Every ten years the town of Oberammergau is transformed into a theater stage. 2,000 actors and extras from the community present the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ during five-hour long performances.
The biblical theater performance in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau on the northern edge of the Alps is considered the world's best-known Passion play and is one of Germany's "intangible cultural heritage" sites. The spectacular amateur theatre performance attracts up to half a million spectators from all parts of the world. Every ten years, between May and October, the villagers present the last five days of Jesus' life in more than a hundred performances, transforming Oberammergau into the world's largest open-air stage. In addition to the spectacle, the music also plays an important role, with solos and choir numbers, both dramatic and contemplative. It mirrors the events of the Passion and is largely based on compositions by Rochus Dedler (1779 to 1822).
A Village Takes to the Stage
The Oberammergau Passion Play places half the village on stage. About 2000 of the 5000 inhabitants, regardless of age, participate as actors, extras or stagehands. Performing in the Passion is a family tradition. If the grandfather had participated in it, so too would the father and son. Many of the main actors take time off or shorten their work hours for the months of the Passion Play.
The kick-off for the Passion Play comes a year earlier, on Ash Wednesday. This is when the hair and beard decree is issued. The performers are advised not to have a haircut from this date until after the end of the performances. Men should also grow their beards.
The plague vow ended the epidemic
The first Oberammergau Passion Play was held in 1634. At that time the Black Plague raged through the country, which also claimed the lives of 80 Oberammergau citizens. Not knowing any other way to help themselves, the people made a vow. They promised to regularly re-enact the suffering and death of Jesus if from then on they would be spared from the plague. From that moment on, there were no more plague deaths and the history of the Passion Plays began. In 1680, a ten-year cycle was established. With the exception of a few interruptions caused by political reasons, this has been maintained up to the present day.
Since the middle of the 19th century, the Passion Plays have also become internationally known. Austria's Empress Elisabeth sat to watch, as did Bavaria's King Ludwig II, composer Franz Liszt and tower builder Alexandre Gustav Eiffel. In accordance with the schedule, the historical performances were to have taken place in 2020. But due to the Corona pandemic they had to be postponed, now running 14 May to 2 October 2022. For the first time, there will be special Youth Days happening on 7 and 8 May 2022. More than 8000 young visitors will be invited to an audition as well as an accompanying church programme with ecumenical services and workshops.
Alpine Panoramas, Neuschwanstein and the Wieskirche Church
Apart from the Passion Play, the region also offers many tourist highlights. The Ammergau Alps Nature Park attracts visitors with its magnificent mountain panoramas, fantastically situated lakes and picturesque castle ruins, offering walks, cabin hikes, themed trails or cycling tours. Parents can keep their children happy with open-air museums, fun pools, bike parks and a fairytale forest. Impressive monasteries, museums and churches welcome those interested in culture. Among them are some world-famous buildings such as Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle of King Ludwig II, the imposing Ettal Monastery with its baroque basilica and rococo sacristy, as well as the small but magnificently decorated Wieskirche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.