Come warmer weather, fields of flowers and endless sunshine, the cows of the Alpine region frolic around the lush Alpine pastures, grazing to their heart’s content. The cows meander comfortably in the high altitudes with plenty of fresh air, nutritious grass and crisp evenings. Cows are not the only ones to be spoiled by the endless beauty of the Alps but also calves and goats! All over the region, thousands of cows from Germany, Austria and Switzerland spend their summers at the Alm.
Herders spend the whole summer watching over the cows, seeing to the cows’ every need in the hopes of returning the cows back to their owners in the autumn, in good health. It may sound easy watching over a bunch of cows, but herders often lead lonely lives beyond making cheese and butter. Starting from August until early October, the cows and goats make their way down the Alps.
If all goes well, the leading cow, ‘Kranzkuh‘, is decorated with an elaborate headdress while the other cows follow behind, in what is known as a cow train. Probably because of the tourist spectacle it has become, all of the cows were elaborately decorated, with the leading cow, having a special headdress different from the rest. Not only are the cows decorated with their pretty fancy crowns, but they are still wearing their very loud and lovey cow bells, which jingles and dingles with every step they take.
For other Almabtriebs, after the cows have been decorated, the herders and the cows make the long journey back down the mountains before finally be greeted along the way by spectators and village goers looking to watch the annual tradition that is known as the “Almabtrieb“. The herders are dressed in their traditional Tracht – Lederhosen and Dirndl that makes this an extra special, traditional event for the region.
We decided that we were interested in going to Königssee, near Berchtesgaden to watch a very different sort of Almabtrieb. Where normally the cows are walked down from the Alps, these cows were given a little extra special attention as the only way to bring the cows back to their owners from the lush pastures of the Berchtesgaden National Park was via boat across the Königssee.
This has been the only way to bring the cows home for the last 100 years via electric boats. The event was celebrated with a bit of traditional Bavarian folk music.
The area the cows would finally dock was roped off to give the herders and the cows space to dock. Only once the cows had finally docked and were safely ashore could the cows finally be decorated. The first batch of cows arrived around 10am before being decorated around 11. The second batch of cows arrived close to 11:30 before all cows were finally herded through town.
I recommend getting there early enough to grab a front row seat, otherwise you will be 10 people deep and won’t see much!
Below are some websites I found information about the many different Almabtrieb throughout the Bavarian region, although these dates are prone to being cancelled or moved depending on the weather.
If you’re not sure where to look, look for any village that sits near the bottom of the Alps as they are sure to have an Almabtrieb festival every autumn, but be warned that not all festivals are equal. Not all festivals decorate their cows so you need to look for “geschmückt” or “nicht geschmückt” to know if the cows are decorated or not.
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