What are all these tourists doing tramping around in these small towns, smashing what is left of rural life? That was my uncharitable thought when I returned to Ohio for a class reunion and drove up to Berlin (pronounced BER-lin ever since World War II) and Walnut Creek, and Charm. These little towns stand in the heart of Ohio's “Switzerland” – Amish country--and I was on my way to buy some locally made Swiss cheese. I came away with Swiss cheese and culture shock.
I grew up in Holmes County, Ohio. While not as well known as Lancaster Pennsylvania, Holmes County and neighboring counties are the homeland of the Plain People--the Amish and their slightly more permissive cousins, the Mennonites. Back when I was a child, we knew several things about the Amish. They wore mostly black. They managed excellent farms and if we wanted a cabinet built, we would look for an Amish carpenter. But mostly, our interaction with them was on the road. Because they do not drive anything mechanized, their horse-drawn buggies were a road hazard to our '57 Che vies and '60 Pontiac, frequently causing lines of traffic to crawl along narrow county roads.
On my drive in search of cheese, I enjoyed the gentle hills glowing soft green in the humid air. The Amish farms stand out with their sprawling white houses extended by additions piled on like a collapsed stack of children's blocks. Depending on the season, you may see a horse-drawn plow in the field, or geometric patterns of domed haystacks stretching across the fields. The countryside has a Grandmother-Moses-was-here look about it.
I chuckled as traffic slowed to a crawl and I stretched my neck expecting to see the familiar buggy that was blocking traffic. Except it was not a buggy. It was a tour bus. That is when culture shock set it.
Berlin was a tourist destination? BERlin? One of those small towns that we who grew up there could not wait to get out of, was now a magnet for day trippers from Cleveland and Columbus and Chicago? From my youth, I identified Berlin as a hopeless backwater, only important as a prime basketball rival. Among us girls it was famous as the home of a family of five boys--all tall, dark and incredibly handsome. I doubted that the tour buses were on their way to a county basketball tournament.