Guideposts' editor-in-chief recommends a once-in-a-decade opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience.
- Posted on Nov 15, 2017
The primary difficulty I faced in 2010, when asked to help lead a Guideposts trip to see the ancient decennial Passion Play in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, was actually being able to pronounce Oberammergau. The more I tried, the more I sounded like I had a mouth full of sauerbraten. Executive Editor Amy Wong, who had studied German and spent time there, tried her persistent best, but even she gave up on me eventually. “German is pretty phonetic,” she’d say, pointing to the word as if I were an idiot. “Ober means ‘upper,’ Ammer is the name of a river, and gau means ‘vale.’”
I was permitted to go despite my pronunciation deficit, and along the way we visited many cities and regions whose names I learned to pronounce to the apparent satisfaction of the natives. Not that it actually mattered. We had tremendous guides and translators, and in most locales we visited, English was widely spoken.
Still, what truly matters, I think, are the lasting feelings these places engender when you wade into the rich currents of history, both the violence and the beauty of the world as it once was and how it shaped who we are today; the princes and kings and queens whose very whims changed history. I will never forget the castles, cathedrals and museums we visited on our 2010 Guideposts trip to Oberammergau. Often we experienced these amazing places in a private tour, treated to behind-the-scenes access usually denied the general public.
On the luxury coach taking us from one exciting destination to the next, we enjoyed up close views of Alpine rivers and soaring peaks, practically every turn in the road taking my breath away. And what journey would be complete without a chance to discover delicious cuisine and once-in-a-lifetime shopping opportunities?
But all of that was mere prelude to the centuries-old Passion Play performed by the residents of that unpronounceable town every 10 years. Our journey culminated there, in a quaint village known for its wood-carvers. History tells us that in 1633 Oberammergau was spared from an epidemic of the Black Death—bubonic plague— after its townspeople petitioned the Lord in prayer. Even as the disease rampaged through Germany, Oberammergau largely escaped its ravages. For that miracle, the people vowed to put on an extravagant play depicting the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and have done so, with only a few exceptions, every year ending in zero since.
Crucial to the spirit of the play, which takes the better part of a day to perform (don’t worry, you get a generous dinner break and the performance, with its tableaux vivants, is utterly engrossing), the stage is populated only by citizens of Oberammergau, not professional actors. In fact, 2,000 residents participate in the production, onstage and behind the scenes. When I attended in 2010, Mary Magdalene was played by a Lufthansa flight attendant and Jesus was portrayed by a marketing executive.
The majesty of the presentation will live with me forever, as will some of the friendships I formed with other Guideposts travelers. There are people I am still in touch with to this day who say our tour was the trip of a lifetime. And I am excited to tell you that another Oberammergau excursion is scheduled for 2020.
Our 2020 tour, conducted with our friends at Collette Travel, will again be a trip for the soul as much as the heart, with stops in Salzburg, Bern, Montreux, Lake Geneva and Lucerne. Remember, this happens only once a decade, tours fill up fast and 2020 is not that far off. It’s definitely not too early to make plans and to start practicing your pronunciation. I know I am.
Call 877-902-8687 for info on our next Oberammergau trip, booking now.
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.