Passion, music and drama at Oberammergau in Germany

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.

Passion Play at Oberammergau

Passion Play at Oberammergau

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.

Passion Play at Oberammergau

Passion Play at Oberammergau

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.

Passion Play at Oberammergau

Passion Play at Oberammergau

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.

Passion Play at Oberammergau

Passion Play at Oberammergau

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…..

Photo Credit: All photos by Ammergauer Alpen GmbH , Oberammergau Tourism

Looking for a hotel in Oberammergau? Compare prices and book at Hotels Combined

More articles from Oberammergau

12 Oberammergau Passion Play and Altötting in Bavaria – Podcast
Tips for seeing the Oberammergau Passion Play
Painted houses and wood carving at Oberammergau – in Bavaria, Germany

Click here for the official website of the Oberammergau play

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  • Reply
    The Jetpacker
    May 11, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Congrats on getting tickets to the play! I remember hearing about tickets being sold out years in advance, and packages for the play and accommodations running into five figure numbers!
    .-= The Jetpacker´s last blog ..15 Strange Sports Festivals And World Championships =-.

  • Reply
    Mark H
    May 12, 2010 at 12:23 am

    Heather, it is one of travel’s great experiences. I went when I lived in the UK in the 1990s (via a short tour following the Rhine) and was impressed by the play, the town and the overwhelming effort of the whole town to be involved in some way (set makers, costumers, actors, hotels, guides,…) while still continuing with the function of the town. Check out my article at http://www.travel-wonders.com/2009/08/timeless-promise-passion-play.html and have a fantastic experience.
    .-= Mark H´s last blog ..The Oldest Bridge in Australia (Richmond, Tasmania) =-.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Before reading your post I had never heard of Oberammergau before, what an intriguing and unique town it must be. Have a great time at the play.

  • Reply
    Sato Travel
    May 13, 2010 at 3:47 am

    beautiful this drama .very nice great big post for people

  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    May 15, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Although I’ve heard of the passion play at Oberammergau, I didn’t know all of the details that you’ve presented. How lucky to be going. I can’t wait to read the report of your experience. Congratulations on getting a ticket.
    .-= Donna Hull´s last blog ..Saturday’s scene: Celebrating 100 Years =-.

  • Reply
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels
    May 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Oh you lucky dog! I have always wanted to go, but just never got there. And after seeing the photos, I want to go even more. It’s the chance of a lifetime – congrats!
    .-= Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels´s last blog ..San Miguel de Allende, Just What is All the Hoopla About? =-.

  • Reply
    Lee Harrison (Owner / Director Select World Travel)
    May 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Hi Heather
    You are in for a real treat. I was lucky enough to visit Oberammergau last June with DERTOUR, and we were on an educational trip to see the accommodation being used for a special Group departure we have going to Berchtesgaden for 5 Nights and 2 Nights in Oberammergau. The Hotels we are using are all within less than 10 minutes of The Passion Play Theatre.
    One of the Hotels we are using is the Guesthouse Otto Huber.Otto is one of the Passion plays Artistic and Dialogue director. It was a privalege to meet such an interesting man and of Course like the rest of the inhabitants of Oberammergau, the Passion play is their life from Birth to Death. Special Occassions are often remembered by Which year so and so played Pontious Pilate etc. And amazingly nobody is ill during a Passion Play season.
    I Asked Otto What happens to Peoples jobs if they have to act the play for so long during the season,he told me that everybody still works, but downs tools and Jump on Bycycles to dash to the theatre when their part is due to be played and then Jump back on their Bikes to continue back to Work.
    To Whet your appetite and those of your readers here is a link to My photographs and our article about Oberammergau.
    We Do still have availability, if any of your readers want to join any tours from the UK.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    May 18, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    @ Lee – thanks for your information – it would be wonderful to meet some of the local performers – perhaps I’ll get the chance like you.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    So excited you get to check it out. I’ve been wanting to see this performance for a while. I can’t wait to read about your experience.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Cuts for the Coast – Yes, hair really soaks up the oil spill =-.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Heather-You are going to have such an amazing time. We went to Oberamergau last year during the winter while we were staying Garmisch. We had an amazing time visiting the different wood carving shops and learning more about the history behind the Passion Play. I can’t wait to read all about the visit!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Best Kept Travel Secrets E-Book Launch! =-.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Stella Pierides
    June 7, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you for this article on Oberammergau. I love the pictures too. I will also be going this year, later in July, and I very much look forward to the Passion Play.
    Trying to contain and channel my excitement, I wrote the following blog post (A Tale of Two Passions): http://stellapierides.com/category/blog
    Have a good trip and I am sure you will enjoy the play!

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    June 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    @ Stella – yes it’s really exciting to be going – perhaps we’ll be there at the same time

  • Reply
    Susie Sampson
    June 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    I’ve just returned fron the 2010 Passion play at Oberammmergau, inspite of the cold weather 7 degrees it was completely amazing, mind boggling and sensational. The play is a many layered experience bringing the life and death of Jesus Christ totally alive (excuse pun) and realistic, very moving indeed. The music and singing is also totally professional The villagers of Oberammergau with their faithfulness to their vow, have something to teach us all.
    Susie Sampson June 2010

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    June 14, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    @ Susie – I’m so pleased that it was as wonderful as I’m also hoping for – and you’ve just reminded me not to leave my warm clothes at home

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    September 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Were going to see the play the 30th of September through a tour through Israel, Egipt etc. I think it’s going to be great.


  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    September 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    @ Matthys – I feel sure you’ll enjoy the play although in September be sure to dress warmly for the second half of the performance as it may get chilly

  • Reply
    Cheap Travel Tour
    October 2, 2010 at 2:54 am

    So, theatre was much more widely spread in the south of Germany, And I think the music and the Passion Play in Oberammergau really has this of Drama for the 2010 performance of the Oberammergau Passion Play

  • Reply
    sato travel europe
    October 2, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Jesus Christ and John, 1900 performance of the Oberammergau Passion Play. … since 1634 as a tradition by the inhabitants of the village of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany. … The play comprises spoken dramatic text, musical and choral

  • Reply
    cwt sato travel
    February 4, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    lots of interesting information here…..

  • Reply
    July 22, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Is their a dvd available that shows Oberammergau’s Passion play?

  • Reply
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