Oberammergau: Land of History, Promise
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
OBERAMMERGAU, Germany, Feb. 27, 1998 This Bavarian village is a place where time has stood still.
The 5,000 villagers here still wear traditional knee-length leather pants called "lederhosen," pointed Alpine caps and rugged hiking boots. Tightly knit wool jackets with embroidered wildflowers and woolly walking vests keep out the crisp air.
In summer, farmers tend immaculate fields. In winter, they ply a thousand-year-old tradition of woodcarving. Countless tourist shops in town are filled with the crucifixes, Madonnas, saints and nativities they fashion.
Nestled in a valley rimmed by dark woodlands and snow-capped mountains, the village itself is a tight maze of cobbled streets and houses adorned with historic murals called "Luftlmalereien." The village itself houses dairy farmsteads. High-quality shops lining every major street are packed to the brim with religious statues and other costly wood carvings. Restaurants and bierstubes offer Bavarian and ethnic fare.
Throughout the day, bells peal from the town's 18th century church, decorated within with a wealth of rococo art. At night, only an occasional dog bark disturbs the quiet that settles on the village and across the valley.
Oberammergau has preserved the traditions and beauty of the past and incorporated its past into its present and future. For those who live here, it is a way of life they are bound to honor. People here have honored a pledge their ancestors made nearly 400 years ago.
When the Black Plague swept Europe in the mid-1600s, village fathers asked God to spare their people. In return, they vowed to honor Christ's life each decade. The plague bypassed the village, and Oberammergau's world-famous Passion Play was born in 1634. The next performances are in 2000.
As they do each decade, local residents celebrate the life of Jesus Christ. They will grow their hair and beards, preparing for their latest roles in the cast of thousands. A young shepherd in 1990 may find he's this decade's Joseph or Pontius Pilate.
The eight-hour play is staged in two parts at a 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. Each day from mid-May through the end of September 2000, visitors will attend the morning performance, lunch at a designated restaurant, and then return for the afternoon performance. The play draws sell-out crowds from around the world, so village residents advise buying tickets early.
Between performances throughout the decade, the Passion Play house is open to visitors. English-speaking guides explain the history of the play and display the stage and costumes.
For more information about Oberammergau and the Passion Play, contact the Gemeinde Oberammergau OHG, Eugen Papst Strasse 9a, 82487 Oberammergau, Germany. Or phone: 49-8822-92310 or fax 49-8822-923190.