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U3A Writing: Oberamergau, May 1980

Continuing a centuries-old tradition, the villagers of Oberamergau in Bavaria willl be performing their one-every-decade re-enactment of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

Jennie Boothroyd recalls her visit to the village thrity years ago.

In May 1980 I went on a journey I'll never forget - a trip to Oberamergau to see the world famous Passion Play. I went with Joyce and Peggy, two lifelong friends.

They were both widows, and whilst I was not, a journey of this kind was too much for Den, and he said, "Off you go and have a lovely time." Along with us three came Marion and Henry, and the five of us had a wonderful ten days.

They picked us up by coach in Lepton on Friday, May 23rd, and away we went for the North Sea crossing. We arrived at 5.15 p.m. and boarded the Norstar, a huge ship, and were given our cabins.

Joyce and I shared, and she opted to go 'on top', bless her. We had a lovely meal at 6.30 - all in, (but I think these days that food is an optional extra.) We had a pleasant evening watching the gamblers in the casino and had a few drinks and a shop in the duty free for our holiday booze. We put our watches on an hour and all ambled down to our beds.

Saturday, 24th May

After a warm but sleepless night (too excited) we were awakened - or roused -at 6.30 am and told that brekky would be served.

Finally at 9 am we docked at Rotterdam and got on the coach. We all had a laugh. It was the executive coach of Grimethorpe Colliery Band and the board advertising this was in the back window. It was quickly removed into the boot, and away we went for our first stop at the Brussels Atomium. We went into the Atom - a nerve-racking experience on escalators to each leg of the model and back down again.

Then into Brussels proper and a tour by coach. Next we went to the Grand Place - lovely - and found the famous Manikin Pis. I was going to say it was smaller than I imagined, but you know what I mean - the height of the little boy!

Then onward through the Ardennes and we finally arrived in Luxembourg at 6.15 p.m. We had a super cafe meal, and I got a kiss and a carnation for assisting the garcon. A walk to the hotel and to bed at 11.30 - shattered. The evening was one long laugh.

Sunday, May 25th

Awoke to my birthday at 7 am. I got out my family cards and received one from Peggy, Joyce and the whole bus and one from my waiter. I rang Den.

After a continental breakfast the five of us went out on a rather cool morning and walked a lot. Luxembourg is beautiful, built on bridges and hills over ravines and tree-lined roads. After a coffee and gateau we went back to the coach.

We left at 1 pm, drove a few kilometres then pulled in and had a lovely picnic with French bread, ham, cheese, cake and fruit. It was lovely.

At 5.30 in glorious sunshine we arrived at the Hotel Ibis in Strasbourg, a beautiful site with an old French Quarter. After dinner we went for a lovely stroll by the river. After a quick party for my birthday, we went to bed.

Monday, May 26th

We awoke to glorious sunshine and strolled around the Petit France, sampling the pavement cafes. Then we went to the MacDonald's around the corner from our hotel. We also saw the Court of Human Rights. After lunch we went on the coach for a trip into the Vosges Mountains, where we stopped, picnicked, walked and enjoyed seeing the birds, including a cuckoo.

Tuesday, May 27th

The coach left at 9.15 to take us on the long drive to our destination, Oberamergau. We drove through the Black Forest in beautiful scenery and stopped for a picnic near Fociberg. We saw the source of the Danube, and it was all lovely.

At Lindau we touched three boarders - Austria, Germany and Switzerland. After a long drive past Lake Constance, we finally arrived at Oberamergau at 6.45 pm. It's a cuckoo clock village. We walked around until 10.30. I bought a carved angel, and we had coffee after dinner. Then back to the hotel to do our homework.

Wednesday, 18th May

I awoke early and went out into a lovely morning. I took some photos and came back to a continental breakfast and over to the theatre, which was next door to the Wolf.

The first part of the play was very moving, and it was 11.30 before we realised. We did some shopping when we came out, and I bought some Christmas decorations. We had a super lunch at Wolf.

The second half was also very moving. Jesus was put on the cross - then the base was dropped into a hole on the stage - and he was hanging there for 20 minutes.

The play finished at 5.30 - an experience I'll never forget.

Thursday, 29th May

After a lovely time we had to leave to make room for the next party, so we departed at 9.15 . We travelled by motorway to Stuttgart, and Koblenz, where we spent two nights.

Friday, 30th May

We were on the Rhine in the morning - passing the Lorelei Rock where the song is played and sung in German.

Saturday, May 31st

Back to Zebrugge via Bonn and Cologne with a lunch on the motorway. Then Achen, Ghent and Bruges, for a one-hour stop, and on to Zebrugge.

We had a simple journey home, with loungers and pillows - no cabins going back. We arrived in Hull at 8 am and were back at home sweet home at 10 am after a lovely holiday.

All that for 50 in 1980.

History of Oberamergau

Oberamergau nestles in the valley between the mountains of Bavaria and southwest Germany.

In the Middle Ages it was on the main Roman road through the mountains. In 1330 the Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria founded a monastery at Ettal nearby. The people used to study there with monks, who passed on much learning to the villagers of Oberamergau. Craftsmen, painters and artists from all over Europe were brought in to decorate the monastery.

A statue in an Oberamergau street is of a woodcarver with a pack on his back, a symbol of the oldest craft in the village - woodcarving. No one knows how it began, but winters were long and people were snowed-in for months in their houses. They spent the long winter evenings busy with their crafts.
The first carved articles were spoons and platters - useful objects. Later came children's toys, carvings for rich folks' houses and churches, even in graveyards. Travellers passing through bought and took them north to Munich and south into Florence and the rest of Italy.

Then in 1618 the Thirty Years War broke out. Conflict kept out of Oberameragau, a rather inaccessible village, but came within a few miles. Farms were ransacked, and families were murdered and their bodies left to rot. Water pollution began to be a hazard and, to add to all this, plague began.

The villagers were frightened. The River Amer ran swiftly and was an aid to hygiene, but people were frantic and decided to close the road. Those inside were to remain in; people outside were to stay out.

But one day a farm worker from the mountains crept into the village. Two days later he was dead. Although he was quickly buried, it was too late. Others fell ill and in one month 84 people had died.

The Council of Elders met to discuss the situation. Devout Catholics, they realised that Europe was in a mess and that prayer and repentance were needed for a new beginning. So they made a vow to devote one year in ten to a drama dealing with the Lord's Passion and the redemption of humankind.

In July 1633 villagers processed to the church, pale, thin and in tears. They promised to keep the vow. From then on things began to improve. The first play was put on in 1634. It was a very simple production, and no details are left of it.

Few people outside Bavaria knew about the plays until 1815 when a general who had fallen in love with Oberamergau wrote about it and news began to spread. People began to come from all over Europe.

At first the text was simple. But in 1810 a new version was written and extended in 1860, which is very similar to the modern script.

The Passion Play Theatre goes back to 1830. It was modernised in 1890, and in 1930 the present building was constructed. The set includes the houses of Pontius Pilate and Caiphas. The play runs five days a week - 9.00 to 12.00 and 2.30 to 5.00 - from May to September.

At one time only villagers who had lived all their lives in Oberamergau were allowed to take a leading role. But now the residence requirement is 20 years.

A committee chooses the cast. Mary must be under 25 and unmarried. Men begin growing their hair and beards the year before the play is to be produced. There is a cast of 500 plus an orchestra of 60. They have two sets of costumes, one for dry weather and one for wet.

The final tableau is magnificent, and all who have seen it leave very quietly. The Oberamergau Passion Play is something I shall never forget.


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