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5 Fabulous Features of Oberammergau, Germany

A charming little town in the Bavarian Alps, Oberammergau is a treasure trove of enriching activities, amazingly skilled woodcarvers, remarkable views, famous frescoes, and fascinating history. Read on to learn more about fabulous features of this quaint destination. 

1. Famous Passion Play— 

Since 1634, the world's most famous Passion Play has taken place every ten years in the village of Oberammergau. Although Passion Plays are performed all over the Christian world, no other has survived as long through the ages as that of this village in Upper Bavaria. 

Several other characteristics go into making the experience special and memorable. What began as a simple performance has evolved into an amazingly high-quality presentation of acting, music, and staging that involves nearly the entire community. 

The five-hour play itself is performed in its original German language, but this doesn't stop guests from all over the globe attending. For many, witnessing the Passion Play is a faith- and life-affirming event. Language playbooks are available to ensure the audience follows along. For a sneak peek of what is in store with this deeply moving presentation, click here to view a preview from Passionsspiele Oberammergau. 

2. Woodcarving—

Woodcarvers are renowned for their skill, creating crucifixes, clocks, toys, and more using locally grown wood. One of the most common types of wood used is the native Arolla pine. The tradition even predates the first performance of the Passion Play. It was documented in a journal by an Italian traveler who visited Oberammergau in 1520 and praised the sculptures for outstanding craftsmanship. 

In the 18th century, woodcarvers from this area would travel around Europe donning a distinctive backpack-like contraption called a kraxe on which they carried carvings for sale. The peddler, known as a kraxenträger, is a figure whose hard work and resilience is still celebrated in the area today, both in public statues and in sculptures and murals. One of its finest paintings is on the western side of the Hotel Alte Post. While in Oberammegau, look for this familiar figure and spot other common artistic subjects including, the crucifixion of Jesus, St. George slaying the dragon, St. Hubertus, Nativity scenes, morris dancers, etc. Some 60 or so whittlers known as Herrgottschnitzer practice this living tradition. 

Be on the lookout too for another popular form of carving here with miniature scenes set inside of walnut shells. It's incredible! 

3. Scenery—

Situated in the Ammergau Alps, Oberammergau is also a scenic and beautiful destination for lovers of the outdoors. The green meadows, the lush pine trees, and the blue mountains are picture perfect. 

Of the surrounding mountains, two in particular stand out. On the eastern edge of Oberammergau is the Laber, which at 5,525 feet provides one of the most breathtaking panoramic views in the German Alpine region. On the southern edge of the village is the Kofel, a sugar-loaf-shaped mountain with a great cross on its peak. It is often used as a symbol of the village. 

4. Painted Buildings—

The Alpine tradition of creating elaborate paintings on buildings is known as Lüftlmalerei — a playful form of fresco art that creates an optical illusion of space, objects, figures, and windows that may or may not actually be there. These intricate coverings detail fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, religious scenes, and themes of traditional Bavarian life. Oberammergau is essentially one living, outdoor museum, with buildings as the canvas and paint as the medium. This form of mural art is native to southern Germany and Austria. 

Franz Seraph Zwinck was born in Oberammergau and is one of the most famous painters who practiced this art form. The name of the paintings is believed to be a nod to his profession. Zwinck lived in a traditional Zum Lüft house and was referred to as the Lüftlmaler, or Lüftl painter, since he painted frescoes on the buildings. Zwinck also designed one of the local parish churches and painted the well-known Pilatus house which is now used as a craft gallery with woodcarving demonstrations. 

5. History—

Learn the storied past of this village and how it's intertwined with the tradition of the Passion Play. As the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, Germany isn't necessarily a household name, many are surprised to learn its story. Nestled between the Ammer River and the shadow of the Ammergau Alps, Oberammergau is home to a unique centuries-old tradition that came about after its citizens were struck by the deadly plague. When sickness seized the area, residents made an eternal promise to God that if He spared the village, they would show Him gratitude by acting out His life, suffering, death, and resurrection every ten years. From that day, it is recorded, no one else in Oberammergau died from the disease. The first Passion Play took place a year after the promise was made, in 1634. Incredibly, the vow has been kept, and 2022 will mark the Passion Play’s 42nd performance.

History buffs will also find it interesting to know the Ammergau Valley has been an important communications route for centuries. Research suggests traces of settlements in the upper Ammer Valley dating back to Celtic times. Since the 19th century, Oberammergau has had ties with Ludwig II of Bavaria, the so-called “fairy tale king” or “mad king.” He attended the Passion Play in Oberammergau, and spent time in the nearby Linderhof Palace.