Now you can visit a plague-ridden era and watch history unfold. No, this is not an invitation to get busy with swine flu. Instead, head out to Oberammergau, Bavaria and witness a performance that has been carried out for centuries.
In 1633, Oberammergau’s population was decimated by the Plague. The villagers were brutalized, but their spirit remained strong, and they promised to act out the events of the last days of Jesus Christ, ending in the resurrection, every tenth year. This Passion performance, sans any influence from Mel Gibson, is an extremely local affair. If you weren’t born in the village or haven’t lived there for at least 20 years, the best you can do is watch with the masses. The stage is reserved for the true villagers.
Half the village is engaged to assist, from acting to playing music to creating costumes – in the case of Oberammergau, that’s 2,500 people out of a 5,200-person population. In what seems like a scene from The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis (who is more famous for his other book, The Last Temptation of Christ), lead roles are sketched out on a chalk board, while all of Oberammergau waits anxiously. The parts are assigned the year before. In the run-up to the performance, the cast grows its hair long and cultivates beards (not the women, of course), as wigs are not permitted.
While you’re in the village, ask around to see if the actors assume the characteristics of their assignments, as they did in the book by Kazantzakis. In the novel, the poor guy assigned to play Judas couldn’t get anyone to hang out with him. But, he took the part for a good cause.
From May 15, 2010 to October 3, 2010, the forty-first Oberammergau Passion will be performed 102 times, with each showing lasting around five hours. It runs from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM, with the time in between reserved for dinner. Though the symphony-sized orchestra is protected from the elements, the actors are exposed to the whims of the seasons, much like the figures they depict.
If you’re interested in experiencing this rare event, catch a flight to Munich, and drive the 55 miles to Oberammergau. Packages are available in town for one or two nights. Without a doubt, this is a unique performance, and any travel or theater junkie should absolutely experience it at least once. You could put it off a decade … but why wait?
Here’s a bit from ol’ Mel, in case you need a refresher: