August 7th wasn’t quite so bright and sunny as the previous days, but we weren’t going to let that fact damper our adventurous spirits in the least. We bundled up and proceeded to travel in an easterly direction about 60 miles from Oberstaufen to a town called Oberammergau.
The scenery along the route was breathtaking! We were very close to the Austrian border, and the mountains along that border are quite picturesque!
We kept driving along, enjoying the beautiful scenery following the road signs to our final destination. After that delightful drive, we arrived in Oberammergau, quickly found a place to park near the Tourist Information building, and began a fascinating tour in this unique village. We entered the Tourist Information office and were soon equipped with a map of the town with a walking tour they had suggested we follow to see everything this village has to offer, which looked promising. The Tourist Information office had lovely facilities, including an outdoor theatre and gardens with sculptural artwork.
Oberammergau is famous for its long tradition of woodcarving. In fact, the Bavarian State Woodcarving School is located there. The quaint lanes and streets are home to dozens of woodcarver shops, with specimens ranging from toys to religious subjects, bowls, platters, and even some amusing portraits. The Pilatushaus (House of Pilate) was the first place our walking tour introduced us to.
Wow! They really go all out when they paint frescoes on their buildings! The painting actually transforms the structure and makes it look like it is constructed much differently than it actually is! Pilatushaus is in the heart of the village and is also the center for arts and crafts. The painted frescoes on the buildings are called “Lüftlmalereien,” and this one was created in 1784 by the Franz Seraph Zwinck. The garden front of the house depicts the condemnation of Jesus by Pilate.
Just inside the front door is the ‘Living Workshop’ and is open and welcoming to visitors. You can look over their shoulders as they work and ask questions. The day we visited, several artists were busily working away on their projects, including one woman who carves beautiful carousel horses and another who paints the backs of pieces of glass using challenging reverse-painting techniques. Quite impressive and informative.
Oberammergau is very famous for its “Lüftlmalerei” as we were beginning to discover. They include traditional Bavarian themes, fairy tales, religious scenes, or architectural Trompe-l’œil and are found on lots of homes and buildings all throughout the town. We continued on the walking tour, enjoying many of them as we passed.
My two favorites were the ones with the stories of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Hansel & Gretel’ depicted on their facades. The rest of the world just paints the exteriors of their buildings and homes; the people in Oberammergau create masterpieces for all to see!
Another intriguing character we ran into was the “Ührschleppers” (or Peddlers).
Legend has it there was a time when clock peddlers carried their goods on their back on a wooden backpack through hills of the Black Forest and all around the surrounding countryside. During the long, harsh winters, the artisans painstakingly made the clocks, and then, starting in the spring, they traveled about the local country and to faraway places selling them. Those clock peddlers played an essential role in launching the popularity of the famous Black Forest cuckoo clocks.
We wandered the streets as far as the ‘Passion Play’ Theatre. Once every ten years, performances of the ‘Passion Play’ are performed here.
The play was first performed in 1634. It started because of a vow made by the inhabitants of the village; that is, they vowed that if God spared them from the bubonic plague, they would perform a passion play about Christ every ten years.
Evidently, a man traveling back to town for Christmas had accidentally brought the plague back with him. He ended up dying from the disease, and it began to spread to others in the city. After prayers were said and vows were made, not another person in the town died from the plague; all that were still suffering from the disease miraculously recovered! The play is now performed in years ending with a zero. It involves over 2000 actors, singers, musicians, and technicians – all residents of the village, which has a population of about 5,000 people.
385 years later, they are still keeping their promise! It is attended by over 500,000 people from all over the world right on schedule. Next year, they will have a performance. I was glad the play wasn’t happening this year when we visited because there would have been hoards of people everywhere. As it was, the village was somewhat subdued and not so hectic, making it a lot easier to enjoy! Evidently, the show has impeccable costumes, lots of music, and very creative stage settings, so if you’re interested in seeing it, I hear it is quite spectacular. During the off years, you can go inside to tour the theatre and see all of the elaborate props and costumes they create for the performances.
