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Thread: Almabtrieb In Austria: A Cow Parade In The Alps

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    Almabtrieb In Austria: A Cow Parade In The Alps

    In German, "Almatrieb" means to drive from the mountain pasture. At the end of August and beginning of September the cattle are transported back down into the valley after a summer of grazing in the Alpine meadows. The cattle are elaborately and colourfully decorated, and their return home is accompanied by lively traditional festivities. Most of the festivals take place in the smaller towns and villages in Austria.

    The practice of driving animals down the mountain, or transhumance, dates back to the Middle High Ages, and this tradition has been enthusiastically maintained in all Alpine regions of Austria. Every year, in late September or early October, the cattle that feed high up on the Alpine pastures during the summer are brought down to their barns down in the valley.

    If there have been no accidents on the Alm during the summer, the cattle will be elaborately decorated with headgear adorned with Alpine flowers, ribbons, mirrors and bells and their return to the valleys is celebrated in front of tourists and enthusiastic onlookers, against an intoxicating atmosphere of live music and dance. The clanging of the cowbells is essential in order to ward off the evil demons on their way down into the valley.

    The leading cow, or “Moarkuh”, leads the decorated herd, followed by heifers, bulls, young oxen, and even small livestock, such as sheep and goats. The festive adornment, the crown, goes back to pre-Christian times. The loud bells around the necks of the cows are designed to protect them and bring them down into the valley safely. The traditional craft of the creating the bell still exists today and each bell has a distinctive sound.

    The Almabtrieb festival brings out the best of Austria and the Alps. In many towns and villages, there are also food stalls, alcoholic beverages on sale and stalls reminiscent of the Christmas markets selling sweets, artisan goods and hand-made crafts. You’ll find basket weavers, homemade schnapps, and woodcarvers. This tradition has lasted for a long time, and as a spectator, you’re engulfed in the sound of the bells, colors, music, and you’ll feel just like a local.

    Whilst the practice of transhumance is widely practised all over Austria, the various regions of Austria have slightly different ways of celebrating this ancient tradition.

    In Styria, culinary delights are served on the Alpine pastures, against a musical backdrop whilst the cattle are brought down from the mountains. The adornment of the animals is called crowning ("Aufkränzen"). On the Walcheralm in the Dachstein the day before the cattle procession there is the "Schottenrühren", where sweet food is stirred in a pot before being dished out, and the ritual is accompanied by a display of live music.

    In Tirol more than 2,100 Alpine pastures between Arlberg and Kaisergebirge, Karwendel and the Linz Dolomites house around 110,000 cows, more than 70,000 sheep, 5,500 goats and 2,000 horses. More than 40 larger and numerous smaller "Hoamafahrt" cattle drives take place in the autumn in Tirol, and in this area, the colourful traditional event dates back to as early as the 17th and 19th century. If, however, during the Alpine summer there has been any loss of cows through illness, avalanches or bad weather, they are brought back into the villages undecorated.

    In the province of SalzburgerLand, the shepherds create elaborate headdresses for the cows, composed out of fir branches, Alpine flowers, feathers and ribbons. In the area of Fuchlsee, you can witness the farmer's wives making the "Almkranzlbinden" in preparation for the event. Throughout SalzburgerLand there are often religious symbols incorporated in the attire, such as a picture of St. Leonard, the patron saint of animals. The animals are adorned with either large or small cowbells, depending upon their ranking. The herdsmen and women dress up in traditional lederhosen and dirndls and follow the cows back down into the valley.

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