Over our three days in Nesselwang we got used to the walk down-hill from our Hotel Alpenrose to the centre of town. It was Friday 16th September but we didn’t realise the significance of the day; it was a public holiday in town but the only clue we had to what was happening on Friday morning was contained on a poster we had seen on a wall when we were walking back to our hotel from our previous night’s outing to an Italian Restaurant. Our German wasn’t good but some quick research indicated that ‘Herbstfest’ meant something like ‘Autumn festival’ and the image of the milk maid and the cows indicated that cows were going to be a significant part of whatever was happening. We decided we would walk down town after breakfast and see what was happening.
The first sign that something was happening occurred as we approached St Andreas Church; there appeared to be a lot of people walking up the main street and they weren’t going to church. They were heading up the hill towards the alps above town (the area of the Alps around Nesselwang are called the ‘Allgaeu’). We joined the throng as if we knew where we were going. We found ourselves going up the road at the back of town that led us to the winter-time ski facilities. It wasn’t long before we realised that all the locals were gathering along the road-side at the outskirts of town, looking like they were waiting on a parade! Cheers broke out along the road and before we knew it, a couple of guys in Lederhosen with big sticks arrived leading a parade of cows
The day in the Allgaeu was a public Holiday called the Viehscheid, the day the young cattle (the Schumpen) are marched back from the fields in the mountains that they had called home for the summer months. These cattle had been looked after by shepherds and today was the day they were being brought back to their respective owners. These cattle drives occur in most villages in the Allgau at the start of Autumn and the shepherds and the cows get dressed up for the event. The young cows are given large bells for the day and some are wreathed with flowers. This tradition is widespread in Eastern Europe and can involve up to 50,000 cows
Of course the above information about the return of the cows from the mountains was unknown to us at the time as we gazed at the march of the cows down the road. Some of these young cattle were placid in their group marching and others were clearly a bit unruly and rebellious but the young cattle certainly didn’t like a whack over the nose from the long sticks of the shepherds if they stepped out of their allotted group.
After the cattle parade passed where we were standing, the crowd began to follow them. It didn’t take too long to realise that there was a large yard around the corner where the cattle were being taken. This was where the owners of the cows would collect their group of cattle that they had said goodbye to three months previously and they were now welcoming them back after they had been dining out for so long on summer grass.
As a newbie to sorting out large numbers of cattle into individual ‘family’ groups, I wondered how the shepherds were going to achieve this manipulation of the large herd. The process went somewhat as follows…
- Each owner would back his truck against the race where the cows were directed.
- The ‘Head’ shepherd would give his helpers the owner’s cattle tag numbers and these boys or girls would head into the herd and push the selected cattle towards the gate.
- The use of the shepherd’s stick on the noses of recalcitrant cows was used to move the chosen cows forward while other shepherds would take the cow bells off and feed the cows along the race into the back of their waiting owner’s truck
Watching cows get herded into trucks doesn’t sound entertaining but we sat on the slope above the cow pen, fascinated by the whole process. I wondered whether there were any rebels amongst the young cows who didn’t philosophically agree with not having any choice about staying up the mountain or being forced to go to homes that no longer suited their changing bovine personalities! Every now and then I noticed a movement amongst the herd where they all moved slightly threateningly towards where their friends were being kidnapped and disappearing into the back of trucks. What was happening!!!???
I must admit I was wondering whether there would be a ‘Cows with Guns’ incident (song from 2012) which I presumed might be triggered by late adolescent enlightenment brought on by the lovely three months up on the mountain. It would only demand one cow leader to cause a rush at the fence around the waiting truck and the cows would be able to roam free in the streets of Nesselwang. However even the biggest of the beasts couldn’t cope with a wack across the nose from a shepherd’s big stick. All threats of cow rebellion were quickly and easily put down.
Perhaps all thoughts of cow rebellion slowly disappeared as the mound of huge bells piled up on the grass bank, already a distant memory of the slightly rebellious cows as they were loaded into trucks and driven back to home farms.
We didn’t wait for the last cows to be loaded into trucks as we noticed that most of the locals started moving away to a large tent over the road where tables were set out and large steins of German Beer could be easily purchased for an early morning drink. Apparently the locals would celebrate the return of the absent cows all day, even stopping every now and then to wash down a ‘Bockwurst im Semmel’, “a revolutionary veal, seasoned sausage in a bread roll”.
Our group decided we would go and check out the winter ski facilities up the hill from the celebrating locals. A map of the area can be seen at the start of this article, indicating, the ski lifts and ski-runs that would be very busy in another couple of months. We caught the ski-lift up the mountain and were able to check out the ski lodge just over the top of the ridge with great views down into the valleys on the other side. A thrill seeker in our group decided that there were quicker ways of getting back down the hill for our return walk to the hotel. The blurred nature of the images below was caused not by faulty camera work but the terrifying speed of the ‘Alpspitz Coaster’ used in this process.
We had a lovely three days in Nesselwang enjoying both the castles and the cattle but after lunch it was time to jump in our car and head back to Munich, the city where our Scandinavian and German journeys had started many weeks before!