flüchtlinge und viehscheid

i am a migrant. a very privileged migrant. i chose to live in germany, and i can choose to return home to new zealand whenever i want, or go to live in a number of other countries. i have these rights purely through the accident of my birth. i have never experienced living in a war zone. i have never had to flee for my life, to make decisions about what precious possessions to take on a perilous journey and what to leave behind. i’ve never watched as my home was destroyed. i’ve never arrived at a border i could not cross.

i live in munich, the dreamed-of destination for most of today’s refugees fleeing syria, iraq and other troubled countries. as i observe the current flüchtlinge (refugee) crisis, i try to imagine what it would be like: first to live in a war zone and to lose any kind of normal life; then to lose my home, friends and family; then to flee to a squalid, overcrowded refugee camp, my life on hold and no sign of an end. i would probably try to get to europe too. i wouldn’t want to sit around helplessly, rotting while my life passed by. i don’t know how far i’d risk my life on the journey, but i would at least attempt to reach a better place. i’d probably also hope to be able to return to my homeland at some point in the not to distant future, to try and rebuild something better.

i’m not a refugee, and i hope that i won’t ever be in that position, but we live in an uncertain world; who knows what might happen in the next 5, 10, 20 years. i only hope that if i ever become a refugee that someone will show me kindness – as we should now show to the refugees who need our help today.

Viehscheidhow different my life is to the refugees arriving at hauptbahnhof. last week we went to allgäu for a short but very restful holiday, staying with our friend karin and her parents who live there. we walked in the mountains and around the villages, and on friday experienced “viehscheid”. this is the annual festival of bringing the cows down from their summer pastures in the mountains, to the villages where they will be in warm and comfortable stables over the cold winter. unlike new zealand dairy farms which can run huge herds of thousands of cows across high pastures all year round, bavarian dairy farmers have small herds because they need to be kept inside during winter. in the summer, groups of herds go together into the mountains, bells around their necks, to enjoy the freedom and sweet grass and herbs of the mountains (much more sustainable farming than new zealand’s ranches which are destroying water and soil quality and are not even economic).

during viehscheid, which lasts over about 10 days, herders in traditional lederhosen and dirndl lead the cows, who are also dressed up with large decorative bells and ornamental collars; the lead cows wear wreaths and girdles of flowers and greenery. the noise of the bells is quite deafening as they approach and then pass (there are animal rights campaigns against the large bells – i can imagine it must be pretty irritating for the cows, although they looked placid enough). once in the village, they are separated out and taken to their farms. and then, of course, everyone drinks beer together.

viehscheid could not be further away from the flüchtlinge experience: an old tradition in a peaceful and sleepy corner of the world where everything functions as expected. yet even allgäu is not untouched by the current crisis; our friend’s father returned one evening from a community meeting where they had discussed, among other things, preparations for the 21 refugees who are to be housed in the village. all towns and villages are being asked to take the equivalent of 2% of their population, which for this village is 21. i hope that these 21 flüchtlinge will find some peace and rest in allgäu after their long flight.