When the cows come home
August 29, 2006
GARLANDED and ribbon-bedecked, the last of Berchtesgaden's cows have been escorted from mountain pastures to their valley home.
The beautiful brown and white herd of farmer Matthias Banholzer was ferried over Koenigssee lake and decked with glittering "crowns" in the ceremony which has marked the beginning of winter in this alpine area for hundreds of years.
For three weeks cows were driven from the mountains. The herds pastured highest, in the meadows at 4,000 and 5,000 feet, departed first.
The Banholzer family, whose farm was established in 1486, has been using the same lower-level meadows ever since and has therefore often had the honor of closing the season.
"Zenzi" Banholzer, a black-braided "cowgirl", who has spent twenty four summers on the mountain meadows with the herd, guided the animals onto two flat-bottom boats. Ferried across the deep-green lake, they were met by some 150 tourists, newsmen and newsreel photographers when they docked.
Banks of clouds which had drifted through the deep chasm of the lake earlier had been burned away by brilliant sunshine by the time the herd arrived, and the cow-decking turned into a color-photographer's field day.
As shutters clicked and movie cameras whirred, "Zenzi" covered the fifteen bovines with brightly-colored ribbons and green garlands, then set three-foot-high gilded straw "crowns" on their horns.
Tourists, including many U.S. soldiers, milled about among the cows, patting them and posing with them for snapshots. One German radio reporter pushed his way through the herd with a portable mike to record the ringing of the football-size cowbells.
"Zenzi" explained that the Banholzer herd had been increased by two calves during the summer and that the successful, accident-free season warranted the bright display. The "top cow," blanketed by glittering ribbons, was honored because she had been the "best-behaved," according to "Zenzi."
When the decorating was finished a parade was formed with "Zenzi" and the "top cow" in the center and six sheep with gold stars stuck in their wool bringing up the rear.
Then the procession headed proudly down the country road toward the Banholzer farm an hour-and-a-half away.