KEEPING IT REAL: The Myth of Authentic Travel

by Vera Marie Badertscher

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.

by leezie5 via flickr.comI 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. 

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