Origins of the word:
“alm” means a high mountain pasture
“treiben” means to herd or drive
“Almabtrieb” is the driving of animals away from their mountain pastures

Mid-September marks the beginning of autumn in the Allgäu region. Leaves of the large maple trees begin to change color and the animals must return to the valley after a summer of grazing in their high-altitude pastures. Many farming towns throughout Germany, Switzerland, and Austria celebrate this occasion by leading the cattle through town, wearing traditional clothing, and participating in festival gatherings. The cattle drive is a highlight of annual evnts in the region – and for good reason. It’s truly a spectacle to behold for visitors and locals of all ages. Each town that celebrates puts a unique spin on how they adorn the animals and celebrate this end-of-summer fest. We attended Almabtrieb in Mittenwald because we wanted to experience the local traditions before we ventured further. Mittenwald is an easy 30-minute drive from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Mittenwald has a quaint city center highlighted by a beautiful church, muraled buildings, a violin making museum, shops, eateries, and a brewery.

We arrived in Mittenwald around 10:00 to get a front position to view the cattle procession through town, which was scheduled to begin at 11:00. We were told that the cows are never punctual and that proved to be true as the procession actually began to moooove through at 11:20 😉 The cows were led by farmers in traditional Bavarian clothing.  Austin wanted to note that some of the Bavarian farmers are huge. Some children participated as well, helping to herd their cattle in the right direction using sticks. I didn’t count the exact number of cattle that came through, but after about 10 minutes, the last cow passed and the crowd started to follow the procession toward the fest area.

It was a hot and sunny day so we went straight for the beer tent. With a liter in hand, we walked through the small vendor set ups. There was a brass band playing traditional music. This was all to be enjoyed while overlooking the cows grazing in their newly occupied green valley pasture.

You can see in the below image how the pasture’s mountain backdrop made for a picture out of a story book. We eventually made it over to a large stable to find some shade and discovered that this stable housed the Hacker-Pschorr horses which pull the beer kegs for Munich Oktoberfest. These horses were massive and served as a fun side discovery for our group.

This was a near perfect German festival in my opinion. Beautiful weather and something for everyone to enjoy. Such a unique regional tradition, but also inclusive for guests. Unfortunately, the cattle were not decorated with flowered headdress this year. This lack of decoration signifies that there was a fatal accident or loss from the herd this season. I was looking forward to seeing the artfully crafted adornments, but we settled for the regular sound of cowbells instead. By no means did the lack of decoration on the animals make this a solemn event though. It simply served to bring our attention to the culture and respect for life. It was truly a heartwarming celebration with good cheer. I hope that next year we will be lucky enough to see the cows adorned in huge headdress to celebrate their homecoming after a healthy summer on the mountain.

Overall, Almabtrieb was an impressive and unforgettable experience that I would recommend everyone attend if presented with the opportunity. The cows totally brought the allure for me, but there are separate sheep and goat drives in the region as well if the cow bells don’t call to you. There is a fest for every weekend it seems and we are not tiring out on it yet! Prost!

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