Passionate about the tradition

The German village of Oberammergau keeps its centuries-old promise and gets ready to present its Passion Play once again.

It’s been a decade since a little village in Germany took the stage to perform a historical show–the Passion Play–that draws crowds from all ends of the globe. The wait is nearly over. The world is abuzz once again about this enduring play that will run May 15 through Oct. 3 this year, and seats already are filling up.


Above: The outdoor theater where the Passion Play is performed looks out to beautiful Mount Kofel.

Below: About half of the 5,000 village residents are in the large Passion Play cast. Oberammergau Tourism phots


The play’s history

For more than 400 years, the quaint Bavarian village of Oberammergau located about an hour south of Munich has performed its Passion Play as a promise to God. It’s actually a fascinating story that every 10 years spikes travel patterns.

With Mount Kofel and the Bavarian Alps as a backdrop, Oberammergau’s welcoming facades of houses are brilliantly painted with frescoes. The scenes range from biblical to storybook. In this charming village, the sense of peace is absolute.

Oberammergau wasn’t always as wonderfully peaceful as it is now. In the middle of the Thirty Years War at the beginning of the 17th century, the plague penetrated the remote mountain valleys of the Alps. People at that time believed that their only chance of survival was to pacify God’s fury. So in 1633, surviving villagers swore an oath to perform a “Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” if God would show mercy and release their village from the clutches of the plague. According to a chronicle of the time, from the day the villagers of Oberammergau gathered around the cross to swear their sacred vow, no more villagers died of the plague.

The first Passion Play was staged in 1634. In 1680, the performance was moved to the first year of each decade.

The plot of the Passion Play has not changed since the first performance. It includes Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the kiss of betrayal on the Mount of Olives, the mocking Roman soldiers, the women who followed Jesus to his crucifixion, and the moment Mary Magdalene brings word of his resurrection to the disciples. The Passion Play is performed on an open-air stage that’s part of a 4,700-seat outdoor theater. It’s in German, but somehow language barriers are not a problem.

The play’s legacy

How does a simple village succeed in staging a project of this magnitude, even if only every 10 years? Certainly a vow taken in 1633 is no longer binding on anyone. We have witnessed the passing of so many traditions. In fact, there were many old passion play traditions that have since disappeared. Yet Oberammergau lives on. What began as a solemn duty is now the joyous retelling of a story that continues to give hope and strength to countless oppressed people around the world.

This is the story of a man from Nazareth, played out in a theater with music and elaborate costuming. The message is as simple as it is profound. Perhaps somewhere in the middle lies the answer to its endurance.

Jan/Feb 2010 Issue


The Oberammergau Passion Play is a five-hour event, including the three-hour dinner intermission. Performances are held regardless of weather conditions; theatergoers are under cover.

AAA Member Choice Vacations® includes reserved seating at a Passion Play performance on eight European tours. Don’t wait another decade to experience this incredible cultural event.

To find out more about these tours, call or visit your local AAA office or click here for AAA Travel.

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