They come for the leaves, they come for the shopping and they come for the culture. This time of year, you will find the streets of downtown Berlin bustling with activity as shoppers come for the homemade Amish goodies and gifts for the holiday season.
But not all visitors to the area are attracted to the authentic Amish fare. In fact, many travel from all across the globe to learn more about a culture that has become famous thanks to a strong media presence. They want to know, "what are the Amish all about?"
Two gentlemen from Germany happened upon the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center just before closing. Lester Beachy, a volunteer at the Heritage Center and author of "Our Amish Values," was just closing up when they came in asking how they could become Amish.
Taking a look at the two men, one sporting a spiky Mohawk and both wearing v-neck tees and shorts, Beachy raised an eyebrow at their interest in the Amish culture. The two men were adamant on their request, and Beachy asked if they would be interested in attending a church service.
The next morning, too Beachy's surprise, the two gentlemen showed up for the church service. Beachy had to admit, he was a little embarrassed as they showed up in their same casual attire and the Mohawk stood out like a sore thumb, but the two men took in every minute of the service. Being German, Beachy knew that they were able to understand the service.
The two German travelers became fascinated with the culture and decided they would like to stay longer. An Amish family from the community volunteered to serve as a host for the two men and gave them a taste of what it was like to live the Amish life.
The men rose early to help with the family chores the next day. They spent their days in the fields helping to make hay and the evenings helping out on the family farm. When the Amish owner of the farm stopped to rest in the afternoons, the two men took on some of the chores by themselves and even helped the neighbors, although they never accepted money for their services, explained Beachy
Beachy relayed, their favorite part of the trip was the summer evenings they spent gathered around a fire just talking with the family. "This is great," one of the men had said. "At home, I come home and try to talk with my parents and they just sit there, starring at this box in the middle of the room. They don't even hear me. That hurts."
The two men spent three weeks in Amish country that summer. They were simply on a trip across the country, landing in Seattle and planning to walk from there. (After realizing the amount of belongings they had with them, they quickly decided they would rent a car, explained Beachy.) They took back home with them valuable lessons of family and faith and community.
Travelers come from all over to experience the beauty of Amish country as well as the unique culture. With the media depicting scenes of rambunctious Amish teens discovering the big cities and groups of Amish "Mafias" hovering over their communities, the people come with all kinds of questions.
For many of the travelers coming from other countries, especially those of third-world and underdeveloped countries, questions often revolve around sustainability. In particular, farming practices are shared.
In countries such as Central and South America and Africa, the pioneer ways of horse-drawn farming equipment is widely practice. Progress Days brought in thousands of travelers (many from other countries) to see what advancements in horse-drawn equipment have been made.
Wealthy horse farmers come to the area to purchase the latest in equipment and the finest horses for their team, explained a volunteer at the Heritage Center (who wished to remain anonymous). What's interesting, is the young entrepreneurs who are looking to restore the practices of simple farming. "They are not doing this as a hobby, but to revive a lost art and restore old practices."
For some third-world countries, even the simple practices of the Amish way are still unattainable. While they are able to bring back some practices of a single horse-drawn plow, the advancements of a four-horse team to maintain a larger field is just unrealistic for their situations.
A lady visiting from Saudi Arabia came to study the sustainability of the Amish culture. Her goal was to study how small-scale business operations and special trades could potentially be financially and economically sustainable in the small indigenous communities she supported.
"It's a whole different culture. What works here might not work for your community," said the Heritage Center volunteer.
Wherever the people come from, there is no denying there is a strong interest and often fascination with the Amish community. Just this year, the Heritage Center has seen people from 180 different countries pass through their doors, bringing with them a never-ending supply of questions and curiosities.