Germany: Passion + History = Oberammergau

with Martha Chapman

Antje Splettstoesser with Frederik Mayet, left, who will play Christ in the 2020 Passion Play, and Director Christian Stückl

The Travel Corporation’s Jeff Element with Dianne Jackson of CAA

The lovely Berkeley Church, venue for the GNTO event

Almost 400 years ago, southern Germany was in the grip of a dreadful, contagious disease: the horrific Black Plague, which, some estimate, killed over half the population of Europe.

Surrounded also by a devastating war, the townspeople of the little town of Oberammergau swore that they'd perform a play about the last five days in the life of Jesus.  And if they were spared, they'd continue to perform the play – a "passion play" -- every 10 years.

They were indeed spared, and the play continues today, by now more than simply a pilgrimage for Catholics. In 2020, the 42nd edition of the play will be performed, bringing in almost half a million visitors from around the world who are fascinated by tradition, culture, and a small town wrapped up in this singular event.

Not surprisingly there's a lot of planning and build-up – hence the lovely event recently hosted by the German National Tourist Office in Toronto. The audience of travel trade, tour operators and media had the opportunity to learn about the legend and compelling appeal of the Passion Play, as well as meet the director and the man who will be playing Jesus in the 2020 version.

It's almost impossible to grasp the magnitude and importance of this event. The actors, who are all amateurs, must all be born in Oberammergau (pronounced ober-ammer-gau) or have lived there 20 years – many local families have been involved for generations, playing the same role.

Several months before the play, the men start growing their beards ("We start looking like an old hippie community," Christian Stückl, Director of the 2020 version told us.) And despite the centuries of tradition, the play is an evolving creation: for example, in 2020 80% of the music will be new. And the cast will total over 2,000 participants.

Needless to say, it's also a huge opportunity for tourism.  Numerous tour operators including some large Canadian players feature tours including the play, which runs from 16MAY to 4OCT in 2020. And there's always lots to do in the surrounding Bavarian countryside.

It's a good time to be the GNTO here in Canada. As Director for Canada Antje Splettstoesser explained, tourism was up 8.8% from Canada last year and this summer there will be 100 non-stop flights every week between our countries.

A compact country, Germany can fit three times into the province of Ontario yet features 6,000 museums, countless parks and lakes, fine dining ("more than sausage") and a vibrant cultural scene.

Martha Chapman

Martha Chapman Columnist

An OJ columnist since 2006, Martha is responsible for the Biting Questions features as well as special seasonal series. A travel industry lifer known to all in the biz, she frequently covers industry events for Open Jaw.

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