In July I’ll be off to Oberammergau, in southern Germany. It’s a 5 day tour but there’s only one reason to be going to Oberammergau this July and that’s the passion play. It’s a story of life, death and resurrection and it all started in 1633 as bubonic plague spread through Europe and knocked at the door of the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria.
In an attempt to avert death and disaster the villagers struck a deal with God and took a vow that if they were spared, they would perform a passion play of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. God heard their prayers and there were no more deaths in Oberammergau and true to their promise, the villager have performed the passion play every ten years since then.
It’s a story worthy of a Hollywood movie don’t you think? Even more gripping than that other musical tale of religious devotion and drama set in an Alpine setting – do I hear the Sound of Music?
Since Ash Wednesday the good folk of Oberammergau have thrown away their razors and turned their backs on the hair salons, as all actors are required to grow their hair and beards in preparation for the play, for ultimate authenticity. Over half the population of 5000 strong in the town will be involved in some way as performers, costume makers or in producing the play, not to mention feeding the 5000 and housing all the visitors. The motto “don’t work with children or animals” doesn’t wash here as even donkeys get a bit part in the crowd scenes.
If you think you might like to audition for future productions, I’m afraid you’re unlikely to be eligible. Only those only those who were born in Oberammergau or who have lived there for over 20 years may take part and those who have earned their badge of homour in earlier plays may go on to play the principal parts in later years.
Between May and September this year, 5 days a week the play is performed for a marathon 5 hours from mid afternoon until the evening with a break in the middle for dinner. There’s a specially constructed theatre where the audience and orchestra are undercover but the actors exposed to the elements, so if it rains there’s an extra air of reality and no doubt everyone hopes the sun shines for the resurrection.
The town of Oberammergau would be worth a visit at any time of year, in a valley surrounded by Alpine mountain ranges. The town is known for it’s wood carvers, a traditional winter pastime for farmers, and for its pretty traditional houses with painted murals. In the years between the Passion play you can visit the Museum of Oberammergau, nearby Linderhof castle, woodcarving studios as well as walking and enjoying the surrounding mountain scenery.
If you’re thinking that you might just turn up and hope for a last minute seat, I wouldn’t bother. Because of the large numbers of visitors, and the fact that it’s only every 10 years, tickets are in short supply and get booked up well ahead. Most visitors book through a tour and only stay in the town for one day to see the play combining this with visits to other parts of Germany and Austria such as Heidelberg, Innsbruck, Salzburg or Lake Garda.
I’ll be visiting Oberammergau to see the passion play in July in a 5 day tour that starts in Munich, and if you’d like to visit you may find that some tours are still available from travel companies that specialise in religious pilgrimages – we’re going with Pax travel. Unfortunately it seems very difficult to just buy a ticket for the play on it’s own, and the tours are expensive, so let’s hope it will be a once in a lifetime experience.
If you can’t get there this year, you’ll just have to look out for stories from my visit at the beginning of July. Or wait another 10 years…..