South of Munich lies the small Bavarian town of Oberammergau, population about 5500. This town owes its world-famous reputation to the famous Passion Play that has been performed every 10 years (with only a couple of exceptions) in the town since 1634.
The play has its origins in the middle ages when the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, ravaged all of Europe and by some estimates decimated almost half of the entire population. It was said that you could have lunch with your friends and dinner with your ancestors, so fast did the disease take its toll. By 1632 the plague had even reached this remote area.
The local inhabitants had quarantined the village of Oberammergau to keep the plague from entering, but one night a local farmer who had been working elsewhere sneaked back in to the village and brought the disease with him. Soon 20% of the villagers were dead. The villagers met in the Parish church and vowed to perform Passion Plays every 10 years if only God would spare them any future deaths. From that time forward no one died and the villagers have kept their promise.
The play tells of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The next scheduled performance is in 2020. Performances are given 5 times weekly from May through October. The actors are all local villagers and they begin growing beards and preparing for their parts about a year ahead of time. Roles are often handed down from generation to generation. Attendance at this play can be a very unforgettable and moving experience.
But just because the Passion Play is not being offered, a stay here can be thoroughly enjoyable. Oberammergau and nearby Garmish-Partenkirken offer a great home base for exploring this part of Bavaria. From here you can visit nearby Kloster Ettal, King Ludwig's famous castle (Neuschwanstein), Seefeld, Wieskirche and other highlights of Bavaria. It is a picturesque area at any time of the year and well worth a few days if you have the opportunity. From May through October, the imposing 4,800 capacity Passion Play Theater offers English guided tours for individual travelers twice a day.
The picturesque houses decorated with so called "Lüftlmalerei" (wall paintings) have also contributed to Oberammergau's popularity.
In Oberammergau, the traditional art of woodcarving is one of its notable attractions. About 120 wood sculptors work there today, selling carvings ranging from figures of saints to household goods. In addition, cuckoo clocks are also sold here and they offer guaranteed shipping back home so you don't have to deal with it. We have had excellent results with anything ordered here and shipped back to the U.S. There is also a very unique Christmas store here in Oberammergau with many beautiful hand-made decorations.
If you are traveling on your own you can easily reach the town traveling south from Munich (50 miles) or north from Innsbruck (75 miles). There is regular train service from these and other cities. In most cases you change trains in Murnau and continue from there. Total travel time is about 2 hours.
Some group tours include Oberammergau and, of course, when the play is running every 10 years there are many companies offering tours to Oberammergau, both in addition to other sites, or just to the play itself.