I posted video of the wall on Main Street coming down yesterday to the Berlin Reporter’s Facebook page. I thought people would be happy to see it coming down, but the comments were mixed. One person said they should start at one end of Main Street and continue to the other, and then go down Western Avenue.
I spent yesterday going in and talking to several of the store owners on Main Street about the Roger Brooks visit last week, and every one of them was positive about the outlook. They came out of that meeting with a real optimism. They didn’t share any of the Facebook community’s hard-edged views.
Berlin’s biggest battle is convincing the world it isn’t a dead city. It doesn’t need to work to draw people in, because if the stigma is gone they will come on their own. The Reporter’s Facebook page has fans from around the country—I would imagine they are Berliners who fled years ago. It’s interesting to see how their opinions about the community compare with mine. Theirs is a long view of Berlin’s history without the most recent context, and mine is the recent events without the baggage. The more time I spend there the more I find Berlin values its heritage and its history, even to the point it hurts the economy.
Roger Brooks made a comment that communities can’t hang their hats on their history when it comes to tourism. Berlin built an entire park to its past. Northern Forest Heritage Park is a symbol of pride but not a big tourist attraction.
Councilor David Poulin offered to buy all the paper featuring the city seal at the council meeting on Monday. Some people see the council’s decision to change it as an affront to the city’s history. In a place where everyone examines the past with such scrutiny, it’s hard to plot a course forward with confidence.
It is hard for people to move past what they know. Norm Charest is often saying the city needs to be looking for the next economy. But the city also has to keep from loosing what is valuable. Berlin isn’t the type of city where people become lost in the crowd. People greet each other by name, and they remember what street you live on and whether you were born there. As someone said to me yesterday, who is the most-loved person in Berlin? Bobbie Haggart. That kind of community is something residents don’t ever what to lose, and for good reason.
That is the image of the city Berlin needs to get out there. That is the city people need to be reminded of. It happened before, when the building collapsed on Mason and Pleasant Streets, that I noticed the perspective the rest of the state views Berlin through. I’m not sure how to fight that, but you have to.
I’m starting to understand why residents get so frustrated with the rest of the state. I posted that video yesterday thinking it was good news, which is how most people from Berlin feel, but the outside perspective twists that around and turns it against the city.
Berlin needs an action plan—a way to combat that negative perspective. Complaining about it doesn’t change anything, so the city needs to figure out what does. Maybe an NHPR underwriting campaign that says, “Berlin, New Hampshire: It’s not what you think.” Maybe Stacia Roberge’s idea about sending out odorless car fresheners labeled “Berlin, NH.”
The problem isn’t Berlin, it’s the Berlin in their heads. The Berlin I go to cares about community and the people in it. It is the type of place where people look out for one another. It is the kind of place people should love. That idea, however, hasn’t permeated the state. It is still recoiling from the old Berlin. I wonder just what the steps are to change that, and how the city can take the first one.