House with images of the Passion Play

House with images of the Passion Play

On Tuesday (8/6/13), we headed into Oberammergau. I had asked my mom what Oberammergau was known for, and she said wood carving and painted houses (This not being a year ending in zero.) The thing Oberammergau is best known for is the Passion Play (I’m already planning a grant to be able to come back for that!). The story behind why they do the Passion play every 10 years is a neat one. It all began during the Thirty Years’ War. Overwhelmed by the Swedish army and battling the plague (the registry records over 80 deaths in the small town), the councillors promised God to perform a play depicting the Passion of Christ every 10 years
Wood carver's shop:  The big...

Wood carver’s shop: The big…

(They started with every year, then decided every 10 years would be sufficient.) if God would spare them from the plague. The epidemic stopped, and the villagers kept their vow. They gave their first performance in 1634, then 1640 and every 10 years thereafter, with additional performances to celebrate key anniversaries of the vow made. Initially, it was a small scale production on a wooden stage, but since 1830, it has been on the same stage it is performed on today. Now the play has a cast of over 2,000 and lasts for 7 hours, with a dinner break in the middle. The villagers will perform the play from May to October. Apparently, the village has added other plays to their repertoire for off years, as there were signs advertising the play Moses. Also, visitors can check out the Passion play museum.

We started out at looking at different wood carvers shops. While sculpting is an incredible skill, and one I greatly admired while in Italy, wood carving is another thing entirely. We started for Pilatushaus (most famous),

...And the small

…And the small

but it was closed for lunch, so we set out to enjoy the many other wood carvers in town. In the same way that I love sculpture and architectural detail, I love the precision of woodwork. From the gigantic carvings to the miniscule, each piece is an incredible work of art.

After grabbing our own lunch, we decided to explore The Parish church of Saints Peter and Paul. This beautiful building offers sculptures, not of marble, but of wood painted to look like marble.

Front of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul

Front of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul

They are amazingly beautiful. Since we have toured quite a few cathedrals in our time here, it is always interesting for me to note the different features each one has. In this cathedral, I noticed it is substantially lighter in color than a number of the other cathedrals we have seen. Additionally, the pews are carved. I would expect nothing less in a wood carving village, but it was still interesting to observe.

Next, we headed back to Pilatushaus. Pilatushaus (thus named because of the painting of Jesus before Pilate on the house) has been a living workshop since 1784.

Pilatushaus

Pilatushaus

It was almost destroyed in 1981, but by advertising what was going to happen, people rallied to save it. We got to see wood artists at work right on the premises. We also asked the shop owner about house painting. From her explanation, the name of the artists who do the painting is in English “Church painters,” as the men who plied this trade started as church painters. The same technique of fresco work is used on the buildings. Unfortunately, it seems to be a dying art (literally), as currently, there is no one living in Oberammergau who does it. She also explained to us that historic buildings have strict requirements by the government as to how they have to be maintained (much like historic buildings in America), and that it is quite expensive to do.

Initially, I thought the painted houses were not that different from the ones around our area, until we started walking around.

Red Riding Hood House

Red Riding Hood House

The house painting (Lüftlmalereien) in Oberammergau is an interesting combination of the religious (all the passion play art) and the fairy tale. We left Pilatushaus and set off to find the Little Red Riding Hood house and the Hansel and Gretel house. I had forgotten that a lot of the fairy tales we grew up with actually started as German tales. We first found the Little Red Riding Hood House. It is right across the street from the Hansel and Gretel House and next door to a house with the fairytale where the donkey carries all the other animals (I forget the name.) The artwork on these houses is incredible! Definitely a joy to see.

Views of Innsbruck

Views of Innsbruck

Oberammergau is definitely a place I want to explore more thoroughly, but today, we wanted to head into Innsbruck. I only know Innsbruck from “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, in which the speaker discusses a sculpture which “Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.” We wanted to have time to look around. Additionally, mom had wanted me to hear what she calls an “Oompa band” with traditional dancing. Schuhplattler is a folk dance in which men periodically leap, slap their thighs and feet, all in a rhythmic pattern. I had searched the internet to see if any would be performing near us. (Our Alpenclub staff had told us they mostly perform on weekends.) In doing so, I stumbled upon the Tyrolean Evening with the Gundolf family. The Gundolf family has been performing internationally since 1967. They perform in Innsbruck from April to October. Since the show didn’t start until 8:30, mom wasn’t sure we wanted to be driving the hour and a half drive back home after the show concluded at 10:00, but we decided to go for it. You can either purchase tickets for the show alone (29 Euro), or for dinner and a show (46 Euro). We chose to splurge and get dinner and the show. You have a choice of whether you want dinner before the show or during it. We chose before, which I am glad of, since you have to sit in the back if you get dinner during the show.

 Schuhplattler dance

Schuhplattler dance

Since we arrived before our dinner time, we chose to explore a bit around the restaurant. If you attend the show, it is actually difficult to find. We thought the GPS had misled us when it told us to turn into BP, but the restaurant is actually located behind the gas station. While the show was amazing, we found the restaurant a bit lacking in organization, though with good food. We had three courses: soup and salad, wienerschnitzel and potatoes, and apple strudel–all very traditional dishes. Though we had bought our tickets at 5:00 for the 8:30 show, we got front row seats (since there were just two of us.)

The Gundolf Family

The Gundolf Family

It was an incredible show, featuring musicians on a variety of instruments including the musical saw, the zither, the harp, and traditional brass. Additionally, we heard traditional folk songs and yodeling, and saw the traditional folk dancing and slap dance. The evening concluded with the family singing popular songs from about 20 different countries. They introduced them as the national anthems, but they were not. While most countries had people who cheered and enthusiastically applauded their songs, the American songs they chose were a bit of Yankee Doodle, blended into “Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends,” which they sang as Lalalalalalalala instead of with words. Still, it was impressive to be able to sing so many songs in so many languages, and a neat opportunity to see who was in the crowd from which country. We were surprised that Australia had such a large representation.

Finally, the evening was over, and it was time to head home. As mom predicted, the GPS sent us home via the smallest, most curvy path through the mountain, complete with scattered showers and fog, but we made it. Definitely a full day!

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