandparent” you need to believe completely in the wizards, unicorns and other magical figures that figure so prominently in children’s imaginations. Unfortunately you might get some pushback when the little ones wise-up (don’t even get me started on the Santa discussion). But you can deal with that very effectively with a day trip to Berlin, Maryland that begins with a visit to The Mermaid Museum, where there’s ample proof that these aquatic folks really have been around forever.
Yes that’s right – there finally is a venerable institution dedicated to documentation of the Merfolk who have intrigued sailors, historians, scientists and everyday people for thousands of years. It’s located at 4 Jefferson Street and is open every day between Memorial and Labor day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Inside you’ll find curios, art, and exhibits that illuminate so many fabulous stories. You’ll also see that Disney’s animated version was preceded by mermaids and mermen from all over the world through so much of recorded history. That includes origins in Greek mythology (the sirens), Germanic, Scandinavian, Middle Eastern cultures and stories from China, Japan and Korea and more.
One of the most interesting things you’ll see is the “Fiji Mermaid” dating back to PT Barnum sideshows. So far she hasn’t won any beauty contests since people think she looks like she’s half-monkey and half-fish, but she presents a good example of how mermaids in sailor yore may have been conjured from sea otters, sea lions and other commonly recognized sea creatures.
In other words, they got really lonely out there for months on those ships, and saw versions, based on those creatures, that were far lovelier to look at with their long tresses and shapely forms.
Examples of those more beautiful versions are everywhere. There are statues and oil paintings and historical displays, along with a stage set where you can pose for photos to create your own mermaid tableau. A lot of the fun comes from being able to assure your grandkids that their imaginations should be boundless, but you’ll also have a lot of fun enjoying all of the gorgeous visuals on your own. Admission is $11 per person, and kids under age 3 get in for free when they’re with an adult.
Historic Architecture is Everywhere
The Mermaid Museum is on the second floor of an historic Odd Fellows building, with very tall windows and a fabulous sculpted metal ceiling. Like virtually every building in Berlin’s lovely historic downtown, it’s been perfectly preserved and improved over the years. That downtown is now filled with cute local businesses that include boutiques, antique stores, offices and the fabulous World of Toys.
One reason so much of the architecture has been protected and improved probably has to do with Berlin’s location. While it’s an easy 1 or 1.5 hour drive (or less) from communities around the Delaware beaches, for years it was an out-of-the way location. That undoubtedly stopped a lot of demolition that might have happened before its historic district became protected. Today there are 47 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
They’re all elegant buildings that have been adaptively reused by small business people, creating an aesthetically wonderful shopping experience that’s completely in contrast with today’s big box retail and strip mall offerings. There are also picturesque tree-lined streets filled with historic homes radiating out from the town center.
That historic architecture made Berlin the perfect place to film scenes for two major motion pictures: Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting.
While you’re there you must take time for a relaxing lunch or dinner at Berlin’s downtown restaurants. One local favorite that was wonderful on a recent visit is the Atlantic Hotel. Built in 1895 and a longtime favorite for well-to-do travelers, it features gorgeous rooms, suites and public spaces and a romantically-themed restaurant that consistently earns rave reviews for its cuisine and décor, including white tablecloths, Victorian-themed furnishings and a large outdoor terrace offering views of the historic town center.
This is one of several posts I’m doing on day and weekend trips that are easy places to get to from most Delaware communities. Check out this post about a visit to Cape May, New Jersey, and last week’s post about overnighting in Chincoteague, Maryland – which is also a wonderful place to take kids and grandkids.