Beiträge

Almkirta in Schliersee, Nearer My God to Thee

On a very hot morning in August, pack heavy with gear and extra water, I set off to experience my first traditional Bavarian Almkirta. I had been invited by one of our local herders. Not one to ever pass up an invitation to point my lens at something new, off I went. Thankfully it wasn’t a long hike or even a steep hike up to Krainsbergeralm, it is even listed in guides as a “Senior walk” or one that is good for all ages.

Up and up I trudged, truly enjoying the dancing waters of a fresh flowing mountain stream that lined my way. I have to admit I was surprised by the volume of traffic headed up this rocky road normally only meant for bikes and wanderers. In one car that passed me was obviously the priest and I hoped my slow pace would not cause me to miss the celebration completely. It was at that moment a car being driven by an elderly couple pulled along side me and asked if I wanted to ride along. With a big smile I exclaimed yes, that I didn’t want to miss the Almkirta and thanked them profusely.

 

Once I was in the car the endless chatter in the distinct local dialect began. Much of it I could follow along and add my two cents but when I could see on their faces that my pronunciation wasn’t quite right I explained that I was an American living here in Schliersee. Their surprise was quite apparent and it was as if they had discovered a unicorn wandering in the woods. Sadly our conversation was cut short as the ride had only to last about 250 meters to the gate of the Alm.

 

You could hear the voices and revelry of the alpine music all the way down the dusty lane which was also intermingled with the tinkling sounds of the bells the cows in the pastures were wearing. I never know how I will be received arriving alone with a giant camera at my side, but thankfully before I knew it a gentleman I had once photographed during a local Almabtrieb came right up and made me feel very welcome.

 

I feel at this point in the story, I should explain just what is an Almkirta. Almkirta is a church service held high in the mountains. Sort of giving a “Nearer My God to Thee” feeling to attending church. Folks arrive by any means possible, foot, bike, or car and the church sends a representative to perform the religious ceremony. After the service, there is music and a delicious feast.

 

It really doesn’t matter how you feel about religion, attending a church service in what is truly “God’s House” will definitely inspire your soul. At the time of the Almkirta I attended at Krainsbergeralm, a Canadian hiker had been missing in nearby mountains and I have to admit to being moved to tears to hear his name being offered up in prayer.

 

So take my advice. Never pass up a chance to attend a Almkirta or by any of it is many other names Kirwa, – Kirchweih, Kirchtag, Kirtag, Kirta, Kirmes, Kerb, Kirb, Kermes, Kemmes, Kier, Kirbe, Kerwe, Kärwe, Kirda, Kerms, Kermst, Kärms, Kilwi, Kilbi, Kärmst, Chilbi and many more.

 

 

https://www.komoot.com/tour/6292063

http://www.brauchtumsseiten.de/a-z/k/kirta/home.htmlhttps://www.thelocal.de/20180828/tributes-paid-after-body-of-canadian-hiker-missing-in-bavarian-alps-found

 

 

 

Laura Boston-Thek Laura Boston-Thek

American artist, photographer and professional wanderer who, after 20 years of roaming, put down roots in a 100 year old Bavarian farmhouse and fell in love with the Alpine village and its residents (both 2-legged and 4-legged).

 

 

 

Sheep Shearing Time in Schliersee

We arrived bright and early on the mountain. Its surface, still dotted about with the last of Winter’s heavy snow with golden spring blossoms carpeting all the sunny patches. The air was fragrant with alpine herbs carried about on the breeze. The only sounds that greeted us was a lone Cuckoo bird calling out the hour.

It is still early in the season for the cows to make their long climb up and no animals except a few high climbing mountain goats were visible with the naked eye. We stood intently scanning the mountain and trees, looking for the guests of honor for our visit today. We had made the trip up to Firstalm on Spitzingsee with our local farmer, Hartl Markhauser of Anderl bauerhof. We were invited to watch an itinerant sheep shearer work his magic on Hartl’s small herd.

Armed with nothing other than a pail of molasses scented sweet mash and his particular cattle call, he brought out from the shady tree cover up near the craggy peaks, his herd of 20 sheep. What a sight for sore eyes they were, prancing about both young and old. A brilliant flash of white, (and a particularly special speckled brown and white called “Spot” of course), on the pale green and yellow flower dotted meadow. The Bavarian White Mountain Sheep or Bayerische Weißes Bergschaf are a local breed. The rams weigh about 80 to 100 kg and the ewes weigh 65 to 75 kg. The breed was developed by breeding local sheep with Bergamasca and Tyrol Mountain breeds. They are a dual-purpose sheep meaning they can be bred for both their wool as well as for eating.

In what seemed like a timeless manner, one by one the sheep bounded happily behind Hartl, right down the mountain and directly into his beautiful newly constructed Alm. On this day, Hartl had hired a young professional sheep shearer to give his herd a spa day, or at least that was my own personal interpretation of events.

