The Amish of Berlin

Ravi M Singh

Ravi M Singh

The Amish of Berlin

The Amish believe this life on Planet Earth is part of their journey to heaven and needs to function by God’s will. For instance, if a house burns down, it’s God’s will—let it burn

The Amish of Berlin—ring any bell? Unlikely, I gather; I didn’t have the foggiest idea about it. Somewhere in Germany? I got it all wrong until I visited the USA in 2014, poles apart from Germany!

During my five-and-a-half-month stay in the colossal country, I hopped around several states, from Texas and Georgia to Colorado and Ohio, spending time with close relatives and friends, including my daughters, Smriti and Preeti.

My last stay turned up in the city of Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio, with my younger daughter, Preeti. After exhausting all the must-see places in Findlay, Preeti offered to take me on a long drive to Amish Country, about 125 miles away—a quaint town called Berlin, Holmes County, Ohio.

When she gave me the lowdown on the Amish people, I could not wait. It sounded weird to me and more like red herrings. But the facts turned out to be true.

Contrary to my fancy that we would speed through megacities, the drive traversed instead across vast swathes of country and farmland intercepted by thick woodlands, farmhouses, and sparse suburban townships.

“Ba (dad), we are almost there,” said Preeti as we cruised across sprawling farmland and greenery with a random scattering of archaic country houses. The core town hub looked bustling with tourists.

The first thing that struck me dumb was the abundance of horse-pulled open carriages and horse-drawn buggies trotting on the main roads and streets, reminding me of American wild west movies. “They belong to the Amish people,” said my daughter.

To me, the streets shuttling neck and neck with modern-day cars, the buggies and carts just looked incongruous—sticking out a mile. Albeit, everything appeared uncluttered and well-ordered. Fantastic!

I saw the Amish men in beards but no mustaches (like the conservative Muslims) dressed in their bespoke blackest black straight-cut suits,  slacks held by suspenders (belts and neckties forbidden), and sporting broad-brimmed felt hats—kids included.

Amish women caught the eye wearing dark-colored full skirts with long sleeves extending to their corsets with head capes or bonnets. Girls, too—sleeveless was taboo. Much like in movies, I felt like I’d traveled back to the 1800s of an old-order America.

I learned Berlin drew many foreign and domestic tourists as a quintessential rural America with its unassuming simplicity combined with nonpareil local crafts, culture, tradition, and history, including 100-year-old tenements. Set against a rural setting, the crowd pleasers on the streets of Berlin housed many eye-catching shops, malls, and eateries, mostly owned by the Amish people.

Preeti and I found ourselves lost among the handmade craft shops, heirloom furniture galleries, antique shops, vintage apparel stores, and flea markets galore until our legs ached. But every place we ducked in seemed worth a stop.

Coffee shops and ice cream parlors appeared by the shedload every way we went. So did the restaurants, which served all kinds of food—minus the fast food—including the local cuisine. We were on a wild spree window shopping, buying souvenirs, and binge eating their mouthwatering local delicacies: homemade cheese, chocolates, and wines.

I moved to approach a lone Amish gentleman sitting at a corner table of the restaurant we stopped by, so I could strike up a conversation. Preeti looked at me disapprovingly and held my arm. She said that was the dumbest thing to do. She made it clear later that the Amish shunned visitors, avoided being photographed, and disliked talking to people other than their community.

Strange it may sound, but that’s how it is in the Amish country. The more Preeti fed me the bare facts about Amish people, the more it sounded incredulous.

They have their principles, beliefs, and rules redolent of the Quaker values and principles, which advocate simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship to guide them to a meaningful life.

Humility, family, community, compassion, and above all else, separation from the world are their mainstays. And every member of the community staunchly follows those values. And they are proud to be Amish.

The old-order Amish people forsake electricity off the grid, mobiles, television, computers—every convenience of modern technology and the digital age we think we can’t do without and ride a buggy-horse for conveyance instead of a motor-powered car or motorcycle. Incredible!

Going by American history, in 1820, Amish settlers immigrated in large numbers to Berlin, Ohio, and cashed in on the rich farmland around the then-small settlement. Even today, the lush, productive farms around the town speak volumes about their unparalleled farming.

The Amish believe this life on Planet Earth is part of their journey to heaven and needs to function by God’s will. For instance, if a house burns down, it’s God’s will—let it burn. The more I learned about the Amish, the more it bowled me over.

After a thrilling time in Berlin, we left for home—happy and wiser. I could not help wondering, as the car sped on the deserted highway—how come such a community continues to exist on Earth in the third millennium?

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