A Bavarian migration

October 8, 2012

By Michael Dalder

On October 3rd, a day where most of my colleagues were covering the festivities to celebrate German unification, I had the opportunity to be an eyewitness to a Bavarian traditional event. The event was the so-called “Almabtrieb” on the lake Koenigssee, in one of the most beautiful regions of Southern Germany.

At the end of the summer season, farmers move their herds down from the Alps to the valley into winter pastures. The mountain pastures are often in remote areas only accessible by foot – or like the Koenigssee trail – by boat.

We met our guide before dusk to board an electric-powered boat to get to the far end of the lake where the farmer with his heard was supposed to arrive. The lake is known for its clear water and is advertised as the cleanest lake in Germany. For this reason, only electric-powered passenger ships, rowing and pedal boats are permitted on the lake. On this foggy, chilly dark morning I was happy that we didn’t have to row. The hot tea from our captain kept everybody warm and awake.

After a 45 minute ride the sun came out and we were able to see the prettiness of the national park. Our captain stopped, brought out a trumpet and showed us the famous Koenigssee echo. Due to the lake’s position surrounded by steep and narrow rock walls, sound creates an echo which can be heard reflected up to seven times – very impressive.

After another 30 minutes cruising with the sound of waterfowl and the purr of our boat engine, we arrived at the spot where two farmers with their herds were supposed to arrive to load the animals on a float carried by two boats with a permission to use outboard motors to transport the flock.

We could hear the cowbells as the first farmer with his animals came around the corner to board the float.

It was a master feat for the herdsmen to navigate the 200 – 400 kg heavy ruminants on the boat.

The cows are covered with flowers if the whole herd has survived the summer. This time, the farmer had to mourn some animals – thus the drove would arrive “natural” at the village where, by that time, hundreds of tourists were waiting for the herdsman with his load.

I can imagine that the cows are looking forward to next spring when they will be back in their “quiet” shelter.

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