Double Durlachs

By on August 9, 2018

The mayor of Durlach, Germany and other city officials at a reception for Brenda and John Landis. (Submitted photos)

For the past few years, residents of the town of Durlach in Germany have been re-discovering the town’s namesake in Lancaster County.

In reality, most Lancaster County residents haven’t “discovered” the American Durlach, which consists of a few houses up near a stretch of the Pennsylvania turnpike without entrance or exit ramps. But Durlach, Pa., has gotten some amount of attention from Germans who want to set up an informal “exchange” program to celebrate the joint roots from which Durlach, and other Pennsylvania small towns, have emerged.

Between the German and American Durlachs, there are big differences: Durlach in Germany has about 30,000 residents, while Durlach, Pa., has maybe a few dozen. But there are also striking similarities: both are situated near other towns of the same name — for instance, other northwest Lancaster County burgs like Shoeneck and more vibrantly settled places like Manheim. By strange coincidence, even the call numbers of both fire departments are the same.

All this has been found out after a German named Michael Nesselhauf came to visit his daughter, who was an au pair in Washington D.C., and stumbled on the town while researching the Amish.

According to Gary Landis, a Clay Township supervisor living just down the road from Durlach, the connection was made when the township manager sent him an email about Nesselhauf’s visit.

“We drove around and gave them a little tour,” Landis said. “I’ve noticed this with other Europeans — they’re fascinated (with county history).”

The Landis family also has specific ties to Durlach: Gary’s wife, Brenda, is related to the Eberly family that settled the town in the early 1700s when it was really just a woman and her six children.

Photo of a senior center event in Durlach Germany. Between the German and American Durlachs, there are big differences: Durlach in Germany has about 30,000 residents, while Durlach, Pa., has maybe a few dozen.

A history fact sheet provided by the Landis family shows that after becoming separated from her husband due to a fluke problem on the European side of the Atlantic, Veronica Ulrich Eberly, formerly of Switzerland, landed in Philadelphia in 1727 and made her way to the then-unpopulated tract of land that is now Durlach. Her closest neighbors were Native Americans in what is now “Indiantown” a couple of miles away.

“The (Native Americans) took compassion on the mother and her children and treated them well,” the record states.

A house built in 1751 and a 1794 barn are both still standing.

With Gary on their beautiful county farm June 19, Brenda and son John recounted their visit to Germany for a “Stadtdenker” event thrown by mayor Alexandra Ries, where Durlach’s German residents gave them a grand tour, treating them, John said, like “dignitaries.”

“They were incredibly hospitable,” John said.

Some of the officials in the German Durlach, Brenda said, are keen to promote the trans-Atlantic connection.

“They really want the exchange,” she said, citing an upcoming trip to the U.S. planned by Ries in August.

In between Frankfurt and Stuttgart by the Rhine River, the German Durlach is around 30,000 people in a growing community that includes the historic Karlsburg Castle and some industry, for example, a sewing machine factory.

Learning more about both Durlachs gives Americans and Germans a better picture of their shared history; the travels of pioneering Germans in “Penn’s woods” and how Lancaster County and other areas of PA were originally settled. If you have time, drive up by 76 and take a look at a historic small community and the nearby Penguin Hotel and Bar, up in Stevens where Church Street meets Mount Airy Road. Some of these little places on the outskirts of Lancaster County have a lot to tell us about the past.

Justin Stoltzfus is a correspondent for the Ephrata Review.

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