At harvest time in September and October the Alpine regions (Austria, Germany and Switzerland) celebrate the return of their cattles from the mountains with a big feast. Even visitors can get to sharpen the scythes themselves, then cut the grass with it. They can hammer out rake teeth or bind colorful headgear for the cows. After expending so many calories, specialties from farm cuisine instantly supply new energy.
I first heard about this spectacular custom from my hairdresser who has a cottage in the Alps in Bavaria, and meanwhile she was busy with drying my hair she explained what does Almabtrieb (in German literally: drive from the mountain pasture) mean and she also talked about a lot of that nice annual cow train tradition.
During summer, all over the alpine regions cow herds feed on alpine pastures (Almen or Alpen) high up in the mountains. In numbers, these amount to about 500,000 cows in Austria, 380,000 in Switzerland and 50,000 in Germany. While there is often some movement of cattle between the Almen during the summer, there is usually one concerted cow train in autumn to bring the cows to their stables down in the valley. This typically takes place in late September or early October. If there were no accidents on the Alm during the summer, in many areas the cows are decorated elaborately, and the cow train is celebrated with music and dance events in the towns and villages. Upon arrival in the valley, joint herds from multiple farmers are sorted in the Viehscheid-Farewell, and each cow is returned to its owner. In many places this Alpine custom of Almabtrieb has nowadays evolved into a major tourist attraction, with a public festival and booths set up along the course for selling agricultural as well as artisans’ products along with alcoholic beverages. However the reverse cow train up to the Almen in spring is not celebrated.
The cattle train in Mittenwald
Coming home I checked the Cattle drive event in the internet and to my surprise I’d found an Almabtrieb calendar. And according to it this cattle driving attraction has already began in the first week of September and ‘ll last until mid October. Every weekend there are many cattle driving fests in different villages of the Alps. Due to the refugee crisis in Europe I looked up the closest village from Munich and that was Mittenwald.
On Saturday we left very early for Mittenwald and ‘d arrived around 10am to the picturesque village which is famous for its violin museum and violin making factory. Going to the “scene” the preparations for the alpine cattle drive from the Alps was in full swing. The cows had already been adorned with paper flowers -as a symbol and thanks for an incident-free summer on the alpine pasture. And at 11 o’clock the show began, the dairy herdsmen started to drive their cattle past Alpengasthof into the valley. The local music groups accompanied the cattle entering the village and returning to their own stalls. The market stands boasted fresh milk, alpine cheese, farmhouse bacon and bread and cakes. The successful return home of the alpine cattle was followed by a huge feast for all the senses.