In 1633, the residents of Oberammergau feared that their Alpine town would be destroyed by either the plague or the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Townspeople made a promise to their god that if he spared Oberammergau from destruction, they would put on and perform in a play about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ every decade thereafter. Today, the residents of the town are still living up to their end of the bargain by staging an elaborate passion play every ten years. However, a visit to Oberammergau is an event in itself at any time of year.
The major attraction in Oberammergau is the dozens of painted houses. As a demonstration of their piety and affluence, wealthy residents had their homes painted, with scenes of religious imagery and fairy tale stories, in a fresco technique known as Luftlmalerei. While these picturesque abodes are located all throughout Oberammergau, the most amusing are the “Little Red Riding House” and the “Hansel and Gretel House”. They’re located on Ettaler Strausse, a short walk out of town, past the blinking traffic light.
As you make you way through the idyllic streets and local shops, you’ll find that Oberammergau is dominated by woodworkers. The region has no industry and little farming, but it does have an abundance of trees, making woodcarving a profitable handicraft. While you can purchase anything from nutcrackers, to gnomes, to salt and pepper shakers, carvings of a religious nature are most common. In the past, pilgrims, destined for nearby Ettal Monastery, were eager to purchase spiritual items, and the locals were happy to oblige. If you’d like to see woodcarvers at work, head over to Pilatus House, at Ludwig-Thoma-Starsse 10, where in addition to browsing through the shop, you can watch the artisans and painters demonstrating their craft.
If you’re not in Oberammergau at the time of the passion play, consider yourself lucky because you probably wouldn’t have been able to find a room or obtain tickets, since the former are scarce and extravagantly priced at that time and the latter sell out years in advance. However, you can still get a sense of the spectacle with a visit to the Oberammergau Musuem, which shows a ten minute film about the play, in addition to housing exhibits on regional woodworking and on local Roman history. Included in your cost of admission to the museum is a ticket to enter the actual Passion Play Theater (Festspielhaus), which features displays about the play and gives you am opportunity to see the combination indoor/outdoor auditorium with its dramatic alpine backdrop.
Oberammergau makes an ideal home base for exploring the Bavarian Alps. The dreamy village of Mittenwald, the Zugspitze, an Alpine coaster, Linderhof, and Ettal Monastery are all easy day trips from town. On the other hand, if you’re based in Fussen, Oberammergau is a worthwhile stop on a day trip to any of the previously mentioned destinations.
See my other guides to other nearby destinations:
- Alpine Coasters Oberammergau: Thrills for the Entire Family!
- Mittenwald: Bavaria’s Prettiest Village
- Ettal Monastery: Stop to Stare and Stay to Shop
- Zugspitze How to Get to Germany’s Highest Peak and What to See There
- Wieskirche: A Little Piece of Heaven in Bavaria
- Fussen: A Guide to Your Home Base for Exploring Southern Bavaria
- Neuschwanstein: How and When to Go