Embracing Germany's alpine cattle drives

The Almabtrieb in Austria. | Photo by foottoo via 123RF
The Almabtrieb in Austria. | Photo by foottoo via 123RF

Embracing Germany's alpine cattle drives

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Cattle drives invoke images harkening back to the Old West. Lone ranchers sporting a ten-gallon Stetson attempting to lasso a stray cow while riding a trusty steed across vast miles of arid, cacti-riddled landscape a la John Wayne, or the less-glamorous “City Slickers.” However, if you ask your friendly German neighbor about cattle drives, you’ll likely get a much different answer. The “Almabtrieb” or “Viehscheid” is the annual Alpine cattle drive which takes place in the high altitudes of the Bavarian mountains. It’s an event you won’t want to miss.

What exactly is “Almabtrieb” and “Viehscheid?”

“Almabtrieb” and “Viehscheid” are basically the same thing — an Alpine cattle drive. In the Allgäu region of Bavaria, it’s referred to as “Viehscheid” or cattle separation. Near Berchtesgaden as well as in Austria and Switzerland, it’s more commonly known as “Almabtrieb.” Dating back to the Bronze Age, this time-honored tradition is engrained in German culture. Each spring, farmers and ranchers lead their branded cattle up to the higher pastures in the Alps. During the summer, the cows munch and graze their way around these green meadows. Not only does this help feed the cattle, but also helps reduce mountain erosion.

As the leaves begin to change and fall rears its head toward the end of September, it’s time to bring the cattle back down the mountains. Farmers dressed in traditional Bavarian garb (think lederhosen, dirndls and fedoras) lead their herd back to town. To celebrate, the cattle are often adorned with stunning floral headdresses, wreaths and gigantic metal bells which clang incessantly as they make their way home. Once the cows make it to the final destination, it’s time to start the party. Festivals with local fare, plenty of frosty beverages and traditional music are held. It’s quite similar to Oktoberfest, only a little rowdier.

Know before you go

“Almabtrieb” and “Viehscheid” are subject to changes and cancellations, so you’ll want to check the visitor websites to be sure of the dates and details. In light of the recent pandemic, this year’s events may be smaller or may not be held at all. Also, if even just one cow meets an untimely demise or is severely injured during the summer months while up in the mountains, the procession is usually held without the fanfare and festival out of respect. If the cattle drive takes place, it usually occurs mid to late September. Most popular in the Tyrol, Allgäu and Berchtesgaden regions, each “Almabtrieb” carries its own distinct flare. In Schönau, the cows are herded onto a boat which takes them across the crystal-clear waters of Königsee. In some areas, other animals such as goats or sheep may join in the long walk home.

While the notion of cattle drives is considerably different from, we’re used to in the States, it’s no less spectacular to witness at least once while you’re stationed in Germany. They don’t party until the cows come home — they party because they came home.

Subscribe to our Stripes Europe newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, helpful PCS tips, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Europe
Pinterest: Stars and Stripes Europe
Instagram: @StarsandStripeseurope

Related Content

Recommended Content

Around the Web