By Devon Lash, The Morning Call

In 1968, Klaus Scharioth, a German student at the College of Idaho, took a road trip to see for himself the ways his own German culture had settled in Pennsylvania and morphed into something uniquely American.

On Wednesday, more than four decades after that first trip, Scharioth, now the German ambassador to the United States, visited once again, but this time with a tour guide: Congressman Charlie Dent, a Lehigh Valley native.

Scharioth said he found more similarities than he expected before touring the Valley's German-influenced economy, education and culture.

"It's fascinating because it's still recognizable," Scharioth declared in delight, reading aloud Pennsylvania German words chalked on a blackboard in a 19th century schoolhouse at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center in Kutztown.

The pair enjoyed a hearty German lunch of Schnitzel and apple dumplings.

Next time, it would be fastnachts and a heaping of shoo-fly pie, Scharioth said.

At medical devicemaker B. Braun Inc. in Bethlehem, he spoke to some of the company's 2,000 Pennsylvania workers and business leaders from other German transplant companies in the region, encouraging continued international cooperation.

He visited the cultural center at Kutztown University to see how his countrymen adapted to life in Pennsylvania hundreds of years ago. And he concluded his tour in Bethlehem, listening to a performance by members of the Bach Choir and touring the transformed SteelStacks.

The plan to revisit the cradle of German culture in America was hatched in January when the ambassador met Dent at the State of the Union address.

Those moments can be long and boring, Dent said, but they connected through the German ancestry of the Lehigh Valley.

"This relationship is very important to us, and we want to foster it and nurture it," Dent said. He is now one of the first members of the German-American caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although centuries separated the innovation and investment he promoted in the morning and the history he encountered later that day, Scharioth said there was a distinct connection between the future and the distant past.

The German settlers came to Pennsylvania for economic prosperity and religious freedom, bringing their work ethic and their love of music, he said.

"They changed the American way of life for good and also got something in return," he said.

"It is, in a nutshell, what we see today," he added.

Now, 62 percent of the investment in the United States comes from Europe, he said.

German companies created nearly 700,000 American jobs, investing $218 billion in America, he said. Pennsylvania workers hold 42,000 of those jobs, many in the Lehigh Valley, the site of the first major German settlement in this country.

American companies have created jobs and invested billions of dollars in Germany, he said.

"It's a two-way street," he said.

The ambassador was serenaded by members of the Bach Choir, the oldest such choir in the country.

He told the eager group of Bach enthusiasts that the composer was his favorite, "in a class all by himself."

"Good answer," artistic director and conductor director Greg Funfgeld assured him.

The tour ended at the brand-new SteelStacks complex in South Bethlehem.

It's not a far cry, the ambassador said, from his childhood home in the Ruhr Valley, which also lost its longtime steel and coal industry in the 1960s. It's begun to rebound but people labored for a long time to launch new industry to fill the void.

That sentiment is one that resonates in the Lehigh Valley, as the brightly lit SteelStacks welcome its first visitors this month.