Story and photos by Kevin S. Abel
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Public Affairs
Every year from mid-September into October, the Allgäu region of Southern Germany celebrates the return of cattle and the shepherds from the summer pastures high in the Alps.
The Almabtrieb, which is called Alpabtrieb or Viehscheid in the Allgäu region, is a traditional event the Allgäu people celebrate with joy and, of course, a festival.
Every year before the weather turns to winter and after about 100 days in the mountains, the shepherds bring the cattle back to the valleys. Long before you can see them, you hear the cowbells ringing. During the Viehscheid, around 30,000 head of cattle leave the lush mountain pastures of Allgäu Region to be herded into the valley to the Scheidplatz and sorted before being returned to their owners
It all starts in the spring when herders promise owners of cattle herds they will return all of their animals to them in good health in the fall. These herders take on a great amount of responsibility and drive the cattle up into the mountains shortly after the snowmelt to fatten them up during the 100 days of summer. The time spent up in the mountains isn’t easy for the herders; they often live in very simple conditions and lead extremely lonely lives.
If all has gone well, the leading cow is elaborately decorated. Whilst all of the cattle are decorated with bells and collars, only the leading ‘Kranz’ (or ‘Kranzkuh’ in Bavarian) is decorated with a wreath. The wreath is fashioned from pine boughs, alpine flowers, bearing a cross and a mirror. All the other cows wear huge bells to ward off evil demons encountered on the journey back to the valley. This is the traditional way of giving thanks for a good grazing season without losses.
In recent years, the Viehscheid has become increasingly popular and vary in the number of cattle and tourists. The average size of the gather is approximately 300-500 head of cattle per event. It’s advisable to get there early for a good view. However, depending on the weather, the Viehscheid may be postponed.
Sheep return to RB
Photos by Sabrina Wilson, Robinson Barracks community member
Winter is coming, and so are the sheep to graze the green hills of Robinson Barracks. The critters are a familiar sight as they return every fall to mow and fertilize the grass.
More meadow mutton photos, including the photographer’s daughter, Stella, who dances with sheep.