The Oberammergau Passion Play has a long tradition. Every ten years since 1634, the inhabitants of the town have staged what is today probably the world's most successful and largest amateur play.
How is the name Oberammergau known? This picturesque town is situated less than 100 km south-west of Munich and is nestled away in the Upper Bavarian resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A hiking trail offering a stunning panoramic view of the Alps connects this mountain gem with the world-famous Linderhof Palace, commissioned by the Swan King, Ludwig II. And besides, as the old (and catchy) folk song goes: "Ob er aber über Oberammergau, oder aber über Unterammergau, oder aber überhaupt nicht kommt, des ist net g'wiss". But without a doubt, and as certain as the scent of incense during Mass, it is the return of Jesus Christ and his disciples that Oberammergau's Passion Play will be celebrating. In 2020, the people of Oberammergau will be performing its Passion Play - depicting the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of God - for the 42nd time at the purpose-built Passion Theatre.
Every year, the village's 5000 inhabitants take their solemn and traditional vows during this performance: In 1633, as the Thirty Years' War raged on and the people of Oberammergau were suffering from the loss of 80 lives as a result of the Black Death, the people swore an oath that they would perform the Passion of Christ every 10 years if they would be spared from further sacrifice. And as the dying then suddenly came to an end, the village's inhabitants performed their first Passion Play on stage in 1634. With over 2,000 contributors, Oberammergau's Passion Play is today the largest (and potentially the most successful) amateur performance in the world. Since 2014, it has enjoyed the status of belonging to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Only those who were either born in the village or have lived there for at least 20 years can be permitted to take on one of the many roles. Each of the 22 main roles is performed by two different people – it would simply be too much for an individual to cover the whole marathon performance from May to October. Spectators should also be sure to allow plenty of time: The 11 acts of the Passion Play last for a total of five hours. There is also a three-hour break in between. Those arriving from afar tend to book a place to stay for one or two nights.
Of course, the Play's director, Christian Stückl, is a native of Oberammergau. For 2020, it will be the fourth time that he has been entrusted with staging the Passion Play. Like many of his predecessors, he learned (among other things) the craft of the "Herrgott carvers". The traditional wooden figures and carvings are a big tourist attraction in Oberammergau, along with the village's painted houses in the so-called "Lüftlmalerei" style and of course the Passion Plays. More than half a million visitors made the journey to Oberammergau in 2010, the majority of whom were American or British.
In his 30 years as Play director, Stückl has made numerous changes: an extensive overhaul of the Play's text - including the removal of anti-Jewish passages, the shifting of part of the performance to the evenings and ensuring that female performers enjoy equal opportunities throughout. But in spite of all this, the so-called "Barterlass" was left untouched: an order stipulating that all performers - both male and female - have to do without cutting their hair or shaving for a solid one and a half years.