The little ones to the front


Just in time for the first big rehearsal with the People of Jerusalem in the Passion Play Theatre, it's winter again in Oberammergau. Outside, the two camels take a short walk through the snow on the first Saturday in April; inside, the 450 participants gather that afternoon. There are 42 days to go until the premiere, and in the town it’s all about the Passion Play. After the obligatory safety briefing by technical director Carsten Lück, it's straight into medias res: On the agenda is the "Entry into Jerusalem", the biggest scene of the play, in which everyone is present. Old, young, children. For many of them it is their first reunion with the stage after two years of being forced to take a break by Covid. For some, the hair has grown even longer, otherwise many things are reminiscent of January 2020: the ski suits and the warm hats, but above all the excitement and anticipation.

Carl and Seppi Flemisch are there, too. The two are eight and eleven years old, and they also sing in the Oberammergau children's choir outside the Passion Play season. Before the rehearsal, their mum packed warm cushions in their boots. They know how cold it gets from the floor when you stand on the stage, which is open to the sky, for hours: "Two years ago it was even colder than today at rehearsals," Carl remembers. He goes to primary school in Oberammergau, his brother Seppi attends grammar school in Ettal. "Almost all the children in my class perform in the Passion Play," says Carl. And it's no different with Seppi: "Because of the Passion Play, they put all the Oberammergauers in one class in Ettal, and all but two of them are participating in the Play."

Seppi feels it is an honour to be involved in the Passion Play (Photo: Sebastian Schulte)

The two had their first assignment during the photo book shoot in March. The boys are actors in the prelude to the Play, in which the vow of 1633 is re-enacted. At that time, the people of Oberammergau vowed to perform the Passion of Christ every ten years in order to be spared from the plague. "The photo will be published in the book," Karl proudly recounts, "we had to stand very still. Christian (Stückl) said: 'Stand there', or: 'No, a little further forward'. It always didn't fit by a millimetre or two centimetres, until at some point it was right." And Seppi adds: "It was warmer than today, but still freezing cold. The costumes are icy cold, it's just a shirt like the long vest here."

Christian Stückl practices the "Hail to you" with the children and the People of Jerusalem (Photo: Sebastian Schulte)

Today, at least, they still have their snowsuits on over their ski underwear. In the theatre, the two immediately storm onto the stage, becoming part of the big picture. And right at the beginning of the rehearsal, Play director Christian Stückl sings with the children the "Hail to you" with which Jesus is welcomed in Jerusalem. And then it's off into the middle of the scene, Stückl conducts everyone back into the alleys of Jerusalem so that they can then rush out onto the stage. Everyone is in their element, each in their own way. The shy ones walk by the hand of their mothers, the brave ones run on. "The adults all want to see Jesus too," Stückl explains to the children. "But you are the little ones, you push your way to the front row. After all, you're there for Jesus too!" The palm fronds are, of course, a big hit - when no one is supposed to be looking, they are also excellent for small secret fencing scenes.

Stückl directs the children's gazes ("There he is, Jesus!") and heats up the emotions in the crowd when Rochus Rückel, in the role of Jesus, criticises the priests: "They are hungry, but you don't give them food! They are thirsty, but you do not give them drink! You do not welcome the strangers and you do not clothe the naked! If a man is naked and lacks daily food, and you say, 'Go in peace! - but do not give him what his body needs - what good will that do him?" Stückl calls out to the crowd, "Listen, this is good what he is saying! Someone is speaking for you!" He wants to see reactions, not a silent and still crowd, and encourages even the children to roar and laugh: "When Jesus says to Jehoshaphat: 'Before you enter the kingdom of God, a camel must go through the eye of a needle', you find that funny. No one has ever said anything like that before!"

Carl, Seppi and the other children are patient, even though they don't have as much to do in the following speech scene. They think it's "cool" (Carl) to be allowed to take part in the Play, "an honour" (Seppi). So it doesn't matter if it takes a bit of perseverance for the adults to find the right tone for their text. They look forward to the performances. There is only one thing that still gives them a bit of a headache: the costumes. For the vows picture, they wear high laced boots, trousers, shirt and waistcoat. "Everything has lots of buttons," explains Seppi. "The shirt must have 40 buttons, the waistcoat five, the trousers also five - and then we only have six minutes to change for the Entry into Jerusalem." But a solution will surely be found. Because: "Christian is doing quite a good job," says Seppi.


Text: Anne Fritsch

Photos: Sebastian Schulte

Carl is looking forward to the performances (Photo: Sebastian Schulte)