A Passion For The Passion

Rocco Forte Hotels

There is something truly extraordinary about Oberammergau. A once-in-a-decade experience that combines a spiritually-uplifting Passion Play with the magnificent backdrop of the Bavarian Alps. 

An hour’s drive from The Charles Hotel, Oberammergau is a warren of cobbled streets lined with picture-postcard chalets adorned with murals and brightly coloured hanging baskets of flowers. The surrounding countryside sees pine trees framing verdant meadows, while the mountains rising out of the valley floor tempt hikers in summer and skiers in winter. But what Oberammergau is best known for is its decennial Passion Play, and 2022 is that one year in ten (although it has been postponed because of COVID from 2020). This year’s performance will take place between 14th May and 2nd October 2022. 

Christian communities across the world mark Easter by performing Passion Plays – reenactments of Jesus’s trial, crucifixion and resurrection, with one of the world’s longest running performances being held in Oberammergau, and enacted by the town’s residents. Local director Christian Stückl, who has been in charge since 1990 will be once again at the helm in 2022, for the 42nd edition.

The History of Oberammergau’s Passion Play

The first edition of Oberammergau’s Passion Play took place in 1634, as villagers who’d survived war and disease wanted to thank God with a performance, and has been performed about once every decade ever since. By the 18th century, people were flocking from across Germany to see the spectacle. Today, people come from all around the world. Prior to the opening night, restaurants and hotels bustle in preparation while shops stock their shelves in anticipation. Barbara Schuster, who will play Mary Magdalene, says, “There is tension everywhere, as you’d expect. For the actors, the excitement is felt as we rehearse almost to the last moment, polishing everything.”

Setting the Stage

The cool mountain breeze is a steady whisper as guests take their seat in the open-air auditorium, built in 1898 with a capacity of 4,000. A roof shelters the audience, but the stage is open to the elements giving striking vistas of the sun setting behind the mountains and birds soaring through clear blue skies. Renovated in 2000, the theatre features sets designed by Stefan Hageneier, the creative designer behind the show’s 1,500 handmade costumes.

Team Spirit

Since the 17th century, only native Oberammergauers or residents who’ve lived in the town for more than 20 years can participate. This year, around 2,100 performers – nearly half of the town – will take part, 500 of whom are children. It’s an all-hands-on-deck affair, with a 121-strong choir and 55 musicians performing pieces by the original composer, Rochus Dedler.

Spare a thought for the town’s hairdressers and barbers; the cast have been growing their hair and beards since 2021.  As well as 20 lead roles, extras play priests, soldiers and temple guards. When they’re not reenacting biblical scenes, the stars’ day jobs vary from a geologist and a psychologist to a sculptor.

The Key Stars

Each of the lead roles are performed by two actors, to prevent exhaustion and allow them to maintain their day job, and most have previously performed in the play.  Andrea Hecht, who plays Mary, says, “I empathise with Mary’s maternal concerns; her motherly love is unconditional. She’s one of Jesus’s greatest supporters; through her faith, she has the strength to stay with him until his death.”

Barbara adds, “My favourite scene in 2010 was the resurrection – Magdalene announces the positive message then bids farewell to 5,000 audience members. After her monologue, the choir and orchestra perform Halleluja, he is risen. It gets right under your skin.”

The Passion Play’s 12 scenes are split into two acts, each two and a half hours long: the first in the afternoon, the second in the evening. A three-hour break in between allows the audience time to explore the town and visit a local bakery or restaurant to try local delicacies of roast pork, sausages or dumplings.

You don’t need a passion for the Passion to be utterly captivated by the extraordinary and uplifting experience of Oberammergau.

Combine a visit to Oberammergau with a stay at The Charles Hotel in Munich, just an hour’s drive away. Email our concierge for more details on info.charles@roccofortehotels.com or call +49 89 544 5550.

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