I don’t often get back to my hometown of Berlin, I’m mainly there for holidays with family, and if I didn’t still have family there I’m not sure I’d ever visit. It’s strange, every time I drive into town it seems emptier. There are fewer businesses open, fewer vehicles driving around, and just this feeling of overall abandonment.
Maybe it’s age and experience, and the changed perspective that comes with this, but it didn’t always feel this way. I remember as a child going to the local candy store, Paula Mae’s, under the town clock. And shopping on Main Street with my mom, having breakfast at Steele’s or Main Street Restaurant and feeling like the town was alive and thriving. But now, most of those childhood businesses are gone.
I’ve wanted to do a hometown photo series for some time and over Thanksgiving, as I drove along Riverside Park, I finally decided to get out of the car and make some images.
Berlin is a town of around 5000 people, so you can imagine it doesn’t take long to get around to all the highlights. While the images here are personal to me, they are places that remind me of growing up in this small town and hold specific memories to me. I’m sure they hold many memories for anyone who grew up here.
The first few are along Riverside Park, for some reason I love this part of Berlin. I can’t say this is someplace I played a lot as a child but it has happy memories. I remember attending family reunions and class picnics at the shelter house and watching baseball games at the ball diamond. The old school house always reminded me of Little House on the Prairie. And I love the old merry-go-round right near there.
The town clock and town square are still somewhat busy considering all that’s gone out of business in town, but it’s definitely changed over the years. I believe only two businesses have remained the same since I was a child.
Then there’s the library, bowling alley, Shepard’s Drive-In, a favorite of every Berlinite, and Eskimo Comfort, I remember shopping here for winter jackets as a kid. I’m pretty surprised it’s still open, but glad to see something survive all the changes. Berlin used to be the ‘Fur and Leather Capitol‘ of Wisconsin, there were numerous fur stores in town, but now not even one remains.
I spent my early education here in the Catholic schools. After much reorganizing and two of the three churches that were affiliated with the schools closing, the Catholic school has consolidated into one larger school. St Joe’s was the elementary school, which was, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the three churches. St Stan’s was the middle school and St Mike’s the junior high. Only St. Mike’s still remains open and now houses the school from K-8. Oh, and then there’s the dreadful high school years…
And the football field…how I loved the start of the school year and attending football games, hanging out with friends, dances after the games. So funny to think back on all that stuff.
And I had to include an image of the indoor pool entrance. Might seem odd, but after I became close friends with writer Christine Organ, we had lockers near each other in high school, she convinced me to join swim team. I only swam on the team for a little over a year but that year changed my life and I owe thanks to her and her family for their generosity, support and after-school snacks;) (this is also where I was a lifeguard and taught swim lessons)
I can just smell the chlorine seeing this entrance.
The first year the Berlin Aquatic Center opened was also my first year life guarding. At the same time it seems like yesterday and like a million years ago!
And finally there’s Nathan Strong Park. Surrounding this park are beautiful old Victorian homes. Just a pretty spot in town.
Whether this develops into some further project, I’m not quite sure of yet. I have some ideas mulling around in my head. But from the images here you can see the general emptiness that seems to fill my hometown. Maybe this speaks to the way I felt growing up there and how it never felt like the right place for me. I know this for sure now, but those old feelings often come flooding back whenever I visit and, perhaps, affect the way I view the city.