Bird-in-Hand/PA: The Amish as a Tourist Attraction | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 29.10.2001
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Bird-in-Hand/PA: The Amish as a Tourist Attraction

The Americans call them the Pennsylvania Dutch but they're actually German! Meet the Amish here.

Levi Jake Lantz - proud to be Amish

Levi Jake Lantz - proud to be Amish

Through the decades the word 'Deutsch' (German) in Pennsylvania gradually filtered down to the word Dutch. The first Germans from the Anabaptist community arrived in Pennsylvania some 300 years ago. Most of them were Mennonites or conservative Amish.

Today about 20,000 descendants of these religious refugees live in Lancaster County near Philadelphia. Much curious attention is focussed on the Amish, as the members of this religious group struggle to preserve their ancient way of life and at the same time to market it.

Amische

Horse and carriage is the preferred means of transport for the Armish. They'll gladly take you on a tour through their farms...for a fee of course!


71-year-old Levi Jacob Lantz sits in his black one-horse carriage and holds the reins in his callused hands. He is dressed in the traditional clothes of the Amish - black trousers, a coarse cotton shirt and a yellow straw hat. This has been the typical apparel of the Amish sect for the past 300 years.

Levi Lantz is a familiar sight on the state route between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. He offers tourists rides in his carriage from one farm to another -- for a fee of course. Cars filled with gaping tourists race past the plodding horse carriage.

Levi says that he has seven children and 15 grandchildren, and as he speaks, there is a touch of pride in his voice. Levi speaks 'Pennsylvania Deutsch' - a mixture of English and a dialect spoken in Germany's Palatinate region centuries ago. The Amish speak this curious tongue among themselves. Even their church service is conducted in this unique version of the German language. "The children learn to read German. Everything is German in our community", emphasizes Levi.

The Amish, just like the slightly more worldly Mennonites, reject modern-day conveniences of the American way of life such as electricity or television. They travel by horse-drawn carriages rather than by cars. Every year around four million tourists come to Lancaster County to experience this simple form of life. Levi Lantz has gotten used to being stared at by tourists. For a small tip, he will even pose for photographs with them.


"This is my job. I love my job. And I've got to love the tourists, right?" After all, the tourists bring in the money. And money is what these descendants of the German settlers need, since traditional agriculture has long ceased to provide a living for everybody here.

Kutsche im Schnee

An Amish man with horse and buggy travels on a snowy country road near Harmony, Minnesota on Wednesday. Over 120 Amish families live in Harmony, the largest Amish community in Minnesota. The religious community came to the region from further east in 1974. As a branch of the Old Order of Amish, which is frequently found in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Harmony Community doesn’t believe in electricity, rubber tires, cars or running water.


" When I was young, most of the Amish were on farms. Now there's more off the farm than on the farm. That's not holding out any more. A lot of people are not farming these days."

Commercialism has descended heavily upon the Amish. The main streets of the once picturesque villages in this area are now flooded with kitschy souvenir shops, restaurants and companies offering rides in horse-drawn carriages.

Enterprising Mennonites have even built a shopping mall in the village of Intercourse, where, naturally only authentic original folk art is sold. Tourists lug away bus loads of marmalade, hand-made covers and wood furniture. There's even a band playing country music in this shopper's haven, but somehow this kind of music would seem more appropriate for a cowboy setting.

One of the visitors, Steve Keyweb, is visibly annoyed by the cacophony and commercial bustle here. "It's commercialized. It's like everything else. That's how they make their money selling stuff. But the food is very good: Amish food, German food."

Today, the pastoral bliss of the Amish is a romantic facade for tourists. Much of it is just a memory from days gone by. But nevertheless, the Amish communities do not need to worry about their traditional ways dying out. The large Amish families stick together.

Almost 85 percent of the young adults get baptized and see their place in life within the Amish religious community. Only 15 percent of them opt for a life in the 'outside world' that's how the Amish refer to the rest of America.

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