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Oberammergau is a little town of a little over 5,000 inhabitants, nestled in the lap of the majestic Bavarian Alps, in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Though the term “fairy-tale town” has been rather overused in the context of quintessential German towns, there is no better way of describing this beautiful hamlet. It is known for its breathtaking landscape, the native gift of woodcarving, unbelievably intricate frescoes, façade painting (Lüftlmalerei), and excellent conditions for summer and winter sports. However, the proudest feather in Oberammergau’s cap is the Passion Play, the most unique and longest-running play in the world.
The Passion Play is a massive stage production held in Oberammergau that brings to life Jesus’ Passion, covering the time frame from his visit to Jerusalem to his crucifixion, and tells the story of his suffering, death, and resurrection. The play was written based on manuscripts dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, though the script has been modified and revised over the years.
The Oberammergau Passion Play is held once every ten years (last year of each decade), over five months. Around 2,000 people, almost half of the total population of Oberammergau, participate in the Passion Play every year, pulling off the main as well as smaller roles with utmost devotion and expertise. This makes it the largest amateur stage theater in the world. As per a law, only people born in Oberammergau and residents of the town for at least 20 years are allowed to take part in the play. The Passion Play production is staged in an open-air setting over the course of one day, but the duration of the show varies between five and eight hours.
The Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the most devastating war in the history of mankind, ravaged most of Europe. Amid all the suffering, sickness, and starvation, the people of Oberammergau vowed in 1633 that if God spared them from the disastrous plague, they would stage a play every ten years devoted to the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ forever. Soon after, the death rate declined sharply. The villagers kept their promise and staged the first Passion Play at Pentecost in 1634 on the graves of their fellow men who fell victim to the merciless plague. Since then, generations of Oberammergau natives have kept their pledge over the centuries, and the Passion Play has been staged with very few interruptions every ten years. The venue for the play has changed over the decades and has consistently become more modern with growing demands.
The 42nd Passion Play will start in May 2020. However, preparations for this massive event kicked off back in 2015, with the appointment of the production team, promotion, and decisions about prices, schedules, and other details. By February 2019, all participants will stop shaving and cutting their hair, and by Spring, names of all participants will be announced. By Autumn 2019, rehearsals will start in full swing. As many as 2,000 people from Oberammergau are expected to take part in 102 performances at the Passion Play 2020.
For the Oberammergau Passion Play 2020, 450,000 visitors are expected, about half of them from outside Germany. Several companies organize package tours to Oberammergau during the Passion Play, which usually includes accommodation along with tickets to the play. The production is in German, and visitors are provided with a copy of the script in several languages. The audience at every Passion Play is truly international, and thanks to the brilliant, captivating performances, impeccable costumes, and outstanding acoustics, language is hardly a barrier. To make sure you secure a seat at this historic event, you can pre-book your tickets right now.
If you are in Oberammergau at any time other than during the play, make sure to take a tour of the Passion Play theater. The exhibits at the theater tell the story of the history and performances since 1634. You also get to see costumes and props used in previous Passion Plays and watch historic movies. 45-minute guided tours of the theater are held daily in German at 2pm and 4pm, while English tours are held at 11am every day (with some exceptions).