You need only travel 65 miles west from Philadelphia, on high speed, limited access toll free highways to reach Berks County, PA home of the Pennsylvania Dutch. When most folks think of the Pennsyvania Dutch People, they immediately consider the traditional Amish or Mennonite sects. Although distant cousins of these two groups, the Pennsylvania Dutch are a far different society and culture, which at first glance seems to be quite like other cities with comparable populations of around 80,000 struggling to keep alive and prosperous, although experiencing many of the same problems of so many late 19th Century industrial towns spread through the Heartlands of America.
Reading, the Berks County Seat, is in the midst of a major revitalization, creating a downtown district which rivals much larger cities, and includes a lovely theater, the Rajah, which hosts many national and international celebrities, The Reading Symphony, The Reading Ballet Company, The Reading Opera Company, and Genesius, a theatre and theatre company which presents musicals and dramatic works throughout the year. A major sports complex and stadium have been proposed for downtown, we are awaiting local approval! We boast a great troupe of local dedicated actors, actresses, and support personnel. Many really innovative Rock Bands have their home in Reading; we also have a local Jazz Fest every year. And of course, there are the Reading Phillies, an "A" Minor League Baseball team with a great area where fans can eat chicken and ribs bar-b-que, drink beer, and watch the game from a lovely tree shaded grove. Berks County has alot of everything for everyone to enjoy.
Berks County is also the Home of four major college campuses, Allbright College, Alvernia College, The Berks Campus of Penn State and Reading Area Community College. In addition to this, we have many trade and technical schools, and two Vocational schools for our teens and returning workers; obviously, education is a priority here. Neighborhood and ethnic pride are quite evident in all areas of the county.
As you can see, these are not the "Plain People" who live a totally non-industrialized life. The is almost a clearly defined social strata here, in the cou ty, when we consider the diverse beliefs, cultures and ways of life which can be found among its citizens. There are alot of "transplants" or "foreigners"as the Dutch call us, in the last decade during which affordable housing near the large corporate centers in and aroud Philadelphia became economically out of reach for the average person. Many families, including myself found they could buy more home per dollar out here, and migrated West, as in other days long ago. During the last seven years, it has been quite a learning experience and cultural challenge for my family
The current population of residents includes five very diverse groups. The first, those who are thought of generally as the Pennsylvania Dutch are the Old Order Amish. Unfortunately,there are very few true Amishmen left in Berks County;there are perhaps more in neighboring Lancaster, Lebanon and York Counties. Many descendants of the Pennsylania Dutch Amish sect have moved on to New York, Ohio, and West Virginia where land is more economical and available. An Amishman practicing traditional farming, supporting a family, and employing no mechanized support, requires a minimum of 60 acres of tillable and grazing land.
There are still quite a few practing Mennonites living in the County, as they have adopted andincorporated some modern ways into their tradional beliefs andpractices, and evolved with the changing society of their American home. Founded by Amos Mennon, a contemporary of Martin Luther,the original settlers fled to this country and began their highly religious society. With a literal interpretation of the Bible as a cornerstone of their belief system, they literally do "practrice what they preach", making them very successful easy-going, gentle and humorous folks. Shrewd businessmen, they operate many of the loca lbusinesses as a family venture, utilizing all the resources of their community to the best advantage, and taking very good care of their own. Although not "Fancy" by any stretch of the imagination, they own and operate automated farm machinery, cars, have electricity in their homes and businesses, own television sets, and have become quite competetive in the marketplace. Tourism is a very important part of the business economy here, and travelers are made to feel very welcome by all of the residents.
The Pennsylvania Dutch, on the other hand, are the true natives of this County, and make up the majority of the population. Some still speak Pennsylvania Dutch, (a form of German related to Classic or "High" German, but very colloquial) and are a very hard working, proud group of modern men and women who smoke, drink, and swear, and love to party, gamble, and play. Many of these folks are descendants of the Hessian soldiers who were captured during the Re olutionary War when they were incarcerated here on Mount Penn. Many others are descendants of the Pennsylvania Deutsch, or Pennsylvania Germans.