"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad



Welcome to the little town of Oberammergau.

A quiet town nestled in the Ammergau mountains of Southern Bavaria

That comes alive every 10 years for the Passion Play.

The story goes like this: In 1633 the villagers made a vow to God that if he spared them from the effects of the plague that was sweeping the region they would preform the passion play every 10 years. Not only were the villagers spared from the plague, but they kept their promise and started performing the passion play in 1634 and haven't stopped since. Now this is the most famous passion play in the world, and every 10 years the villagers perform their play to sold-out audiences from May until October.

Over half of the town's 5,000 inhabitants put aside their normal careers and take part in the play that recounts the events of scripture from Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the ascension. And the rest of the villagers are just as busy feeding, selling handicrafts and renting out rooms to the over 500,000 people that flock to Oberammergau to see the play.

My grandparents attended the Oberammergau Passion Play in 1984 during the 350th Jubilee anniversary of the play, and it has always been my mother's dream to see it herself. It was too big of a coincidence that we happened to be living not far from Oberammergau during one of the years it was playing to pass up the opportunity. It wasn't easy to get tickets or a hotel room, but we finally managed. We were even able to find a babysitter in Oberammergau for Penelope.

The play lasted a whopping 5 1/2 hours, with a 3 hour intermission in the middle for dinner. The only way to describe it is AMAZING. You can't take video or pictures, but here's are two overview videos and a look at the preparations. The costumes are the most elaborate and realistic costumes I've ever seen in a passion play. And no fake beards allowed. During the crowd scenes there are almost 1000 people on stage. The stage is open-air, so the mountains and sky peak out behind the set. Everything is said or sung in German (yes, this is Germany), but you can get a little book to follow along in English, which my mom and I were grateful for because there is a ton of dialogue. Our favorite parts were when the choir sang at the beginning of each scene and a correlating image of the Old Testament was lit up on the stage with the people frozen in time. It looked just like a painting. I also appreciated how they revised the script to give a more sensitive view of the Jews and Judaism. There wasn't a trace of anti-semitism like you often find in passion plays.

But if you're not fortunate enough to land tickets to the play this year or ten years from now, a visit just to the town of Oberammergau is well worth it.

The town is also known for its woodcarvers. There are shops all over the town selling wood carvings in all shapes and sizes. Most of them are on religious themes like nativity scenes or crucifixes (I'm pretty sure this is the most overtly Christian town I've visited.)

You'll also notice that every building has a large crucifix carving on it. 

The other claim to fame is the "LĂĽftlmalerei," or frescoe painting on the buildings. Many of them are centered around religious themes and the Passion Play. Some date back to the 1600's. 

While others are more architectural 'trompe l'oeuil' painting like these on the Pilot House.

Can't afford an Italian marble staircase on the back of your house? Just paint one on and no one will know the difference.

Here are some more buildings around the town:

Here's the hotel we stayed at. We were lucky enough to book the last available hotel room in town.

Grandma and Penelope on our balcony. (No complaints about the view!)

The church across the street where the villagers originally met and made the vow to God to preform the passion play.

The graveyard around the church. This tombstone is for a certain Lang family. By the time we left Oberammergau we had encountered so many "Langs" past and present of Oberammergau that I have become convinced that my husband's ancestors came from Oberammergau. 

It goes without saying that we had a great time visiting Oberammergau and seeing the Passion Play. What a great memory!

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