The Oberammergau Passion Play is a once in a lifetime experience, a six hour spectacle of music and drama that recreates the last months and days in the life of Jesus and his passion and death on the cross. The entire cast of hundreds is drawn from the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany and the play takes place only once every ten years with the next occasion of the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2022 (postponed from 2020).
If you’ve researched the many Oberammergau Passion Play reviews, already booked to see visit Oberammergau in 2022, or are hoping to get a last minute place on a tour, you may find some useful tips from my visit in 2010 to the Passion Play Oberammergau when it last took place ten years ago.
Note: The 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play was postponed to 2022 due to the Coronavirus Pandemic – more information on the official website.
History of the Oberammergau Passion Play
The Oberammergau play dates back to 1632 when the Plague was sweeping through Europe and reached the town claiming many lives. The people of Oberammergau gathered to ask God to spare their village and made a vow that they would perform a Passion Play every ten years. From that time there were no further deaths in the village and since then the Passion Play in Germany has been regularly performed at Oberammergau, becoming especially popular for visitors in the last century.
The Oberammergau Passion Play is an incredible community effort as all the performers are amateurs and in order to take part you must have been born in the town or have lived there for 20 years. In order to nurture the talent for the Passion Play, there is heavy emphasis within the community and education in drama, choirs and orchestras in order to train each generation for the performances of the future.
Listen to my Podcast from this 2010 visit: Oberammergau Passion Play and Altötting in Bavaria
Are you wondering if the Oberammergau Passion Play is in English? Don’t worry, you’ll be provided an English text but the Oberammergau Passion Play language is German. Being Germany everything works like clockwork, and I was impressed that the play organisers seemed to have thought through everything to ensure your enjoyment of the play.
For each speaking part there are two actors and the playing of different parts often runs in families, with actors taking the same parts that their fathers and grandfathers performed before them.
Oberammergau Passion Play tickets – how to book
If you book through a specialist travel company as we did, they will have purchased a package of tickets, meal and accommodation from the play organisers. When booking a package, each of the Oberammergau tickets includes a bed and breakfast stay for 1 or 2 nights in or around Oberammergau, a ticket to see the play performance, lunch and dinner on the day of the play and free shuttle buses to take you to and from the performance.
You’ll want to consult a Oberammergau Passion Play seating chart, as there are different grades of package available. The lower priced package will get you a lower grade of theatre seat, meal and modest B & B accommodation, while a higher priced one may get you a seat in the front section of the theatre with higher grade of accommodation in a hotel that may be more centrally located.
Read more from this trip: Painted houses and wood carving at Oberammergau – in Bavaria, Germany
If you are looking to book one of the Oberammergau tours, I would enquire what level of package you will be getting. Since it’s such a unique experience, I would personally prefer to pay more to get the best seats for the Oberammergau Passion Play and to stay in a centrally located accommodation.
We also discovered that some packages on certain days allow you to stay 2 nights in the villages, while others like ours were only for one night. Given the choice I would definitely stay for 2 nights to be able to look around Oberammergau at a more leisurely place.
If I went to the play again, I might consider trying to book a package directly and then organising my own holiday around it, although you would probably need to book as soon as the tickets are released around one year before the play.
Many of the packages are taken by travel companies, who then build a holiday touring the region around it, but overall the tours do tend to be expensive and you may not have the time for a long trip. It does seem that most overseas visitors book their visit to Oberammergau as part of an organised tour from a specialist travel company.
Enjoy a hassle-free tour to Linderhof Palace, the quaint little town of Oberammergau, home of the Passion Play, and finally the most visited castle in Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle, in the heart of the Bavarian Alps
How to get to Oberammergau
Oberammergau is about 3 hours journey time by train or road from Munich, which is an ideal airport to fly into. Many visitors will arrive by coach as part of a tour and our coach was directed into a large car park on the edge of the town. From there our group was appointed an English-speaking local guide to assist us and some of our party were transferred into minibuses for a free transfer to our local accommodation.
This prevented coach congestion in the village of Oberammergau and the guide then stayed on the coach to assist the driver to deliver others of the party who were staying in accommodation outside the village. During the performance there were free shuttle buses available to take everyone in allocated accommodation into the centre of Oberammergau or to the restaurants where they would eat lunch and dinner.
Read more from this trip: An introduction to the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany
The Passion Play Oberammergau theatre and performance
The Oberammergau Passion Play is performed in a large, modern, purpose built theatre that seats 4500 people and there are entrances all along each side to get the audience in and out relatively quickly. The wide stage at one end is open to the elements and there are trees and mountains in view behind the stage set.
