Amish paradise

We drove east out of Philadelphia on Interstate 76, heading towards Lancaster County in search of the Amish. I’ve been fascinated by this religious group ever since watching the documentary ‘Devil’s Playground’, a film that follows a group of Amish teenagers during their ‘rumspringa’.

Rumspringa or Rumschpringa stems from the Pennsylvanian German ‘rumspringen’ – to run around. It refers to the period of adolescence when Amish youth test the boundaries of their community and faith and even adopt ‘English’ ways. The portrayals of Amish youth on the crime dramas ‘Bones’ and ‘Cold Case’ further piqued my interest.

And so, to try and see a bit of Amish country, we drove for about an hour out of Philly and plunged back in time. The city gave way to suburbs and then to open, rolling farmland. We started to share the road with a surprising number of horse drawn buggies and all the shops and restaurants were closed for the Sunday Sabbath.

Old Order Amish are forbidden to own cars and instead they travel in horse-drawn buggies. They can, however, accept rides from ‘Englischers’ (the Pennsylvanian German term for non-Amish folk).

The Amish eschew modern technology, including electricity, and so their working day follows the rising and setting of the sun. As a result, the traditional Amish day begins at 4:30am and the house will turn in for bed between 8 and 9pm.

The Amish live according to a set of rules called the Ordnung, codes of living which vary from community to community. The Ordnung will determine acceptable forms of dress, the colour and style of buggies, use of technology and farm equipment, education and language.

There are three Pennsylvanian German words that underpin Amish religious principals and practices:

  • Hochmut (pride, arrogance or haughtiness);
  • Demut (humility); and
  • Gelassenheit (calmness or composure).

The Amish are encouraged to reject hochmut and instead adopt demut and gelassenheit. The latter is sometimes translated as ‘submission’ or ‘letting-be’. It essentially means that the Amish are reluctant to be forward, assertive or self-promoting. It is these values that underpin the Ordnung and their rejection of modern technologies.

We passed through three towns in the middle of Lancaster County’s Amish country. Given their godly residents, they have names that carry unfortunate modern connotations. You can travel from Blue Ball to Intercourse via Bird-in-Hand in less than eight miles.