Oberammergau Passion Play and Austrian Tyrol

Solange Hando enjoyed McCabe Travel’s pilgrimage holiday which included the Oberammergau Passion Play as well as scenic lakes and mountains in the Austrian Tyrol.

Kofel, the rocky limestone peak, rose ahead of us silhouetted against the blue sky above lush wooded slopes. At 1343 metres, it took my breath away as I gazed in anticipation at the scenic icon of Oberammergau. Two years after the pandemic, the Passion Play was back for a world-wide audience. 

THE PASSION PLAY

It all started in the 17th century when a plague sweeping across Europe reached Oberammergau in Bavaria. As villagers prayed to stop the Black Death, they vowed to stage a Passion Play every 10 years and according to legend, everyone was saved from that day onwards. The first play was held in 1634 and the purpose-built theatre (19th century) has been extended and enhanced with shelter for all, under-floor heating, gently padded seats and more, catering for over 4000 spectators..

The play spreads over the afternoon and evening sessions (2½ hours each) and although it is in German, we could follow the action through our English booklets. Now imagine almost 2000 villagers including children, orchestra, choir, live animals from camels to sheep, it is truly overwhelming from the Entry to Jerusalem all the way to the Crucifixion. Now and then ‘Living Images’ from the Old Testament light up the stage, linking visions from the past to the ongoing action. It’s inspiring, deeply stirring at times and extremely powerful in the final scenes. Whatever your religion or country, this is sure to make you think. As in later years, the 2022 version has been updated to reflect new concerns and interpretation for the modern audience. My favourite part? The final Hallelujah beautifully sung and uplifting, ‘Risen is the Lord’, a message full of hope.

‘This was my third visit’, said my neighbour, ‘and every time I learn more’.

He was not the only returnee and ‘once in a generation’, the Oberammergau Passion Play remains a unique experience, as native villagers continue their centuries long tradition. On or off stage, every role is a coveted honour, even if you have to grow unruly hair for your part or sort out your usual working hours. Profits help to fund community projects.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS

We spent the night in Oberammergau so next morning there was a chance to explore the village and lovely surroundings. We could visit any of the churches or the local Museum featuring local art and more about the Passion Play.

 But I decided to wander through the lanes, lined with flower-draped balconies, wood-carving items and decorative frescoes glowing on so many façades, be it religious themes or fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood. The streets were busy, packed with souvenir shops and outdoor restaurants so I strolled along the Ammer river, enjoying Kofel’s shimmering reflections and the peaceful countryside, just minutes from the centre.

Then there was time for a ride on Laber Bergbahn, the nostalgic gondola on the edge of town, rising to 1684 metres where edelweiss bloomed along the trails and birds twittered all around. The views were amazing, dramatic mountains topping 2000 metres, green meadows rolling across the valley and the red roofs of Oberammergau glistening far below. But where was the iconic peak? I soon spotted it, almost dwarfed by the Bavarian Alps, but as enticing as ever, keeping watch over a village like no other I had ever seen.

BACK TO THE TYROL

We attended the Passion Play half-way through a week-long holiday, with plenty of time either side to enjoy the wonderful Tyrol. Our rooms were kept in Fischerwirt, a traditional Austrian hotel with panoramic views in Achenkirch village at the northern end of Achensee Lake. At over 900 metres, this is the largest lake in the Tyrol, framed by forested slopes and high peaks. From early mist to luminous skies and golden sunsets, I was spellbound from morning to night.

It was a great place to relax or you could join optional or included excursions, such as the open air Tyrolean Farm Museum, the high pastures strewn with flowers and scenic valleys. We visited Innsbruck, the capital with a ‘Golden Roof’, Rattenberg – a delightful town on the river Inn – but Achensee always called us back.

‘Would you like a cruise to Pertisau? It’s a small resort on the western shore, right on the edge of the Karwendel Alpine Park.’

The sailing was superb, so refreshing in the summer sun, though most exciting on shore were the incredible views from the top of the cable car, lake and mountains greeting us like a scene from heaven. The perfect end to our ‘pilgrimage holiday’ with McCabe.

TIPS for your TRIP

 * Passion Play: take a torch to read the script, no photos or videos.

 * Expect changeable weather in the mountains, pack accordingly.

 * You can choose your own pace throughout but comfortable shoes are recommended.

 * Enjoy your free time, exploring, shopping or simply relaxing.

 * McCabe pilgrimage offers far more than you’d expect and everyone is welcome.

More Information

Solange Hando travelled with McCabe Travel on their Austria & Oberammergau Passion Play 2022 tour.

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Solange Hando

Award-winning travel writer & member of BGTW

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