National Geographic : 1935 Dec
WHERE BIBLE CHARACTERS LIVE AGAIN Everyday Life in Oberammergau, World Famous for Its Passion Play, Reaches a Climax at Christmas BY ANTON LANG, JR. T IS always with joy that the traveler, wandering south through Germany, views the white flag atop the Gothic city hall of Bavaria's capital, Munich (Minchen), for the signal tells him the day is exceptionally clear and the peaks of the Alps are beckoning, in plain view some sixty miles away. "St. Peter, the weathermaker, must be in a good mood to send so fine a day," say thousands in the city of Munich itself, and they head straight for the mountains. A swift electric train, or a bus whirring over smooth roads, takes the traveler past the inviting Lake of Starnberg (Wiirm See), the banks of which are studded with villas and manors. White sailboats greet him from the green waters, and their back ground is the hazy blue mountains that loom in the distance, some 45 miles far ther south (see map, page 746). A VILLAGE CRADLED IN MOUNTAINS The first approach to these gigantic monuments of Nature has the emotional impact of the immigrant's first glimpse of New York's colossal skyline. Shortly the upward journey begins, through rolling, ver dant hills which make the transition grad ual. Half a mile above sea level, the wan derer finds himself surrounded by the gray peaks, partly wooded mountains, and high green hills which cradle Oberammergau. As he nears the village, the towering crag of the Kofel bids him welcome, with its huge wooden cross on top (see illustration, page 744). This rocky cone must have been a weird sight one night in 1809 after lightning had struck it, setting its trees ablaze and turning it into an immense torch. If the wayfarer's ambition holds out, his feet will soon follow his eyes to the lofty height, and before him will unfold a pano rama of the Ammer River Valley. In its midst, peacefully resting, is the village which takes its name from the meandering, icy-cold stream (see page 748). "District on the upper part of the Ammer River" is the meaning of Oberammergau, a word apparently formed with no consid eration for alien tongues. Three miles down the river lies Unter ammergau, and on the opposite side a place called Oberau, giving rise to a local tongue twisting pun, akin to "picking a peck of pickled peppers": "Ob er fiber Oberau, oder ob er aber iiber Unterammergau, nach Oberammergau komm, weiss ich nicht," it goes, which means, somewhat ineffectively, in English: "Whether he is going to come to Ober ammergau by way of Unterammergau, or whether he is going to come to Oberammer gau by way of Oberau, I don't know." MECCA OF 400,000 IN A YEAR Standing in the brisk breeze blowing over the Kofel, one scans the irregularly scattered town with its red roofs amid green crowns of trees. Four bridges cut the silvery band of the Ammer, in whose mirror are reflected the town's tallest build ings-the church and the Passion Play theater. Little more than a year has passed since the curtain once more went down on that stage, not to rise again until 1940. The hush that settled over the hall also per vaded the streets of the village which only a short while before had been resounding with the voices of thousands of people gathered there from near and far. In this sequestered Bavarian town some 400,000 people, representing practically all the nations and creeds of the earth, rubbed elbows in the special jubilee year of 1934, when 73 performances of the Play were given. That memorable series marked the 300th anniversary of a tradition unbelievably dear to the village whose people for genera tions have been living in intimate daily contact with it. WHEN THE BLACK DEATH CAME The history of the Passion Play may be comparatively young, considering that, even before the Roman legions, Celts pop ulated the valley. The Bavarian tribe pre ceded the age of knighthood, whose mem bers, as early as the 12th century, saw a church being built in Oberammergau.