“One thing, however, is certain: We will play, fulfil our vow and continue the tradition of the Passion Play”, says director Christian Stückl in an interview I read while having breakfast in Oberammergau. During my stay, I realise that the Oberammergau Passion Play is rightly considered one of the most famous amateur theatres in the world, with almost half a million visitors (in normal years) and over 100 performances per season. Some 2,400 local actors, including children, take part in the performances. That corresponds to about half the village size of Oberammergau at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. Wow.
Moreover, strolling through the village, it is easy to recognise who is playing. At least among the boys and men. About one and a half years before the actual premiere, the so-called “Hair & Beard Decree” is announced. This decree states that all stage performers must let their body hair grow in preparation for the Passion Play the following year. It’s so funny: on the second day of my visit, I already feel confident enough to ask all the long-bearded, long-haired waiters, sculptors, neighbours in the café or at the reception: “You’re playing too, right?” 😀
What follows this question is a cheerful discussion about “the character of Jesus”, his values in today’s world, the zeal and joy of “taking part”, as well as the pride in the almost four hundred year old tradition of the Passion Play in Oberammergau.
Oberammergau: The whole world is a stage.
A visit to the actual village of Oberammergau has an almost fairy-tale like quality to it. Beyond the Alpine architecture, there is also something “southern” to be found here. This circumstance is quickly explained, as the former inhabitants invested a lot of energy (and probably also money) in fresco paintings, which the locals call “Lüftlmalerei”. For many years, Oberammergau was located on an important trade route between north and south. This meant that many typical wood carvings could be sold, as well as fresco painters recruited. Thanks to a flourishing trade, Oberammergau enjoyed enough prosperity to pay for partly immense outdoor fresco paintings!
Had it not been for the plague. Similar to today’s pandemic, it ravaged all of Europe in the 17th century and did not stop at the gates of Oberammergau either: in 1633, the inhabitants made their famous vow to perform the Passion of Christ every ten years to ward off the plague. It worked, the spread of the plague did stop, and in 1634, the very first Passion Play took place in Oberammergau. It continues to do so at regular intervals to this day. That, in my opinion, is truly remarkable: In that a single, medieval vow has held the entire village community together over centuries, despite all the changes. Entire life biographies are based on the Passion, family histories are “written in Passion plays”. Fascinating.
The world-famous Passion Play.
Today, I am sitting face to face with “the 2022 Jesus” like this.
Another new feature in 2022 is that there will be special Youth Days on 7 and 8 May 2022 in the run-up to the Passion Play, which starts on 14 May 2022. These are aimed at a young audience aged 16 to 28; tickets are available from € 8. It will also be possible for young people to stay overnight in private accommodation on site, so that money is virtually no obstacle to taking part in the Passion Play.
All other details, as well as the highly entertaining Passion Play weblog including interesting video interviews with the main actors, can be found here.
I can already tell you a little bit more about the actual preparations in Oberammergau! Come check this out.
Tips for foodies: Eat well in Oberammergau.
Not far from the famous Passion Play theatre, in fact right across the street, you may find the charming Theater Café. It serves not only excellent coffee and traditional, home-made cakes, but also delicious breakfast and lunchtime menus. It’s a true spot of congregation, as “yes, we’re always full when the Passion Play is going on!”, the friendly owner explains.
Other great tips for foodies are the Mexican restaurant El Puente (I met “Veronika” here, well the actress of course, who hands Jesus the sweat cloth in the Passion Play), the traditional Oberammergau inn Rose (the owner, Renate, is one of a kind: Be sure to ask her about her family history with regards to the Passion – and take your time for the answer(s)!), the restaurant “s’Wirtshaus an der Dorfstraße” and the Mundart restaurant. You’re guaranteed to find delicious food in all of these places, and your stomach and palate will certainly thank you for it!
I’ve visited a famous local wood carving artist and made my own carving with him.
As I said at the beginning of my video, I could really let my creative juices flow during this particular carving workshop with Tobias Haseidl. Tobias is not only charming, but very talented, too: His works are known far beyond the borders of his country, he is one of the most renowned carving artists and wood sculptors Oberammergau has to offer! This in addition to the fact that he is also an extremely good teacher. Cheerfully, he knows just how to assist and motivate me in the creation of my small pine wood angel.
Asked about his lack of long hair or beard, he smiles modestly: “I am ‘only’ one of the musicians and sculptors in the Passion Play. I won’t appear on stage, so I don’t have to let my hair grow, either.” He explains that sculpting a larger-than-life snake that comes on stage in one scene of the Passion Play,”I looked closely at how snakes coil around something. We were thus better able to make the plastic come alive. With chainsaws, we formed a magnificent snake sculpture that comes across as very real indeed.”
Oh, if only the Passion Play were already here and I could admire this performance on stage!
Visiting Oberammergau and beyond: Ammergau Alps Nature Park and Linderhof Castle.
Last but not least, I recommend combining your visit to Oberammergau with a trip to the Ammergau Alps Nature Park and the famous Bavarian Linderhof Castle. Both destinations are not far from Oberammergau; considering the environment, you may choose an e-bike tour to explore the park, or take the bus straight to Linderhof Castle.
May they live on for a very long time still!
Check out even more images from Oberammergau and the world-famous Passion Play here:
Disclaimer: I have been invited by the German National Tourist Board as well as the Oberammergau Passion Play on my visit to Oberammergau. All opinions are my own.