The Sheep Shearer, or Schafschärer in German, trained in New Zealand, exuded confidence. He deftly began setting up his shearing station outside of Hartl’s barn. The nervously excited sheep could be heard “discussing” what was possibly going on outside. The Shearer’s equipment had a purpose for everything, from his clipper blades which he described as “Bone Sharp” to the lanolin impregnated leather moccasins he wore on his feet. Being just one of only twenty Sheep Shearers in Bavaria he has gained a lot of experience in the past 6 years he has been doing this as a part time job. Even though Hartl knew his flock was in great hands he kept a watchful eye on each and every sheep, whispering soothing words, like a proud papa.

Inside the cozy stall, the little herd huddled together completely aware as animals always are that something big was about to happen. Animals, just like people, generally don’t enjoy being interfered. Just like with children though, there are times when you must step in and do what is best for their heath and general wellbeing. It is during these grooming sessions that old, worn, or lost bells are replaced, ear tags checked and hooves trimmed. All is accomplished quickly with great efficiency.

A professional sheep shearer, who has honed his skills and has a silent confidence, can make all the difference. The sheep could just relax and submit to the process. I am not saying every animal was happy about the experience but again this is where having a professional comes in handy.  Each sheep was quickly relieved of their wooly coat and tucked safely back into the herd inside the barn. It seemed like each sheep took only minutes and then suddenly Hartl, bucket of food in hand once more was leading them back up to the peace of the blooming alpine meadow.

As a footnote, I would like to say a warm thank you to my friend and colleague Ulrike McCarthy for extending and invitation to me to join her and Hartl on this amazing experience.

 

 

To visit Anderl Bauerhof for yourself:
http://anderlbauer.schliersee.de

 

 

 

Laura Boston-Thek Laura Boston-Thek

American artist, photographer and professional wanderer who, after 20 years of roaming, put down roots in a 100 year old Bavarian farmhouse and fell in love with the Alpine village and its residents (both 2-legged and 4-legged).

 

 

 

“Aufbuschen” Keeping Traditions Alive

For three years now I have had the joy of spontaneously capturing photos of a particular Schliersee family as they passed by my house in Neuhaus during their Almabtrieb. On one occasion I managed to hand the daughter Magda a business card and thus began our dialog.

This year I was determined to learn more about the back story of Almabtrieb. Who does what and what does it all mean? I received a wonderful invitation from the Bucher family of Unterrißhof in Schliersee, to join them several days before their cattle drive to prepare the decorations.

“Aufbuschen” is a regional world for the process of crafting the various colorful decorations for the cows for Almabtrieb. Many headdresses for the cows are made using an armature that is handed down through the family over the years and is formed in the initials of the farmer. An important armature to which the bouquets of wild alpine rhododendron “Almrausch” are affixed is the crown shape which sit atop the head of the lead cow. The symbolism and traditions of Almabtrieb are centuries old. Though the cows will ultimately each autumn be driven down from the high pastures back to the farm, it is not fact if they will or will not be decorated. The cows are only decorated if it has been a safe and successful summer. This means simply no tragic loss of life. It is only then that a farmer will decorate their cattle.

The farm of Bauernhof Unterrißhof, enjoys one of the most spectacular views in Schliersee. That is truly something to say since there isn’t honestly a bad view of Schliersee. It is located just off the beaten path the drive in alone is pretty magical and affords you endless beautiful views around each tree lined bend.

One sunny September afternoon, I arrived heart leaping for joy over the experience and the view. In the Baurenhof garage everyone was gathered and everything was perfectly organized. The floor was covered with tray after tray of bright colored hand made paper streamer and flowers. This collection obviously represented many long hours of handwork. Leaning against the garage wall were the leather headdresses with the prickly pine branches just waiting to be shaped and decorated. I asked Markus Bucher, Uncle of Magda, can you still buy the headdresses anymore and he told me they were Austrian and that saddle makers there still make them in the traditional way.

After a quick introduction and explanation we tucked right into the work. It was all so beautifully planned and organized that even this American was able just step in and help. I asked if the style of the decorations were always the same and they said no each year the each family tries to add something new and exciting. That year for the Bucher family, there was a flower with an almost rainbow color scheme in the center that they weren’t too sure about right up to when they flowers were attached to the bush. It was a pleasant surprise how nicely the color scheme worked.

As we were finishing up work, the young son of Markus arrived from his after school dance lesson of the traditional Bavarian Schuhplattler. He excitedly and deftly jumped right in to work. I was amazed at how he at such a young age, happily began bringing in the various wagonloads of giant cowbells to be cleaned and polished. He was obviously an expert. I have to admit I have been photographing this young man for the past few years and I was astounded back then at his confidence and ability to drive a 2000 pound cow through busy streets and I was no less impressed with him now.

Working side by side, preparing for this families yearly event to give thanks for a successful year was truly wonderful. I kept hearing in my head “Many hands make light work” and it was true. No only did the time fly by but I learned so much from each generation about their passion for keeping these important traditions alive.

 

 

You too can enjoy the view and stay with the Bucher family at Unterrisshof. To find out more about their availabilities:

http://www.unterriss-hof.de
http://www.unterriss-hof.de/almhuette-am-spitzingsee/index.html

 

 

Laura Boston-Thek Laura Boston-Thek

American artist, photographer and professional wanderer who, after 20 years of roaming, put down roots in a 100 year old Bavarian farmhouse and fell in love with the Alpine village and its residents (both 2-legged and 4-legged).