Holy Cow! Europe’s Alpine Regions Practice “Almabtrieb”

AlmabtriebIndia isn’t the only country where cows are sacred and holy, or so it seems. When you take a second look at the mooing animals in Europe, specifically in the Alpine region of Austria and Germany, you’d think they’ve been subjected to the practice of Hinduism.

Because come late September, when the temperatures have dropped to approaching autumn, a train of healthy looking cows decorated with elaborate, colorful bouquets of flowers and large cowbells hung around the neck, are herded down from luscious, green alpine pastures high up in the mountains into stables in the valley, the so-called Allgäu. (During the months of summer, cow herds tread and feed on pastures high up in the alps, a.k.a as yaylag pastoralism.)

This so-called Almabtrieb, which, literally translated from German means drive from the pasture, is an annual event that is celebrated with music, dance  and food festivals in local villages and has quickly evolved into a tourist attraction. Some 500,000 cows in Austria and 50,000 cows in Germany are involved in this event. Some of the more famous regions where this tradition is practiced are Kitzbuhel and Salzburg in Austria and a few regions in Bavaria in Southern Germany.

What comes down must go back up. Thus, come spring time, the cows are summoned to a train once gain, the so-called Almauftrieb (drive up the pasture).  This time around, however, it is kept hush-hush and there’s no costumes involved. I can only imagine why as I try to picture, in empathy, a scene of unwilling cows marching endless miles up the heavily inclined alps …

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