We did not go inside but instead decided to visit the Oberammergau Museum. It was full of all kinds of exciting things to look at too, and it featured a vast array of woodcarvings by local artisans from the past.
Surprisingly, it also had quite an extensive exhibit featuring Roman artifacts, including uniforms, boot hobnails, spearheads, and other weaponry specimens to name a few.
There were rooms full of miniature dioramas depicting religious scenes, such as the birth of Christ. Each display was quite intricate and extremely detailed.
One section of the museum was dedicated to hand-carved wooden toys that I particularly enjoyed.
I thought these two skateboarding snails were hilarious…
Next, we came to the section of hand-carved wooden religious artwork… amazing!
They had even more dioramas! This one as big as the room we were in depicting festivals and life in days long gone.
Next was the section that had all things related to the plague and the masks the doctors wore while they treated their patients. That was kind of spooky.
After touring the museum, we headed back outside to find that it had started to rain outside.
To avoid the rain, we ducked into a Christmas Shop nearby since Germans are known for their elaborate decorations and love of their Kristkindlmarkts!
Luckily, when we exited the Christmas shop, the rain had subsided. We strolled back through the charming village and its colorful shops back in the direction of our parked car.
We saw all manner of carved wooden giftware in the shop windows and everything German. Grace even spotted a sleeping cat in one!
When we were almost all the way back to the car, we passed the elegant structure of St. Peter and Paul Parish Church. It was relatively simple from the outside compared to its neighbors, but its interior was over the top!
Incredible frescoes created by the legendary Matthew Guenther born in 1705 are stunning and downright mesmerizing. The ornate decoration of the walls and ceilings, the statues, and figures were created by Franz Xaver Schmädl. Not only is this church a place of worship, but also a celebration of its local artists.
Even the churchyard outside was fancy-wancy. Instead of the usual grass growing between headstones like you see in most graveyards, all of the headstones had neat and tidy, meticulously maintained, miniature gardens complete with curbing of some sort delineating it from the next with small grey round pebbles between the graves. Very neat and tidy indeed!
We had a lot of fun walking around this village and experiencing its charms. We were a little tired, however, and ready to do something different. Luckily, just outside the city limits, Oberammergau also offers the perfect answer for ‘something different,’ – an Alpine Coaster called Kolbensattel! The world’s longest weatherproof toboggan run with magnetic brakes. Hurray!
We eagerly climbed aboard the chairlifts and began the long damp climb to the top. Although the clouds indeed threatened, it didn’t actually rain again. We caught glimpses of the track as we climbed, and the rails were still damp. So were the seats when we climbed into each toboggan. The attendant was quick to wipe down your seat on the toboggan with a towel before you sat down, however, so that was good. We zipped right along on those wet rails, and it was so much fun! It is 1.61 miles long, has 73 turns, 9 jumps, 7 waves, and the highest point above the ground is 13 feet. Alpine coaster pilots can fly down the piston caliper at a top speed of up to 40 km. Grace can consider herself an alpine pilot since she clocked in at a little over 38! She was flying. I won’t mention what speed I did it; suffice it to say it was a lot slower than Grace or Errin!
What a thrill that was! We have been having a whole lot of fun discovering where all these little gems called Alpine Coasters were located in Bavaria. They are all over the place!
The afternoon was beginning to wane as we got back in the car to start heading home. We set the SatNav for ‘home’ and followed its lead. It took us back home in a completely different way than we had come earlier that day.
We drove through acres of beautifully wooded hamlets following a small river gradually climbing in elevation. At the summit, a beautiful lake appeared.
There was a turnout next to the lake where we could pull over, get out of the car, and take a closer look.
I had so much fun spending time with my daughter and granddaughter visiting Oberammergau, seeing new places, beautiful artwork, learning more about another unique culture, and then racing down mountainsides together like a bunch of kids. That’s what its all about – Making Memories!
Stay tuned for more memory making adventures to come…
Until then ~ Claudia