I am not quite sure why it has occured to me while sitting in San José to write about something that happened in September, when I was still living in Immenstadt im Allgäu, but I am going with it. I just hope I am able to remember most of the funny anecdotes.
This story basically begins with Thomas and a few of his close friends trying to explain to me a tradition in the Allgäu when the cows come down from the mountains for the winter and there is a big celebration. I understood the basics: it was referred to as Viehscheid, it was a weekend long event, and it would include large amounts of beer consumption. In short, it sounded like quality entertainment if nothing else.
It must be said that around this time Thomas mentioned the idea of me writing a book about being an American living in the Allgäu. I entertain the thought of writing a book from time to time. In this case, however, my first response was that I simply didn´t have any material to write about. Ok, so it is different there when compared to Munich or Berlin where you can easily get around with no German skills at all; and yes Allgäuers are quite proud of their cheese and beer and everything else that Thomas claims they "invented". Little did I know at the time that the Viehscheid was about to provide me with new cultural insights to write about; and by that I mean funny stories about drunk men in leather pants, cows wearing wreaths around their necks, and farmers drinking beer from cowbells.
The festivities began Friday night with a party, where all the bartenders were teammates of Thomas (read: free drinks). Long story short: I believe the sun was rising when we were falling...asleep that is. I woke up around 9 am to the sound of cowbells and cow hooves making there way down our street to the big tent where the drinking, I mean celebration, was about to begin.
Thomas had to go work serving beer for six hours that afternoon, hangover and all. I, on the other hand, took my time getting in on all the action. I stopped by the tent about 3 pm to find a traditional Bavarian band playing and farmers, families, and people young and old sitting around long tables with benches enjoying their liters of beer. Of course, it wasn´t something I was used to seeing every day. I still laugh thinking of those huge farmers wearing their short leather pants, but besides that everything seemed to be as expected. Beer maids were running around, people were laughing, and there was still plenty of beer and sausage bread rolls left for everyone.
Then I came back a few hours later. It was the same tent with a far hazier atmosphere. This time around people were dancing on tables and singing. I saw one big dude who looked like he had been hit in the face. This is also when I saw someone drinking from a cowbell. As you can imagaine, a variety of people, even the biggest guys, were no longer capable of walking properly. I guess that is what happens after drinking beer for 8 hours. What a celebration. Yay cows for not falling down the mountain!?
I stood around enjoying the people watching and talking to Thomas and his friend, also Thomas. Soon enough I was approached by a quite old and quite drunk man who started talking to me. At this time, my German was good enough to usually pick up words even from the thickest of Bavarian dialect, but I had absolutely no idea what this guy was saying. Then again, I don´t think he knew either, but he kept on talking and laughing. All the while, he was trying (and sometimes succeeding) to touch my face. Apparently, he liked me. Of course he meant me no harm, so I just smiled and eventually he was on his way.
I didn´t stay until the bitter end that night, maybe I would have a few more stories to tell if I did. I know if I ever did decide to write a book, I would most definitely attend more events like these. I would also be sure to make it to the Viehscheid early enough to see who takes care of all these cows while the farmers and their families (and everyone else in Immenstadt) give their beer muscles a workout. How they keep the cows separated and where they all go remains a mystery to me.