Philipp Trenkele is an institution in Pfronten. As long-standing deputy mayor of Pfronten he is a familiar face to absolutely everyone in this small town in Allgäu. His reputation as an artisan blacksmith and a specialist of customs and crafts has spread far beyond the borders of Pfronten. Made entirely by hand and used on many Allgäu Alpine pastures and meadows, his cowbells are what have made him so popular. "Bell making is just a hobby. Far from being a business it is merely a labour of love“, he says. Trenkele inherited this "labour of love" from his father.
The people of Pfronten take their traditional crafts very seriously Philipp Trenkele assures us. "Far from being easy going, a dyed-in-the-wool Pfrontener is very headstrong". Trenkele senior’s idea of casting the cow bells from saw blades fits well with this. Why did he decide to use saw blades? "Not for aesthetic reasons, but because they give the bells a particularly good tone“, explains Trenkele. His father should know, he was very musical and a well-known singer.
Everyone knows what a normal cow bell looks like but how do the ones made by Trenkele differ? "My cow bells are made of tin whereas normal cow bells are made of bronze“, explains the expert. Should the bells be made of tin or bronze? That isn’t really the question. It is more about the harmony of all the bells when heard together. "A herd of cows all with bronze bells is lovely but add in a few tin bells and it is close to perfection, just like a choir of many voices", says Trenkele.
But, how do you make a cow bell from a saw blade? The best way to find that out is by watching Philipp Trenkele at work in his old smithy on the edge of Pfronten. As you watch him in the glow of the furnace forming the glowing metal into shape with every well-placed blow of his hammer, carefully crafting the curves of the bell then it becomes abundantly clear even to a lay person that Trenkele certainly knows what he is doing.
Even Trenkele doesn‘t know when he starts making a new bell whether the tone of the finished item will be good or not. This is determined by the material he is using, steel, iron or saw blades, by the tension of the metal and by its thickness. Potential customers need to bring plenty of patience with them. Trenkele‘s cowbells don‘t come off a conveyor belt. They are hand crafted individual items and that is something that just takes time.