Why You Should Experience the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2022
Food & Drink, Culture
19 March 2020
Swathed in colourful lüftlmalerei murals and shouldered by the tall peaks of the Ammergau Alps, the enchanting Oberammergau is as modest as it is picturesque. Yet despite its quiet airs and reserved demeanour, the Bavarian town hosts an astonishing once-a-decade marathon performance that attracts crowds from all over the world. Known as the “Passion Play”, the captivating show depicts Jesus Christ’s suffering. Its 42nd edition falls between 16th May and 4th October 2022, in a tradition maintained almost without interruption for over 380 years.
Witness the Immense Scale
Easily the world’s most important passion play, almost half a million people attend one of the town’s 102 performances. From the scale of the 2,000-strong cast to the haunting set design and costumes, it’s truly the spectacle of a lifetime for attendees.
If the town’s population looks positively tiny over the duration of the play, it’s because almost half of its 5,000 inhabitants participate in the drama. Everybody wants a part because the importance of the play has grown, rather than diminished, with age. The play’s history begins in the tragic year of 1634, when the Thirty Years War raged, and the Passion Play was first performed to thank God for delivering locals from the Black Death that ravished the continent.
The awe-inspiring performance tells the story of the trial of Jesus, as well as his suffering and crucifixion. Whilst early performances would have played out on the graves of the plague victims, thankfully today there’s a show-stopping open-air stage, framed by a stunning backdrop of mountains. Don’t fear the weather, however; all seats are covered, and performances are not cancelled in case of rain.
Labour of Love
Preparations for each Passion Play tend to start almost as soon as the last one has finished, and there’s an edict within the village that commands all male actors to grow and thicken their beards a full year before the show. This means that on Ash Wednesday 2022, local males will be ditching their razors in anticipation of 2023.
By Autumn 2021, rehearsals will have begun and everything made ready for kick-off in May 2022. Good stamina is required of both audiences and actors, however. Each play lasts over five hours – albeit performed in two acts with a break – and its programme spans an incredible five months, ending in early October. Owing to its cast being entirely comprised of locals, the play is performed in German, but an accompanying textbook is released each year for viewers, including a meticulous scene-by-scene English translation.
Even after the curtain falls, there’s plenty to occupy visitors hoping to see a little more of Oberammergau. Hike the lofty mountains, walk along the Ammer’s breezy riverbank, or examine the work of local artisans in a bucolic landscape that is as close to the Sound of Music’s wonderland as one can hope to get. In terms of local crafts, Oberammergau’s not just synonymous with the skill of wood carving, but pottery, drum-making and stained glassmaking, too. Discover these local works of art all over town, and perhaps pick up a memento to remind you of your trip.
Eat & Drink
If all the spectating and exploring leaves you hungry, Oberammergau’s gastronomic scene is designed to please. From traditional haunts like the Berggasthof Kolbenalm, with its lederhosen-clad customers, cosy atmosphere and German classics (like schnitzel), to the suave Ammergauer Maxbrau and its vast cellar of fine wines, there’s plenty of opportunity to savour some classic Bavarian cuisine.
Wash down traditional dishes with another local product that’s no less celebrated: beer and weissbeer, all of which must adhere to the stringent Bavarian Purity Law. Renowned for its biergartens, no trip to Oberammergau would be complete without a long, leisurely afternoon spent with a refreshing stein of Veltins or Erdinger.