When your group heads to Oberammergau for the famous Passion Play, these tips will keep you prepared.
One of the big disappointments of the myriad of travel cancellations was the rescheduling of the Oberammergau Passion Play. This event, which has been drawing the religious faithful to this tiny Bavarian village since 1634 is once again ready to welcome tourist. Follow our guide to make sure your group is safe and sound.
Air travel: Munich is the closest major airport to Oberammergau. The 62-mile drive between the Munich Airport and Oberammergau takes about 1½ hours; by train it’s about 2½ hours, with transfer in Murnau. From Zurich Airport, the drive to Oberammergau is 3 hours and 15 minutes. With seven hours difference between the U.S. and Germany, expect your body to signal different eating and sleeping patterns for a while until it adjusts. On your return, you’ll likely also feel some jet lag for a few days.
Public transportation: Germany’s trains, buses and trams are unusually prompt. If a train is scheduled to leave at 5 p.m., it’s best to be on the platform a few minutes early.
Hotels: Hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations for Passion Play-goers will fill early, with many groups already reserved, so it’s wise to book as soon as possible. In this part of Bavaria, smaller hotels, youth hostels and pensions are the norm, and they are spread out. A tour operator can arrange flights, land transportation and accommodations, plus meals, sightseeing and tickets to the Passion Play itself. In fact, it may be difficult to obtain Passion Play tickets and rooms if you aren’t part of a group.
What to pack: Bring a variety of clothing that can be worn in dry or wet, and warm or cool weather. Oberammergau is located in the mountains; you can shed clothing or add layers as temperatures warm up or cool down during the day. A travel umbrella is always a good idea.
Good walking shoes are a must—there are lots of cobblestone streets in Europe, and even large city sidewalks can be uneven.
A money belt worn under clothing—containing cash, credit cards, passport and any important papers—is wise. Bring along several copies of your passport and put them in different places in your luggage and purse; you might even put a copy of it on your smartphone.
Travelers from North America will need an electrical outlet adapter to use devices in Europe and a power converter to operate such appliances as a shaver or hair dryer. You can find these items online or in electronics stores; just be sure you purchase the correct ones for the countries to which you’re traveling.
Money matters: Check with your bank to see if you can withdraw money from an ATM in Germany and the fees involved. Before arriving in Europe, you can exchange your dollars for euros at most airports and at some banks. Smaller businesses in Germany often do not accept credit cards, so having a supply of euros or access to euros at an ATM is a good idea.
Also, call your credit card company prior to departure and let them know where you are going and how long you will be gone.
Phone service: If you want to call or text friends or family back home, check with your phone company to learn if that’s possible with the package you currently have, or if you’ll need to add overseas capabilities.
Language: You may want to brush up on some German words and phrases that will come in handy, such as “Men” and “Women” when needing a washroom. “Danke” means “thank you” in German, and “bitte” means “please”—two good words to learn. “Guten Tag” is “hello,” and “Guten Abend” is “good evening.” Since school-age children in Germany are required to learn English, most people 30 years old and under can speak some English, and many are quite capable of carrying on a conversation.
Read up: To make sure you get the most out of your trip, purchase a guidebook on Germany before you leave and read up on its cities, history, culture, foods and events. If it’s lightweight, consider taking it with you. Most guidebooks have a list of common German words and phrases.
In the end, you’re traveling to meet new people and see some amazing things, including the once-in-a lifetime Passion Play. Travel writer Rick Steves says when traveling abroad be ready for new adventures, and don’t expect things to be like they are at home. And that’s the reason we travel—to experience new places, new foods and new people. Gute Reisen! (Have a good trip.)
Insider Tips While Visiting Oberammergau
Passion Play attendees will have time to do some exploring around town because there’s a three-hour intermission to eat, take a break, shop and familiarize yourself with the village’s highlights. You may also explore the village and other close-by attractions before or after the play.
The town, at 2,700 feet in altitude and located on the Ammer River, is widely known for its frescoes, or Lüftlmalerei, with traditional Bavarian themes such as religious scenes and fairy tales. These colorful paintings on various buildings add a unique flavor. This little town is also well known for its many wood craftsmen who carve intricate pieces and sell them; many are of a religious nature. Local merchants act as the outlet for these carvings.
At the Oberammergau Museum you can learn the history of wood carving and see historical nativity sets, modern art and special exhibitions.
The onion-domed Church of Saints Peter and Paul is a local attraction that was consecrated in 1749 and designed by well-regarded German architect Joseph Schmuzer. Admire the grandeur of the interior and its ample use of marble and gold. Striking murals, created by the famed Matthew Guenther, depict the Lord’s Prayer and Ave Maria. It’s worth taking a short walk through the church cemetery with its interesting headstones.
The Pilatushaus, a large two-story structure, is known as a “living workshop” with various artisans doing carvings, making pottery and producing other crafts using traditional techniques.
Enjoying a traditional German meal is part of the fun of visiting Oberammergau. During the play’s intermission, you’ll find vendors offering light foods and refreshments. If you’re with a group, your sit-down meal will likely be pre-arranged. If you’re on your own, chances are the major restaurants will not be able to accommodate you during heavy traffic periods.
For a sweet taste treat, head to Brandmeier Bäckerei (bakery). It is said the rolls and pastries here are excellent because all the flour used comes from farmers in the immediate area. The bakery also uses fresh milk and cheese products from local farmers.
Baur Anton is a key decorative arts store with souvenirs, gifts, etchings, woodcarvings, madonnas, saints, nativity scenes and ceramics. Many of the pieces are roughed in by machine, then finished by hand. The Schnitzschule (Woodcarving School) in town teaches students the woodcarving craft. Some of the students’ works are put on exhibit, others are sold.