Religious History Oberammergau Passion Play Part 1

About Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany, a long standing traditional reenactment of the crucifixtion of Jesus Christ.

A Ticket to the Oberammergau Passion Play

Oberammergau is a Teutonic "Little Jerusalem" perched in the Bavarian Alps of southern Germany. The village spills out on a single flat flood plain, in a valley at the source of the Ammer River. The village name means a "pasture in the upper Ammer Valley." Today it also connotes the Passion Play. There is an Unterammergau just 5 mi. downstream to the north, but nobody has heard of it because it does not relive Christ's last days in Jerusalem every 10 years. Access to both villages is by train up the Ammer Valley, or by motorcar south from Germany's 1972 Summer Oympics city of Munich toward her 1936 Winter Olympics city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Turn west just before arriving in Garmisch.

When Oberammergau, a village of nearly 6,000 people, last staged the Passion Play in 1970, more than half a million people from all over the world made the pilgrimage to sit among the ageless mountains--Mount Kofel being the most famous--for 6 1/2 hours on hard seats, empathizing with the suffering and death of Christ. The actors are always amateurs. So are the producers. Farmers, shopgirls, and in particular wood-carvers--truly the mainstay occupation of the Oberammergauers--have made the Passion Play one of the world's most successful box-office hits.

Most tickets are sold with 2 nights' lodging included, creating a scheduling avalanche which a rented computer tries to cope with. Forty traffic controllers are on the site to direct the 8,000 buses and 100,000 cars that arrive in a typical summer. Some tickets are sold through travel agents, a few of whom have been known to go bankrupt when they thought they had Passion Play tickets for their tours and then did not.

In 1970, more than a million, twice as many as attended, had to be turned away. The lucky ones who get tickets and can attend usually spend 2 nights in Oberammergau: the 1st to prepare themselves by a medieval vigil for witnessing one of the 98 scheduled performances, and the 2nd to recover from the mystical experience. In 1970 these pilgrims left more than $10 million behind.

Oberammergauers do not stage the play to make money for themselves, however. No individual makes any great personal profit. For instance, in 1960, the highest-paid performers (they spurn use of the words "actor" and "actress") received only $1,875 for 6 months of part-time work preparing the performance and 6 months of full-time work presenting it. Profits are split 4 ways, one quarter for the next play, one quarter for the church, one quarter for the performers, and one quarter for improving the accommodations for the pilgrims' 2 nights in the village. Treating the play essentially as a religious service, the community has steadfastly refused to allow it to be recorded, filmed, or televised, and has not even permitted the cast to go on tour.

Since the German economy was desperately depressed after W.W. I, the promised 1920 production was delayed until 1922. In that year Oberammergau received a dazzling offer from an American film company for rights to the play. In silent defiance, the performers sheared their locks and shaved their faces the night after the last scheduled performance.

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