- Everything you need to know about the Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 – tickets, seating and travelling.
- Insider tips and advice on where to stay, accommodation options and what to do in and around Oberammergau.
- Discover the fascinating history of the Oberammergau Passion Play – from its first production in 1634 to the huge 4,500 seat theatre.
The world-famous Oberammergau Passion Play is a spectacle like no other and attracts an estimated 500,000 visitors to the charming German town, nestled at the western edge of the Bavarian Alps. A tradition that started back in 1634, the passion play is only performed every ten years and the next chance you’ll get to experience the epic and unique event is in 2020 – Oberammergau’s 42nd production. A holiday in Germany at this time is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with the memorable and moving passion play an unforgettable highlight. Remember you won’t get another opportunity until 2030.
The history of the Oberammergau Passion Play
Back in the early 1630s a deadly plague swept across Europe, destroying communities and claiming many lives. When the disease reached Oberammergau, a small town in southern Germany, such was the fear of the people living there that they vowed to stage a play on the Passion of Christ if they were spared. Legend has it that their prayers were answered and not a single person perished thereafter. As a result, grateful residents pledged to perform a passion play every ten years to thank God for His divine intervention.
The first Oberammergau Passion Play, depicting the period from when Christ entered Jerusalem through to the Last Supper, his crucifixion and resurrection, was staged in 1634 and has continued ever since, with only a strict ban in 1770 and World War II holding up proceedings. The next – Oberammergau 2020 – runs from 16 May to 4 October (every day except Mondays and Wednesdays) and sees the Oberammergau-born Christian Stückl, who is one of Germany’s leading theatre and film directors, in charge of the play for the fourth time.
Stückl is not a solitary local though, far from it. Indeed, it’s only those who were born in Oberammergau or have lived in the town for at least 20 years who are eligible to perform. Two actors are cast for each of the 21 main roles, with the rest of the 5,400 population either acting alongside, singing in the choir, or being musicians, stage hands, costume makers, theatre attendants or catering for and accommodating ticketholders.
The commitment of residents is really remarkable, with all male performers growing their impressive long hair and beards – the decree enforcing this began this year on Ash Wednesday. Generations of families join forces, sometimes playing the role previously performed by a father or grandfather, and even farmyard donkeys and sheep get in on the act.
Getting tickets for the Oberammergau Passion Play
As you can imagine, tickets for a momentous play that’s only performed every ten years sell out fast, even with 103 shows taking place between May and October 2020 and the open-air purpose-built theatre seating 4,500 spectators. To guarantee a coveted ticket, and a good seat, consider an escorted tour that includes a visit to Oberammergau to see the passion play. It’s one of the easiest options, and with performances running from 2.30pm to 10.30pm (an hour earlier from mid-August) your package will include dinner – the show is such an extravaganza that a three-hour interval is incorporated at 5pm. Nearby accommodation will also be provided, again making a tour a convenient choice when hotel and B&B beds are understandably in short supply.
Alternatively, you can travel independently and try to buy tickets online at the official Oberammergau Passion Play website. Prices range from €30 to €180, depending on the category of seat you choose (there are six) or what’s available. There’s good news though – all seats, regardless of their category, have an unrestricted view. If arranging your own travel, note that Munich is around a two-hour train journey from Oberammergau.
It’s also worth highlighting that the play is in German, however there is a daily 45-minute English introduction to the Passion Play, as well as an official English text book. Don’t worry too much, as it’s nevertheless a thrilling spectacle, especially when the passionate 55-strong orchestra and choir consisting of 64 voices bring down the house with their stirring renditions of the 19th-Century score. Acoustics are excellent, and the whole performance is made all the more jaw-dropping as the open-air stage has a natural backdrop of magnificent Bavarian mountains. All seats are under cover, but if sitting near the front it may be wise to bring a jacket or shawl should there be an evening breeze.
What to do in Oberammergau
Although the Passion Play is a good enough reason to visit Oberammergau, make sure you have time to explore more of the picturesque town. Set in a beautiful location surrounded by pristine mountain landscapes, it’s also renowned for its 500-year-old woodcarving heritage – residents are not only skilled at staging an outstanding show, many are talented woodcarvers too. Also look out for the Lüftlmalereien, vivid 200-year-old frescos, many of biblical scenes, that are painted on the exterior of traditional houses. The Kölblhaus and Forstamt are particularly good examples.
What to do in the area surrounding Oberammergau
For anyone considering embarking on a passion play Germany tour, you’ll be pleased to learn that there’s also plenty to see and do in the surrounding area of Oberammergau. Just eight miles away is the elegant Linderhof Palace, built by ‘mad’ King Ludwig II in the 1860s. The royal’s more extravagant residence, Neuschwanstein Castle, can also be reached by coach in under an hour. Sitting majestically on a dramatic alpine crag, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the home of a Disney princess. The architecture inside is equally as breathtaking, drawing inspiration from Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Lake Constance is a must-see too, and located under a three-hour drive from Oberammergau. The enormous lake straddles three countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland – and is a joy to visit, especially during the summer months.
Other destinations often found on the itinerary of an Oberammergau Passion Play tour include Salzburg and Innsbruck, where it’s a short drive to board the Achensee steam train and ride along Europe’s oldest cog railway.
Don’t miss your opportunity to experience Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 with our extensive Oberammergau Passion Play, Salzburg & Lake Constance holiday. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.