Wo are the Hutterites? “If you drive straight ahead on the gravel road, you will end up right in our yard,” Mike Wurtz said on the phone, the manager of the Clear Spring Hutterite Colony.
But now we are standing between a pig fattening system, farm equipment and silos gleaming silos, no one far and wide. Cornfields stretch to the horizon – the province of Saskatchewan is Canada’s granary.
Only at second glance do we see the residential complex: two rows of identical blocks, each unit with the same clothes dryer, the same handcart, the same brush next to the door. “We built everything ourselves,” says Mike Wurtz as we sit across from him in his living room. A bare room, no pictures, no carpets, no trinkets. Just a ticking clock on the wall.
Mike – checked shirt, suspenders, gray whiskers – greeted us in a German dialect that was difficult to understand, only to switch straight to English: The Hutterite Anabaptist movement comes from Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Persecuted since the 16th century, it landed in North America. In contrast to the Amish, who reject modern technology, the Hutterites use it with great success.
Vacation, television and the Internet are not an issue
“Come on, I’ll show you everything,” says Mike, putting on a hat. The farm seems deserted, only now and then one or two women in dark blue dresses and dotted headscarves scurry past.
The dress code obliges them to cover their head – this is what the Bible says. “And married men have to wear a beard,” explains Mike. “But I don’t know who made this rule.”
The latest combine harvester is in the vehicle hall, computer-controlled and air-conditioned: “We have five of them,” says Mike. “Half a million dollars each”.
The community is richer than any village in the area, the members grow wheat, rape, lentils and barley, have dairy cows and a chicken farm, and raise geese and pigs. There is a joinery, sewage treatment plant, fire department, power station.
“We do all of this for the ‘split’,” explains the manager. “As soon as we have more than 130 members, we will found a sister church.” Apart from pocket money, the families do not earn any money – the Hutterites live in community of property.
Everyone works for the collective, every family gets a fully equipped house and everything they need to live. Holidays are not an issue, television, radio and the Internet are taboo.
Canada’s Hutterites live isolated in colonies
Again and again we have to swallow internally: This is a different world. At the same time, it is a privilege to be here once – in the particularly conservative colonies such as Clear Spring, strangers are otherwise hated to be seen.
Mike doesn’t reveal why he still shows us everything. He also leaves it open until evening whether we can stay overnight. And he will remain the only person we are allowed to talk to here – according to his rules.
We take a look inside the school: empty, spotlessly clean rooms. No toys on the floor, no picture of a child on the wall – just a clock in each room. The day begins here at half past seven with Bible lessons in German, then the state English teacher takes over.
“Our law is that school ends after eighth grade,” says Mike. “We don’t need a university – there is enough work for everyone.” The 15-year-old school leavers are assigned a job, depending on the area in which someone is currently absent. If you still want to study, you have to leave the colony.
Women flee to the other side of the bushes
We stop at the church; it too is a simple room – with a clock on the wall. Two pastors hold mass here every evening and on Sunday. This is also where all the important decisions are made. The seven “elders” of the colony make a proposal; all baptized men are entitled to vote.
Then we hear laughter for the first time. At last! Young women, their hair combed to the center part under their headscarves, are picking ripe Saskatoon berries, big buckets are already filled with the juicy red fruits. “Take it,” the gardener invites us. The women shyly turn their heads away or flee to the other side of the bushes.
The next morning – we were actually allowed to stay – we leave Clear Spring behind us again. Talk for a long time about the past 24 hours.
“If you weren’t born here, you won’t make it,” Mike had said. Around 70 percent of the young men leave the colony, he said – but many of them returned after a few years. Most women stay.
Oliver Gerhard from Berlin blogs at kanada-blogger.com. This text was published there in 2015.