Oberammergau is a small village around 20km to the north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is world famous for its Passion Play that is performed every ten years.
In 1633, the plague was once again raging through southern Germany to add further misery to that already caused by the scorched earth policies followed during the Thirty Years’ War. As the plague approached the Ammergau area, the people of Oberammergau made a pledge to perform Christ’s Passion should the town be spared the plague. The first play was duly staged in 1634 and has been performed regularly ever since. Currently, the play is staged every decade, the next performance in 2010 with tickets going on sale in 2008. The passion is performed around a 100 times between May and September in a huge purposely-built open-air theater. Each performance lasts around six hours. All 2,000 actors are local amateurs who either were born in town or have lived here at least 20 years. In breach with tradition, a recent Virgin Mary was played by a mother of two. The passion play is clearly great business but not enough to sustain the village for the decade in between. In recent years, the theater has been used in summer for epic operas such as Nabucco and Aida.
The town itself is a popular year-round destination as it is near the Alps. It allows for fine hiking in summer and easy access to ski slopes in winter. Cross-country skiing is particularly popular in the area.
The town is also famous for two types of art originally pioneered in Mittenwald but nowadays more closely associated with Oberammergau. First and most impressive are the huge number of Luftmalerei (tromp l’oeil) façades. Numerous buildings are painted and although religious themes dominate, more secular themes are also popular and include fairy tales and beer hall scenes. Secondly, the town is also one of the foremost centers in Germany for woodcarvings. Once again, religious items are the most popular but by far not the only works created. Carvings of various artistic quality is on sale throughout the town but the best works are on display in the Pilatushaus.
Strolling through the center of town, we found Oberammergau pretty but not extraordinarily so. The longer we stayed the more we felt that this town is very commercial and being dominated by religious kitsch. For me, nearby Mittenwald is a far more pleasant town with the added advantage of actually being in the mountains rather than the plains.