The Oberammergau Passion Play Theatre is now a listed building

Without a pandemic, there would be neither the internationally renowned Oberammergau Passion Play nor their Passion Play Theatre. However, the fact that the Bavarian State Office for Monument Conservation has now entered the 120-year-old theatre building in its list of monuments has nothing to do with COVID-19. The building is worthy of protection because of its special construction and design, the rare technology in the stage house and its high historical significance for the folk and amateur theatre.

The tradition of the Play dates back to the plague year 1633, when the people of Oberammergau took the vow to perform a Passion Play in honour of God every ten years. Since 1634, the Passion Play has been held every ten years with a few exceptions. In 2014 they were included by UNESCO in the list of the intangible heritage of the Federal Republic of Germany.

"After the Oberammergau Passion Play already belong to the intangible UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, the entry of the theatre building in the list of monuments now also honours its structural, material heritage. The wooden and steel structures of the Passion Play Theatre are among the most important testimonies to the Bavarian engineering architecture of their time," emphasises General Curator Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Mathias Pfeil, Head of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation.

The open-air play, which is performed by village amateur actors and actresses, became known beyond the state borders in the 19th century and attracted famous personalities such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Max Reinhardt, John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford. After the number of visitors had risen to over 100,000, the Munich court theatre engineer Max Schmucker built a new large open-air theatre in 1899/1900. He built the auditorium as a wooden post-and-beam construction with steel trussed arch trusses, which today are among the oldest and largest in Bavaria. Under the basilically stepped gabled roof there was room for about 4,000 spectators at that time. The large stage in the so-called Heimatstil is a reinforced concrete construction from 1930, designed for mass performances and featuring strictly reduced neoclassical forms.

What makes the Passion Play Theatre so special is the extraordinary closeness between actresses, actors and audience. The character of the folk theatre is emphasised by the renunciation of all ranks. With its structural design, the Oberammergau Passion Play Theatre represents a special form of European theatre: the folk play in the open air, which is one of the theatre's most important roots.

Building the auditorium of the Passion Play Theatre in 1900 (photo: Municipality of Oberammergau)

The Passion Play Theatre in 2010 (photo: Arno Declair)