When I told people I was going to Ohio, they asked “and do what there!?”, and I´m guilty of thinking the state was nothing but flat land too. Happily I can say that I was wrong, and Ohio is quite lovely! Its vast green land extends from the shores of Lake Erie to the borders with Kentucky, from Indiana to Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It is nothing but endless bright-green rolling hills and blue skies; full of farmland, picturesque little towns, which are filled of history, and more developed cities such as Columbus and Cleveland. Ohio also hosts the biggest population of Amish in the United States, and I´m even happier to say that I got to personally meet a very special family, who explained to me their culture, beliefs and even welcomed us in their house.
On our first day in the state we visited the Warther Museum, thanks to Linda (a sweet lady who invited us to see her amazing museum of the 19th-20th century, which she´s building in her own barn), who gave us crucial tips to have a great time in Ohio, and it was incredible! Ernest Warther or “mooney” was recognized as the greatest carver of all times. Working with only the best wood, bones, and ivory (elephant´s and hippopotamus’), he created the most complex steam train models, which had thousands of intricate pieces, all done by hand, and only using his own handmade knives. He was a brilliant artist but also a great man. His fondest prototype was a steam train, which was absolutely perfect in every way (it had all the pieces an actual train would have), built with the finest wood, ivory, and pearls. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND visiting the Warthers Museum!
Next, we headed to Berlin, where a large Amish community resides. The Amish not only live in Berlin, but near the city too, in small European style villages. By the time we spotted the first buggies (the Amish vehicle) the sun was already setting, so we stopped by a party to ask directions. Well, it turns out the party was an Amish family gathering, and we kind of…crashed it. In the end everything went well, we were invited over to chat and have some food. They were so nice and kind to us-kids freely ran around bare foot, horses rested by their buggies, people laughed and smiled and food was being passed around-giving us tips of “what to do when visiting the Amish” and talking about their faith and culture while we shared ours. We specially became close to Lois, an Old Order Amish woman, and her family. The kids showed Maria and I how the buggies worked and they talked about their chores at home.
To give you a better understanding about the Amish and Mennonite culture, and even the differences between them, I´ll start by saying: they are different from one another. The Amish are much stricter than the Mennonite-no electricity, cars or any “modern” clothing is allowed-but they both belong to the Anabaptist church. If you were to trace all the way back to the beginning of the Amish and Mennonite culture, you would go back about 500 years. The Anabaptist church was born from the Protestant Church, which had separated itself from the Catholic Church when Martin Luther started the protestant movement. The differences between the Protestant and the Anabaptist? The Protestant baptized infants and went to war when in need, the Anabaptist didn’t. The Amish and Mennonite groups were born when two Anabaptist men had a disagreement about their faith, so they went separate ways taking their followers with them, voila! Well, both, Amish and Mennonite were persecuted by the Catholic Church until they were offered the opportunity to move to the state of Pennsylvania, which they obviously took. There they established themselves. Now, within the Amish and Mennonite are around 11 subdivisions, some quite strict and others not nearly as much. Each division has a name-Old Order, New Order, New New Order and etc-and small differences from one another, and depending where you live, you are assigned to a church. The Amish must follow their church´s bishop, who will decide how you should live-no electricity, how you should dress, how your house should look, no gas on some, and etc-and you cannot leave the church and go to another one, in order to do that you would have to move to another neighborhood. Some of the major differences between the two groups: the Mennonite have a church building, use electricity and automobiles (just one group still uses buggies); most of them don’t have a “dress code” to follow and the Mennonite children can go to high school and college, meanwhile, the Amish have services in each others´ houses every other Sunday and aren’t allowed to use electricity or own cars; they have a “dress code” to follow and the Amish children can only attend middle school, afterwards they are supposed to help at home.
We spent the night at a Mennonite church´s parking lot. Next morning when I woke up, I was able to get a glimpse of the rising sun between the clouds, right above the green hills. We started the day by visiting the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center and the incredible piece of art, the Behalt mural (14X300 ft), about the Amish history. The tour was fascinating, if you enjoy history, and the guide explained what the paintings meant.
If you are hungry for some home cooked meal, head to the Mrs. Yoder´s Kitchen. They have a very good price on their buffet and a wide variety of food. Also, if you like cheese, go to Heini´s Cheese Factory, they have a huge selection of cheeses and fudges.
In the afternoon, we drove into the countryside of Berlin. Endless green hills filled up the horizon; the sky was clear and it was quite warm. The Yoder´s House, our destination, once hosted an Amish family but now it´s just a museum. The propriety is composed by a main house and a smaller one, a big red barn and the gift shop house. Everything was set up as a prototype of a typical Amish farm, with a buggy and work horses, chickens and cats everywhere. One of the houses is a typical strict Amish home, while the other is from a less strict subdivision. The guides are excellent and if you have a sweet tooth there´s a bakery with fresh baked goodies in the end of the tour(:
To finish up our fabulous visit to Berlin and its surroundings, we visited Lois´ house, a beautiful home on the countryside. We talked and even baked a Brazilian flan, it was great! They were awfully kind to have us over and were beyond happy to answer any questions we had and show us around their farm!