For a trip that comes around just every 10 years, the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany could literally be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Lu Ann Holmes, a 1979 graduate from the College of Design, made it her mission to see the play with her mother. In 2010, Holmes was able to bring this to fruition thanks to the UK Alumni Association’s Traveling Wildcats program.
The passion play has been performed every 10 years since 1634 in the town of Oberammergau, Germany. The daylong performance depicts the last five days in the life of Jesus Christ, from Palm Sunday to Easter. The play’s origins begin during the Thirty Years War and Black Death plague, which claimed one or more members of nearly every family in Oberammergau. The townspeople made an oath to perform a play depicting the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ every 10 years if they were spared from the plague’s destruction. They fulfilled this promise for the first time in 1634.
“My parents knew about the Passion Play and always wanted to go,” Holmes said. When the trip was offered in 2010 through the Traveling Wildcats, Holmes arranged for her mother to finally be able to take the trip of a lifetime. “For us, a river cruise was the way to go,” she said.
Holmes and her mother, Clara, her mother’s lifelong friend, Jean Henderson, and Holmes’ friend, Maryann Maffia went on the tour together.
“We all had a tremendous time,” Holmes said.
“The play was amazing. During our stay in Oberammergau, we met many people in the play. A large group worked in the hotel and the men all had to grow beards. It was interesting to talk to them about how much it meant for this play to be a part of their lives,” she said.
To be in the Oberammergau Passion Play, one must be a resident of Oberammergau. More than 2,000 citizens act, sing, play musical instruments and provide technical support for the performance.
“We met a mother and her small daughter who were the third and fourth generations of their family to do the play. It doesn’t matter what the age, residents are passionate about this production. We talked to so many people who were in it. It definitely added to the experience.”
The play is held May through late September or early October. During these months, the play is performed five days per week in an open-air theater, which seats about 4,700 people. The first half of the performance begins at 2:30-5 p.m. There is then a dinner break, and the play resumes from 8-10:30 p.m.
The play is performed in German, but it doesn’t stop people from all over the world, including those that are not of religious backgrounds that are intrigued by the way the town comes together to perform this play. It is anticipated over 750,000 will attend in 2020.
Holmes said the Oberammergau Passion Play was the highlight of the trip, but she was also impressed with the rest of the excursion. The 2010 trip included a stop in Munich, Germany, a cruise on the Danube River to the Austrian towns of Melk and Vienna, Bratislava, Slovakia, and Budapest, Hungary.
“In Budapest, we were parked right in the city, across the river from the Parliament Building. It was very convenient,” said Holmes, who also enjoyed meeting people from various universities that were part of the trip. “We met a lot of really wonderful people. Everyone was well-traveled, and it was an interesting group of people.”
Stops on the 2020 adventure include a five-night cruise along the Danube River, two nights in the idyllic Bavarian Alps and two nights in Munich. Travelers will visit four countries — Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany.
Along with experiencing the Oberammergau Passion Play from covered and unobstructed seats, travelers will enjoy excursions to medieval Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site and scenic backdrop for the film “The Sound of Music,” and Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Walt Disney’s iconic “Sleeping Beauty” castle. The trip also includes a tour of Budapest, Hungary’s most historic landmarks, the world‑class city of Vienna, a tour of the 11th Century Melk Abbey and medieval Bratislava.
To sign up for the “Oberammergau Passion Play and Cruising the Danube River” tour through the UK Traveling Wildcats program slated for July 21-31, 2020, click here. To learn more about the travel program through the UK Alumni Association, visit www.ukalumni.net/travel.