The theatre auditorium is covered over for the audience of 4500 people and seats rise on a gentle incline from the stage giving everyone a good, clear view even at the back. However it is a large theatre, so you will be able to see more detail of the performance if you are seated in the front half of the theatre.
The performance is divided into two halves of 2.5 hrs each with a meal in between. In previous years the performance was divided into a morning and afternoon session with lunch in between, but in 2010 the timing changed with the first half starting after lunch at 2.30pm with a 3 hour break for dinner and the second half starting at 8.00pm.
Even though it was long, I enjoyed every moment of the Passion Play – it was truly an amazing spectacle. The dialogue in German in interspersed by music and singing from a choir and the orchestra, often with a background of living tableaux with scenes from the Bible, making a colourful picture behind the choir who were dressed in long white robes.
The other unique element was created by the crowd scenes involving all ages including children and babes in arms as well as the occasional sheep, donkey, and even a small camel. At times there must have been at least 200 people on stage at one time, all acting their socks off.
What to bring to the Oberammergau Passion Play performance
You may like to bring a tiny pencil torch to read the English language text as it gets dark in the second half of the performance. As the evening becomes chilly in the Alps, even if the day has been warm, you will want to have warm clothing with you as the theatre is covered but open at one end. A small pair of field binoculars is useful if your seat is towards the back of the theatre, although all seats have an unrestricted view and perhaps a small bottle of water to ward off tickly coughs.
Accommodation in Oberammergau during the Passion Play
Our accommodation was in a local house that provided Bed and Breakfast, in a pleasant residential area and was a short walk to our allocated restaurant and a 15 minute shuttle bus ride into the centre of Oberammergau. For the duration of the play the residents of Oberammergau open their doors and make room for the large influx of extra visitors. Guests are allocated the accommodation by the play organisers depending on the level of package, so it is difficult to determine the specific place you will stay.
If you are in this kind of accommodation you should expect a room that is clean and comfortable, with a warm welcome but not necessarily the latest decor – ours was in shades of 1970s browns and greens. Our group were dispersed in different accommodation and ate in different restaurants and some found that they were staying on outlying villages which meant that they were quite rushed and had very little time to look around the town before the play. Luckily, the arrangements were changed so that we had a couple of hours to look around Oberammergau on the morning after the play.
Explore more of the region on this day-trip to the splendid castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof, lunch in Hohenschwangau, and through the little town of Oberammergau
Hotels in Oberammergau
If you are booking your accommodation independently or visiting outside the period of the Oberammergau Passion Play, here are some hotels in Oberammergau that we recommend, but if none of these suit you, look at other hotels in Oberammergau.
Hotel Maximilian in Oberammergau – A 5 star Alpine design hotel that’s centrally located in the heart of Oberammergau, with a spa and sauna, a traditional Bavarian bar and upscale restaurant.
Romantik Hotel Böld in Oberammergau – located by the river Ammer, on the edge of Oberammergau town centre, this 4 star hotel offers contemporary Bavarian decor and scenic views of the Alps.
Parkhotel Sonnenhof in Oberammergau – A 55 room 4 star Alpine style hotel with spa and indoor swimming pool, that’s on the edge of Oberammergau, just across the river from the old town.
Is the Oberammergau Passion Play worth it?
I felt the play really did live up to expectations and is well worth making the effort to see the play once in your lifetime. The play is as much about the passion of the people of Oberammergau to remain true to their vow and the enormous effort and thought that had clearly gone into putting on the play was a credit to the village and made the play a memorable occasion for us visiting Oberammergau.
More articles about Oberammergau and the Passion Play
More articles about our visit to Altötting from this trip to Bavaria
A pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Altötting in Germany
Hotels in Altötting – Review of Hotel Zur Post
Bavarian Lake swimming in the Badesee near Altötting
Delicious Bavarian Food – Wiener Schnitzel and cherries
Oberammergau Passion Play – Visitor Resources
Our 5 day tour to the Oberammergau Passion Play and other places in the region was booked with Pax Travel who organise holidays to many other pilgrimage destinations.
Looking for a guide to the Oberammergau passion play? We recommend The Pilgrim’s Guide to Oberammergau. If you need a guidebook for visiting Germany we recommend the DK Eyewitness Germany Travel Guide or the Lonely Planet Germany Travel Guide.
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