Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Erlenbach, birthplace of Jacob Ammann

On Friday I visited Erlenbach im Simmental, the birthplace of Jacob Ammann, the founder of the Amish. The first photo is of the farm where he likely was born, though I am pretty sure the buildings are not that old. The second is of the view from his home. He was born in a small village called Thal that is up a little ways from Erlenbach. Tal in German is a valley, so that the Simmental is the Simme Valley, with the Simme being the river that flows at the bottom.
This is the most beautiful inhabited place I have ever seen. The mountains are majestic. The fields and chalets are picturesque. The farmers were out turning their hay, since we finally have had some dry sunny weather. It was cool and wet almost all of my first four weeks in Europe! Some of the fields are so steep that they turn them by hand. But in others they have equipment that I can't believe is able to stay upright on these mountains. Someone told me they are built especially not to tip over.
I also took the cable car to the top of the Stockhorn mountain. It was unbelievable to be so high so quickly. I was up where there we still patches of snow and could see all the way to Lake Thun. I also got my first good look at the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau peaks.

A little something about Jacob Ammann. Ammann is a common name in Switzerland. It was the title of the mayor of a village. In fact the same day I was in Erlenbach I read about Miss Switzerland who is competing in the Miss Universe contest. Her name? Amanda Ammann. I also remember Switzerland's gold medalist in ski jumping in the Winter Olympics some years ago. His name is Simon Ammann. Are they related? Not very likely.
Jacob and at least some members of his family converted to Anabaptism from the Reformed church. The late 1600s were an interesting time for Anabaptists. On the one hand the government was putting a lot of pressure on them again, confiscating their property and forcing them out of the country. On the other hand a lot of their friends and neighbors were interested in their faith and were converting to it. A lot of what we consider traditional Mennonite names did not become so until some 150 years after Anabaptism started. The Kaufmanns and the Blanks were some of the newcomers during this time, as were the Buetschis, what we call Beachy/Peachey. And so were the Ammanns. Jacob Ammann's father Michael probably became an Anabaptist, and his brother Ulrich did too, in fact he also was a leader along with Jacob. But I will write more about his tomorrow when I describe my visit to Oberhofen, to where the family moved from Erlenbach.
Perhaps part of the interest came from Pietism, a movement that focused on a personal spiritual relationship with God. These neighbors sensed that Anabaptists were living their faith, not just thinking and talking about it.
I followed Sam Wenger's directions to Ammann's birthplace in his Rural Switzerland book. It was maybe 3-4 km from Erlenbach and it was too steep to bike, so I walked my bike up. Actually the walk would have been better without the bike, a little shorter. However there is nothing like the bike ride down. The hike to the house is quite possible from the train station for someone in good shape.
After my visit to Erlenbach I took a bike ride down the Simmental to Lake Thun. It was beautiful.

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