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Amish Country…the town of Berlin, Ohio.

Posted by on May 22, 2015

MAY 22, 2015                

BERLIN, OHIO. Today was our first full day exploring Amish Country. We drove to the nearby town of Berlin, which is at the heart of the 40,000-strong Amish community and is home to the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. There we were able to “get our bearings” and learn a little about the historical and religious foundation that underlies the Amish and Mennonite faith and way of life.

berlin2AMISH HERITAGE CENTER. Our host was an Amish gentlemen. Lester is his name. He and his family live in the community. They speak an ancient dialect of German in their home, but they also have a command of English as a second language. Lester not only works at the Heritage Center but he’s also the author of a recently published book which offers lots of detailed information about the Amish people. “Since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in the early 1500’s, the people who later came to be known as Amish and Mennonites have been a puzzle to the rest of the world” Lester said. “Who were these people who upset the European religious community, both Catholic and Protestant, by teaching about adult baptism? Why, in the face of trials and persecution did they choose non-violence as a response? Lester’s book answers these questions. And he just happens to have autographed copies of the book available for sale, right there on the spot. How convenient. Hey, everyone’s got to make a living, right? For those of us who didn’t purchase the book, Lester answered many of our questions about the beliefs and practices of Amish people. And then gave us a guided tour of the main attraction at the Heritage Center: “Behalt.” Stunning!


It took the artist 14 years to complete this mural, which depicts the history of the Amish and Mennonite people.  What you see in this picture is only about 1/5 of the complete mural!

BEHALT. “Behalt,” meaning “to keep or remember,” is a stunning historical cyclorama, or mural-in-the-round. It’s a 10 foot x 265 foot mural depicting the history of Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525 to the present day here in America.  The artwork is detailed and beautiful. Images range from grisly scenes of martyrdom to bucolic barn-raisings.

THE AMISH SISTINE CHAPEL. The mural has been called the “Sistine Chapel of the Amish and Mennonites.” It is the work of solely one artist…from original research and conception to charcoal sketches and final oils-on-canvas production of this historic masterpiece. Heinz Gaugel never had any formal art training, but was called to create this magnificent mural-in-the-round. It took him fourteen years to complete the project. Some 1241 people are depicted in the mural’s detailed illustration of Amish history.  It is truly breathtaking.


Amish one-room-schoolhouse. Children from first grade all the way to eighth graders attend together.

AMISH ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE.  Also on display at the Heritage Center is an actual one-room schoolhouse formerly used by children right here in town. To this day, they all attend school together…first graders all the way to eighth graders, in one-room schoolhouses. The kids are exempt from the educational requirements of the state of Ohio. Rather, they are schooled in the Amish tradition and their formal education is complete when they finish the eighth grade. Lester explained that for the way Amish folks live and work, schooling after the eighth grade is simply irrelevant. Skills needed to become tradesmen or farmers are learned  by “on the job training”  with parents and elders in the community after the children complete the eighth grade.

The Amish way of life is very restrictive. I asked Lester whether any of the young people become disillusioned…whether any decide they want to live as “English” people, away from the Amish community. He said that about 15 percent of the young people do in fact leave and integrate themselves into mainstream society. Unlike with cults, Amish children are not forced to remain “on the reservation.” But almost all of them do.


Pioneer Barn at the Amish Heritage Center.

WAGONS, BUGGIES AND RAISIN’ A BARN. The last of the three exhibits at the Heritage Center is the Pioneer barn. It houses not only a covered wagon of the type used by the Amish to migrate west, but also buggies and carts used today by the Amish, who shun automobiles and rely instead on horse-drawn means of transportation. Our guide  in the barn was an Amish young lady…I’d guess in her early 20’s, who just so happens to be a school teacher who works in a one-room schoolhouse, such as the one we saw earlier today on our tour. When I asked her if discipline was an issue in the classroom, she said that it wasn’t a real problem for a couple of reasons. First, parents support the teachers and simply won’t tolerate having their children misbehave in class. And second, both the parents and the school teacher physically discipline the children as necessary. I didn’t ask any more about that. And here’s an off-topic but interesting bit of information we learned from our guide: Amish women wear white bonnets. Mennonite women wear black bonnets. Cool. Never know when you might need to distinguish one from the other, right?


Conestoga Wagon, the type used by Amish settlers when crossing America to reach Ohio, where the y established residence in the early 18th century. 


Enclosed “family buggy.” An Amish family’s “primary vehicle.”


“Convertible buggy.” Used in warm weather or for “a kid’s vehicle.”













You can spend as little as $3,000 or as much as $6,000 for a new carriage. The high-end models, if properly maintained, will last you more than 30 years. That’s a lot longer than you’re gonna keep that new car you bought last year!



Our guide inside the Pioneer Barn exhibit is a school teacher. She conducts class every day in a one-room schoolhouse such as the one we just visited.



Model of an Amish barn-raising in progress. Typically, a large barn like this will be erected in just one day…dozens and dozens of Amish men work from dawn ’til dusk to accomplish this.


After our visit to the Heritage Center, we drove around town, absolutely fascinated by the people we saw, the buggies they drove and the beautiful community and farmland where they live and work. Amish Country is truly one of the highlights of our Great American Adventure so far. We’ll see more of the area tomorrow, but I’ve included some pictures here just to give you an idea of what life’s like for the Amish and Mennonites here in Ohio.



Seeing all these buggies parked near a store in town made me chuckle. But I suppose  Amish folks get a kick out of seeing all of our cars and trucks parked in a Wal-mart lot. 



Just because you’re Amish doesn’t mean you don’t go to the Post Office.



Front window at a local restaurant.


After spending just a few days in Amish Country, a scene like this seeps pretty normal.


The “clip-clop” of a horse’s hooves on the road is a familiar sound in Amish country. This guy was moving along at a pretty good clip…I’d say at least 20 mph, maybe even faster.



All the men and boys are working on the farm. So guess who gets stuck mowing the lawn? We saw this scene over and over in Amish Country. The women take care of the home and apparently the yard, too. Not a bad system, if you ask me!



Horse drawn harvesting rig. No diesel engines in these parts, that’s for sure.

We really enjoyed our outing to Berlin today. We’ll find something else special to see tomorrow.


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