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Langen am Arlberg © Darko Todorovic / Vorarlberg Tourismus

We’re off then!

Summer on the alp

from Vorarlberg

Life in motion

Alpine herdsman family Riedmann

Every summer, the Riedmann family packs its bags, gathers together the kids, the cat and the dog, locks up their house and moves up to the Albona alp, close to Langen am Arlberg. And why? Because it’s lovely up there

Martin Riedmann can remember it as if it were yesterday, back in 2002, when spring was just around the corner. “We had just finished building our house, the garden was done, everything. That’s when other people go on holiday…” He shrugs his shoulders and his wife Veronika, known as Vroni, interrupts him, “Then he comes along and says he wants to go and work on the alp as a herdsman…” Her husband continues, “‘You are mad’ is what she said.”

Veronika Riedmann shakes her head, but looks more amused than annoyed. That’s just the way he is, her husband Martin. Brought up in a family of farmers, he frequently spent time in the mountains with his two brothers. His father was a master herdsman on the Lustenau alp. At first, Martin just spent the weekends “up there” at an altitude of 2,000 metres, but from the age of 12 he regularly spent the summers up there too. “It’s in his blood”, says his wife, and it is easy to believe her when she looks at Martin Riedmann. He is a strong chap, with large hands, a rugged complexion, a voice which, despite its warmth, growls and grumbles. And sometimes his dialect is really strong. Which is why, right at the start, Vroni offers to translate particularly incomprehensible passages. However, there is no need – Martin Riedmann makes sure that he is understood, in a plain yet emphatic manner.

Familie Riedmann Alpe Albona © Darko Dodorovic / Vorarlberg Tourismus

The Riedmann family lives on the alp during the summer. The fifth child is visiting.

They are back up again by six in the morning, up with the sun, to see to the cattle and the horses.

Martin Riedmann

“We just got on and did it”, he says, counting up the number of times. Thirteen already. “Always for the entire summer – 100 days, give or take a day or two.” Along with his wife and two daughters, Selina and Sabrina, he moves up to the Albona alp close to Langen am Arlberg and, with the aid of his dog Max, attends to 180 heads of cattle, 64 horses and 10 goats. Until recently, their oldest son Christoph used to accompany them. Now, however, he is doing an apprenticeship as an electrician and only joins them at the weekend. Lilly the cat, three dwarf rabbits and cousin Linda are also there. Out of conviction, simply because it’s lovely, as they confirm when asked about it. Boredom? What’s that? An alien concept, even for the kids.

What is it exactly that makes the Riedmanns want to go up the mountain year after year? “I could never imagine what it would be like”, replies Vroni Riedmann. Since her husband really wanted it, however, in 2002 she agreed – with a healthy dose of scepticism – to accompany him up on the alp. Then she was convinced, she didn’t need any more persuasion: “It’s so lovely here”, she says and explains why the summer months are the best in the year: “My most favourite reason for coming, though, is my family. We spend so much more time together, we sit together, talk and eat together. The kids are busy with the animals, build a dam, pick flowers, gather blueberries, spend time in the barn with the animals – together. At home everybody has their own room, and there’s also the computer. But not here.”

Alpe Albona Langen Fam. Riedmann © Darko Dodorovic / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Alpe Albona Langen am Arlberg © Darko Dodorovic / Vorarlberg Tourismus

Is it romantic to live in a mountain hut? Definitely! Yet everyone has to pitch in, otherwise life on the alp doesn’t work out. The kids even help out in the kitchen

Martin Riedmann nods. That’s true, all those things are right. However, there’s another reason why he is attracted to the isolation of the alp over and over again. He loves working hard in harmony with Mother Nature. And he enjoys deciding for himself how to organise his day. “You are your own boss, as it were, you have to work hand-inhand with Mother Nature!”

It is also thanks in no small part to their employers that the Riedmann family are able to do this. Martin Riedmann worked in the building trade for 20 years, is a crane driver and has an HGV licence. He has never been short of work, even when he was up on the alp for the summer. He has been making deliveries for a food company for the past couple of years. Veronika works too. Her boss is a huntsman. “Our employers have a good relationship with nature themselves, which means they totally understand where we are coming from”, says Riedmann, and is grateful: “There aren’t that many companies about that would go along with it when I say, ‘I am off now for 100 days!’” Hunting and making a difference to the family’s menu up on the alp isn’t his bag – plus the fact he isn’t allowed to go hunting. “I prefer to observe the chamois, the eagles and all the cattle rather than kill them.”

Selina Riedmann, Alpe Albona © Darko Dodorovic / Vorarlberg Tourismus

Daughter Selina Riedmann is featured on the cover

The Riedmanns don’t miss a thing – not the people in the valley, not the money that is harder to earn up here than would be the case for a man of Martin’s ilk living a different life. “Money is all well and good, but essentially it is out of conviction that you come up to the alp”, he says. Vroni enjoys serving the hikers that stop off for a rest with the Riedmanns on their way to the Kaltenberg mountain hut, but she also likes it when peace reigns once again. A cold platter and a drink are available cheaply on the alp. “This gives us an additional income for surviving the summer”, explains Veronika Riedmann. “But come the evening there is only us, and that’s the best thing about it.”

The whole clan is in bed by ten, and back up again by half five or six, up with the sun, to see to the cattle and the horses. Hard-going – yes, but it is healthy for both man and beast: “The higher up we get, the more tiring it is”, says Martin Riedmann. You need to think of it as fitness training for the animals. And he has a saying at hand to support this claim: “The grass on the stone provides the meat on the bone!” Stress? Not a concept that they are familiar with up on the alp. You just need good legs. “When your feet start to hurt, then it’s time to stop!” And can the Riedmann family foresee the day when they stay in the valley during the summer too? The herdsman scratches his shaggy beard, thinks and says, in all honesty, “Probably not for the next 100 years.”

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