The Oberammergau Passion Play (Passionsspeili) is probably what put this little town on the map. The story is that the townspeople pledged to do the play every ten years in grateful celebration for being mostly spared from the bubonic plague in 1633! It's been performed every ten years ever since with only a few exceptions. Talk about a long running play!
The spectacle was first performed at Easter. Now the performances go on for about five months, but still, it only happens every ten years... at the end of the decade in the year that ends with zero, so 2010, 2020, 2030, etc.
The play lasts for six to seven hours. (Don't worry, you won't starve. A meal is served during the intermission.) It's performed by about 1,400 amateur actors, not to mention a few hundred musicians and technicians. All of them are local people or their family members. Audiences come from all over the world to see the spectacle. The play is performed in German. There is a theater built just for the play. It is partially open-air, but the spectators sit under a partial roof, so it is never cancelled for rain.
Other than Munich, Oberammergau is one of the best-known towns in Bavaria... right up there with Rothenberg ob der Tauber. Other than the Oberammergau Passion Play, it's famous for wood carved sculptures and painted houses.
Wait a minute, you're thinking, MY house is painted, so what's the big deal? This is special. It's the colorful style of Bavarian trompe-l'eoil house painting known locally as "Luftlmalerei". The houses look like Bavarian chalets (well they are).
These chalets are painted with these characteristic frescos which are mostly religious themes ... many of them based on the Oberammergau Passion Play. There are also sometimes fairy tales scenes or even beer hall vignettes. Around these painted scenes, extravagant trompe-l'eoil "frames" surround the windows. Wooden Balconies spill over with geraniums in the summer. The whole package gives the town a distinctive look... a cute one. You can see this type of house decoration in other areas of Upper Bavaria, as in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but Oberammergau is the probably the best known for them.
You can visit shops to see the wood carving art that is practiced here. There have been wood carvers in Oberbammergau since the middle ages. Traditionally the carvings were done by farmers during the snowy winter season for a little extra money. Now there are full-time artists that produce religious art, toys, household goods, and humorous portraits... all for sale in shops in town.
Oberammergau itself sits in a beautiful setting in the Bavarian Alps. The third of Ludwig's castles, Schloss Linderhof is near Oberammergau. It was Ludwig's favorite castle. Visiting the town is worth it even is you won't be going to the Oberammergau Passion Play.... That tongue-twister of a name is fun to use on your friends.
If you won't be visiting in 2010, there is plenty of charm here.... spend the night in a cute little gasthaus for a giant dose of Bavarian charm.