When you ask someone why they travel, in many cases the answer is to learn about other cultures. And we are curious by nature. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the cultures of the world today. Everything looks a lot alike. New technologies bring us so close that we are becoming more equal. There is almost nothing unattainable. And so it is very difficult to resist the temptation of global fashions and trends.
Therefore, if what really fascinates you is knowing other cultures, you should travel to Lancaster County, at state of Pennsylvania, 264 km from New York and 194 km from the capital, Washington DC. There they are the amish, a Swiss-German community of origin who, for religious reasons, decided to create and follow a unique way of life on the planet: they defend pacifism, a simple and humble lifestyle, and reject any form of technology. And so they have survived to this day.
Many may have discovered the existence of the Amish community from the popular movie “Witness in Danger” (Witness) directed by Peter Weir and performed by Harrison Ford. But this Anabaptist Protestant movement was born much earlier: in 1693 to be exact. Its goal is to interpret the Bible and the New Testament as strictly as possible.
With that intention, they separated first from the Roman Christians, later from the Protestants, and later from the Anabaptists and Mennonites. The first followers arrived around the year 1730 in Lancaster County, in the northeastern United States, fleeing the persecution to which they were subjected in Europe.
Lancaster Central Market. Photo: Jason Varney / The New York Times
Lancaster County is the capital of the Amish community. And the oldest in the country. But just walking in, you realize you are in Amish territory. The landscape is really peculiar. It’s like participating in the series “The Ingalls Family”. All very rural. Corn fields, barns, wooden bridges, horse-drawn carts, straw hats …
Of course, for the immersion to be total, the most appropriate suggestion is to get away from the city – most of the Amish live in the countryside and only go to the center for what is necessary – and explore the area through its secondary roads. You just have to let yourself go. Stroll through the towns of Paradise, Intercourse and Bird in Hand, and observe, respect and understand their customs. Everything is different and it shows with every step you take.
The Amish, in general, are reserved – it is part of their philosophy of life – but they fully understand the interest they arouse. They are not sullen either. On the contrary, they detest pride and they tend to be very polite to strangers. Without putting too much pressure on them, it is possible to talk with them and ask them about their concerns about their culture and way of life.
They are basically governed by their own ordinance, the Ordnung, where in a flexible way each district decides its rules, setting a collective lifestyle: clothing, daily routine, social events. The man grows his beard in maturity and the woman dresses modestly, without jewelry.
At a certain adult age they are baptized and go through a period of reflection, the Rumspringa, whereby the Amish can come out of their “egg” ecosystem, discover the outside world, and decide if they want to stay in the community or not. Most of them live on farms and find it difficult to adapt to the vertigo of modern cities.
One of the carriages used by Amish communities in the United States.
A ride in a horse carriage
One of the most surprising images of Lancaster is the large number of horse-drawn carriages – they call them buggies – that move along its roads. They are usually dark in color and go at a slow pace. The point is that their principles do not allow them to drive cars. The reasons are various, but basically they think that a means of transport damages the family way of life that matters so much to them. Of course, they can take taxis or go with someone.
Therefore, a carriage tour can be an ideal means of integrating into the community and experiencing its culture first hand. There are many companies (some Amish and some not) that They offer carriage rides through the farms or the most significant corners of Lancaster. The experience is well worth it.
Contemplate the endless cornfields, the dairies, the paths along the river, the houses and the historic wooden bridges, the clothes hanging in the garden, small hills, the schools … Silence, tranquility, the discreet smile of children rule there. . And, in the background, the sound of horses’ hooves hitting the ground.
I insist: the Amish are a closed community because they are committed to complying with a series of rules. But they are very friendly, even more so than we are in “the outside world.” You can walk through their streets and talk to them. In some cases, if they feel confident, they may invite you into their homes.
As I said, most live on farms, in the countryside. An excellent recommendation is to visit the farm-museum, an authentic house from the early days turned into a museum, with shops, guides and all kinds of information that allows you to get to know the Amish better.
The interior of the houses is like them: simple, without unnecessary decorations, without superfluous decorations on the walls, with just enough. Is where they show its foundations: the Bible, work and family.
They don’t use electricity; They are powered by propane generators, and the lamps are started by batteries or candles. It is like going back in time. The rooms, more of the same: austerity and more austerity. Almost all the furniture is made of wood – tables, chairs, beds, hangers, windows – which are usually made by them.
Where to eat and sleep
Most people who visit Lancaster stay one day, two tops. In the end, one of their main sources of income is tourism and, logically, many of them are dedicated to making life as pleasant as possible for travelers. There are quite a few options to stop for lunch. Many restaurants are run by members of the community who have decided to lead a less orthodox life. The Amish, of course, lead a very healthy, nutritious and traditional life.
It must be borne in mind that their kitchens mix their Swiss-Germanic origins and purely American gastronomy. Plates of stew, mashed potatoes, corn soup, fried chicken, sausages with a kind of sauerkraut and homemade cakes. Much of the raw material is grown by themselves in their gardens, so the taste is very real and the texture is natural.
In this regard, it is advisable to stop by the markets or the stalls on the roads (farm markets) where they sell their products: sweets, jams, fruit, vegetables, cheeses … There is everything, such as pretzels and typical Central European savory donuts.
The BBC documentary
Aside from the aforementioned “Witness in Danger”, a huge number of movies and series have been made about this unique community. From everything we have seen, it is worth highlighting the documentary film Amish: a secret life, a very faithful portrait of what life is like for a family in Lancaster.
They are a married couple and their four children. Although their church does not accept being filmed, they decide, not without some concern to be excommunicated, that the cameras enter their home (and their lives) so that the world can understand and, ultimately, accept their authentic devotion.
Throughout this history, it is interesting to see the resistance that exists in the Amish to the progress that the rest of humanity professes so much. And, at the same time, they maintain an overwhelming logic: it is not the richest who has the most, but who needs the least. And they take it to the last consequences. It is another world. A world that wants to move forward at the jogging pace.
Source: Luis Martí / La Vanguardia