Exploring the unique cultures of the Amish and Mennonites
Our road trip brought us across the Canadian border into New York State at Buffalo. From there we headed south, tracking around Lake Erie. This is a beautiful lake but the area itself is quite depressed. We pulled of the road into the city of Erie to see what it had to offer. Erie had once been a thriving city that had grown rapidly on the back of manufacturing in America’s “Rust Belt” and fishing on the lake. In the 1970s both of these industries started to decline and the city of Erie with it. Today, the population of Erie continues to shrink as replacement jobs have failed to materialize, with the consequence the of a lack of investment. Sadly, the city of Erie looked a bit dowdy and uninviting, which was not helped by the overcast weather.
We moved on towards our destination for the next few days; Berlin in Holmes County, Ohio. The countryside changed dramatically as we approached Berlin. This area is more known for it agriculture than manufacturing and is blessed with glorious rolling green hills and fields full of cattle and other livestock, making for a picture perfect scene.
Around 5 pm we finally reached our destination, Coblentz Cabins in Berlin. We had the most marvelous log cabin, which reminded us once again how much we’d like to own a log cabin one day. This cabin also had the added attraction of a basement with a pool table which the kids absolutely adored. If you are coming to spend a few days in the area you should check out these cabins.
Our main purpose for coming to Berlin was that it is in Holmes County, which has the largest density of Amish in America. There are some 32,000 in this area; together with Mennonites they make up 80% of the population. We’d long had an interest in understanding more about the Amish culture so had put this stopover on our travel schedule. There was some concern in coming here in terms of being voyeuristic, but we assuaged this guilt with a genuine desire to understand this culture we had long respected from afar.
Our first stop was the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin. The main feature of the Center is the “Behalt” ( from the German “to keep or remember”), a 10 foot x 265 foot cyclorama illustrating the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from the Anabaptist beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525 to the present day. This was painted by Heinz Gaugel, a German artist, over a number of years. It is truly stunning and shows the persecution of the Anabaptists (those believing in adult baptism) and their escape to the United States. We were given a very informative tour of the Behalt by one of the Amish brothers, which continued on outside with a preserved school house and barn full of interesting artifacts. This gave us a chance to ask some of the questions we had been dying to ask about Amish culture, which is still largely based around farming. They still choose to live simply, evidenced by the manual farm tools (you do see the occasional tractor) and washing drying on the lines in the gardens (no tumble dryers here). There is a lot to be said for this lifestyle and its lack of complication.
After the Behalt tour we just relaxed in and around the area, taking in another cheese factory and a bakery (to assist our ever expanding waist lines!!!). We drove down to Millersburg, but this was not really worth the time. So, finally we decided to chill out around Berlin.
The town is very pretty and life is slow paced, which some part due the number of Amish traveling around in their horse drawn carts. It would give a New York taxi driver apoplexy to drive around here. You can’t help but be drawn into a peaceful consciousness in such a halcyon place.
This area is a wonderful place to spend a few days and makes for a great weekend trip. If you want to understand and appreciate the Amish and Mennonites more then this is one of the best places in America to come.