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Summer cows, summer kids

Summer cows, summer kids

Summer cows, summer kids

Eighty-two cows from the Schwarzenberg Alpine Community spend their summers on the Alpe Obere, grazing on the steep slopes between the Klippern and Kanisfluh mountains. The Rüf family live and work with them during the summer months. At the same time, they also look after two “summer kids” who live and work at the Alpine dairy.

„We could go to the Alp together,” suggested Herbert Rüf to his wife Barbara in the spring of 1994. An Alp is a high-Alpine pasture dairy. Barbara agreed and so they packed up their three children in June and set off into the mountains.

The hour-long hike to the Alpe Obere Alpine pasture begins behind the “Rossstelle” mountain station of the Mellaubahn cable car. The narrow path, fringed by waist-high grasses and summer flowers, winds leisurely up the mountain. After twenty minutes, the road bends and suddenly you enter a small paradise: a quiet, flower-strewn plateau in the Alpe Kanis mountain pasture, which is framed and protected by the steep slopes of the Klippern, Gungern, Wannenkopf and Bettlerkopf mountains. Afterwards, the trail ascends gently towards the Wurzachalpe mountain pasture. Along the way, there is always plenty for the kids to discover: cows, horses and sheep in the Alpine meadows, butterflies fluttering about, busy bumblebees and giant ants in the green thickets along the way. 

The tree line is just below the Wurzachalpe mountain pasture at the foot of the Kanisfluh massif. Here, the steep grassy slopes reach up to the peaks. Softly, the wind carries the steady, melodic sound of cowbells to the ears. Below are the villages of Au and Schoppernau. Finally, there is a short descent to the Alpe Obere Alpine pasture and, after just a few bends in the path, you will arrive at the large hut situated in a hollow. From the shady veranda, the view through the afternoon summer haze stretches far down to Au-Schoppernau, further into the upper Bregenzerwald area and to the peaks of the Lechquellen area. The atmosphere is one of industrious tranquility: The cows spend their afternoons lazily chewing on Alpine grasses. Herbert Rüf busies himself with cheese production in the hut’s large, in-house cheesemaking kitchen. His son Andreas stops by briefly on his way to the upper pasture, and the two ‘mountain kids’ Johanna and Edwin clean the kitchen after lunch.

„We could go to the Alp together,” suggested Herbert Rüf to his wife Barbara in the spring of 1994. His wife, Barbara, agreed. In June of the same year, the couple moved with their three children Martin, Annelies and Andreas to the Brendleralpe Alpine dairy in the upper Bregenzerwald. Their youngest, Andreas, was just three years old at the time. Until then, Herbert had been a full-time Alpine dairyman at the Schnepfau Alpine dairy. As a child and teenager, he spent many summers here learning the cheese-making trade. For Barbara, on the other hand, it was the beginning of a completely new life. Thirty years have passed since then but the Rüf family’s deep love for Alpine life is still palpable to the core. After 17 years at the Brendleralpe Alpine pasture, the Rüfs were hired „on the spot“ by the Schwarzenberg Alp Community to manage the Obere Alpe Alpine pasture dairy. Andreas, now 34, is a skilled carpenter and the only one who still spends every summer at the Alpe Obere Alpine pasture.

The Rüfs have a unique, extended Alpine family: the group that moves to the Alpe Obere every year in June includes more than just cows, goats and pigs. There are also the „summer kids.“ At first they welcomed cousins, because their own offspring had to stay in the valley due to schooling and work. But word soon got around in the Bregenzerwald that kids could go up to the Alpine pasture together with the Rüfs. Since that time, the “summer kids” have been very much a part of the lives of Barbara and Herbert. At present, only 17-year-old Johanna and 12-year-old Edwin live and help out at the Alpe Obere every year during their school holidays. „The desire to go to an Alpine pasture comes from the children themselves. Their parents then contact us,“ says „summer mom“ Barbara. „Our summer kids are just like our own. If they have something on their mind, they can always come to me.“

What’s it like to live and work as an extended family? “We do all the work together until everything is done,” reflects Barbara. But in between, we enjoy the special moments of peace with each other.” High above the valley, the day begins at five o’clock in the morning. After the cows are milked, they head out to pasture. Then, after breakfast, Barbara helps her husband to make cheese in the cheesemaking kitchen. More than 100,000 litres of milk are processed into ten tons of cheese and Alpine butter during the course of the summer. Meanwhile, Andreas, Johanna and Edwin tidy up the stable and then spruce up the Alpine hut. “As a child, you quickly learn what all needs to be done before sundown,” recalls daughter Annelies, who brings the groceries up from the valley once a week. „The older kids help bring the younger kids along.“ At lunchtime everyone cooks together. Johanna bakes cakes for the hikers and guests who enjoy the phenomenal views from the hut’s terrace in the afternoon. „When the day at the Alpine dairy ends at 9 pm, we meet in the bathroom to brush our teeth. We’re just like a real family,” says Barbara with a laugh. At the ages of 68 and 63 respectively, Herbert and Barbara Rüf are now retired. In winter, they rent out holiday flats in their house in Au, and every now and then Herbert helps out at the ski lift in Damüls, where he used to operate a snow groomer for many years. “People often ask us: Why do you still subject yourself to the rigours of life at the Alpine pasture?” says Barbara with a wry smile. “Should I rather live a life of leisure? That would be far too boring for me. Work is the key to happiness!“

Author: Babette Karner
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2023

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