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The Allgäu cattle drive: "Viehscheid"

Report · Allgäu · May 15, 2019
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  • Cattle drive in Ofterschwang Gunzesried
    Cattle drive in Ofterschwang Gunzesried
    Photo: TG Hörnerdörfer

Goodbye summer: Young cattle, dairy cows, goats and sheep have spent three months in the high altitudes of the Allgäu Alps and Prealps. They revived flower and herbs pastures and gave milk which has been processed into milk delicious cheese at the Sennalpe. The cattle drive in the fall is a popular traditional celebration in the region. The return of the cattle to their valley barns is accompanied by the ringing of the freshly polished clamps.

"Viehscheid" – an old tradition

"Viehscheid" – an old tradition
"Viehscheid" – an old tradition

It is mid-September and the Allgäu villages are ready. The Allgäu’s oldest and biggest cattle drives take place in Fischen, Obermaiselstein, Bolsterlang, Ofterschwang and Balderschwang.

The “Viehscheid” in Obermaiselstein is particularly impressive. About 1400 elaborately decorated animals are gathered on the village square and driven through a funnel one at a time to be returned to their rightful owner.

This is where the term “Viehscheid” derives from. The German word “Vieh” refers to cattle. Native Germans might believe that the second part of the word refers to a farewell (“Abschied”), but it actually references the dissolving of the herd and the return to their owner. The day is not just celebrated by locals. Tourists from all over the country come here to witness the traditional event that is accompanied by festivities and live music.

These are some of the alpine pastures the cattle returns from

The days before

The locals are quite busy during the days leading up to the event: the big cowbells are polished, the fringes brushed and wreaths of flowers put together. On the day the ordinary cowbells are swapped with special “Viehscheid” cowbells – the pride of every alpine farmer. Their chimes – as the cattle makes its way into the village – is music to their ears.

Cattle drive

Tradition and meaning of the wreaths

Die Tradition und Bedeutung der Kränze
Die Tradition und Bedeutung der Kränze

It is tradition that a particularly beautiful cow – the so-called "Kranzrind" – leads the rest of the cattle. But only if the summer went by without any accidents. The shepherd chooses the most beautiful cow from the herd. This is no problem for them as they know every single cow down to the smallest detail.

In the Upper Allgäu, the eye-catching headdress is made from natural materials and typical mountain plants: pine branches, silver thistles, rowan, rose hips and colorful flowers. A cross and mirror are also part of the wreath. The crosses are meant to ask the protection of God, whereas the mirrors repel evil spirits.

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Lena Wiesler
Update: May 15, 2019

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