Oberammergau, Germany: Woodcarvings, Bavarian Attire, and the Passion Play

The colorful, fresco-painted facade of the Pilatushaus

For the next few months, we’ll be hanging our warmest hats in Oberammergau, a town located in Germany’s Alps.

Oberammergau is most celebrated for its Holzschnitzer (woodcarvers), colorful frescoes (Lüftlmalerei), and Passion Play. This theatrical production is held every ten years.

Some residents in Oberammergau still occasionally wear feather-adorned, green wool hats; custom-tailored Lederhosen; or Dirndls for special events.

The traditional salutation in Bavaria is Grüß Gott (God bless you, or May God greet you).

Servus is an informal greeting.

A building painted with traditional frescoes in Oberammergau, Germany.
The onion-dome shaped steeple of the St. Peter and Paul Church, side by side with a woodcarving shop.
Detail of the Hotel Alte Post in Oberammergau, Germany. The painting says "Grüß Gott."
Lüftlmalerei on the façade of the Hotel Alte Post.

During a Black Death (bubonic plague) epidemic that swept the area in the 1630s, Oberammergau lost many inhabitants. As the story goes, Oberammergau residents pledged to perform a passion play regularly, if God spared them further ravages of the Black Death.

The first play was held in 1634, and today, more than 2,000 villagers take part in all aspects of its production. During its five-month run, which takes place in years ending with zero, Oberammergau’s Passion Play attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all corners of the world. The Passion Play will next be held in Oberammergau in 2022. It was supposed to be held in 2020, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oberammergau woodcarving and building with fresco

In the last autumn weekend before winter arrived on the scene, Shawn and I took to the streets of Oberammergau, admiring the frescoes (which largely feature religious or natural themes), the choir of the church bells on the hour, and the rolling green hills and their furry inhabitants.

Though a few roses and autumn flora held on late in the season, it was apparent that winter was waiting in the wings. Most yards were well-stocked with meticulously cut lumber, and some residents were already donning woolen knee-socks.

Thank goodness we’ve already discovered some delightful Bäckerei and cafés* in which to warm ourselves up with piping-hot pumpkin soups and crusty breads!

Gluten free soup in Oberammergau restaurant
Gluten-free pumpkin cream soup at the Theater-Café am Passionstheater.
Oberammergau wood carved bears
A pair of wooden bears flank the doorway of a local shop.
Oberammergau woodcarving and building with fresco
Der Koeffl - Oberammergau
The Kofel, Oberammergau’s most distinctive mountain peak.
Oberammergau restaurant
Oberammergau home with chalet birdfeeder
Firewood, neatly stacked outside a traditional-style home.
Oberammergau windows painted with the fresco technique.
Detail of the Pilatushaus building.
A glimpse of Oberammergau's Pilatushaus, painted with frescoed scenes.
The Pilatushaus gardens in late autumn.
Outdoor seating at an Oberammergau restaurant.
A cuckoo clock hangs outside of a shop in Oberammergau, Germany.
A cuckoo clock adorns the exterior of a souvenir shop.
Oberammergau home
Wood ready for winter
A mountain goat soaks up the sunshine, with the Kofel overhead.
Oberammergau fresco and roses
Oberammergau home with shutters
Oberammergau building with fresco Hotel Alte Post
Oberammergau building with fresco
The Forestry Office (Forstamt).
Oberammergau painted home detail across from Oberammergau Cemetery
A war memorial.
Oberammergau’s Rathaus (town hall).
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau homes in meadow
Oberammergau Frescoes
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau countryside
Oberammergau Mountain Scene
Oberammergau fresco - Germany
Oberammergau sheep in countryside
Oberammergau Religious Figure on Building
Oberammergau Goldschmied Fresco
Oberammergau Lueftlmalerei
Oberammergau museum door detail
Oberammergau fresco - Gruess Gott
Oberammergau fresco
Oberammergau building with fresco Hotel Alte Post
My dad, Shawn, and my parents’ dogs, Meg and Gigi.
Oberammergau building with fresco
Sparkasse in Oberammergau
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau Fresco
Oberammergau Cross - Building Detail
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau building with fresco
Oberammergau building with fresco
The painted exterior of the Gasthaus zum Stern.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Oberammergau is located 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Munich. To get there by rail, research the Bayern Ticket (website is in German, but you can use Google Translate). As of 2021, these tickets start at €25 for one passenger, and cost €8 for each additional passenger. You can use the Bayern Ticket for most trains, trams, and city buses, making it a good deal if you’ll be doing a lot of exploring in one day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
  • Take a peek at the Ammergauer Alpen site to see which events are taking place in Oberammergau and the Ammergau Alps during your visit.
  • Are you looking for a guesthouse or hotel in Oberammergau? Here is my round-up of hotels, organized by theme.
  • Having transitioned to gluten-free eating (which is quite a challenge in Germany, where wheat breads reign supreme), I was delighted to find Theater Café . This restaurant serves gluten-free cakes and soups. During our visit, we enjoyed a scrumptious bowl of pumpkin soup, which was adorned with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and cream. Also on the menu? Gluten-free buckwheat raspberry cake, and an eggnog liqueur cake. 2019 Update: This restaurant is now under new management, but I’m happy to say that they’re still offering some of the same gluten-free pastries as their predecessor.
  • Print out this free card from Celiac Travel, to describe your gluten-free dietary restrictions to chefs and restaurant staff while traveling in Germany.
  • Visit my Germany page for more trip tips. If you’re seeking more ideas about what to do in this part of Bavaria, here are all my posts about Oberammergau.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

40 thoughts on “Oberammergau, Germany: Woodcarvings, Bavarian Attire, and the Passion Play

    1. Hello again Anyes – and so nice to hear from you, following my long time away from posting.

      In which city did you live in Germany? Yes, gluten-free is a challenge in this region and in a foreign country too. I’ve been learning lots of new food vocabulary and gaining exceptional willpower when I stand before bakeries and pastry shops, which have shelves of enticing offerings. :)

      1. Hello again Tricia :-)
        I was living for about a year in Bad-Honef a little town close to Bonn. I was there as an au-pair maichen and got to practice my German. It’s been so long now.
        Enjoy your stay and good luck with your willpower ;-)

      2. I’ve only been to Bonn once, in the footsteps of Beethoven. We also enjoyed a Christmas Market there on its opening night. Do you have snow in your corner of the world now? :)

    1. Virginia, it’s so nice to hear from you! I’ve missed being in touch with you and other kind readers (and catching up on your adventures) these past weeks.

      Another reader said that Oberammergau looks like a fairy tale village, and I must agree. This part of Germany is quite special.

      I am happy to be in touch again and hope you had a splendid weekend!

  1. Tricia, I know most of the buildings and I have been a few times @ that Baeckerei, eating Bienenstich oder Zwetschendatschi,. What a treat this post is, thank you.
    Hat es denn nicht schon geschneit, wie ich hoerte aus Garmisch-Burgrain , meine Tante die 100 Jahre alt ist lebt dort mit meiner Cousine. Wuensche Dir eine schoene gemuetliche Adventszeit. Servus dann, Cornelia

    1. Cornelia, it’s funny that you should mention Bienenstich. I just saw some at a bakery today, and wondered exactly what it was. Your message prompted me to look it up. Like the Zwetschendatschi, it looks fabulous!

      Your aunt is correct that it has been snowing here. Just a few days after I took these photos, the winter wonderland began. Today, we had a blend of blue skies, sleet and snow. I think we’re heading to Garmisch in the coming days. Have you any requests for me to photograph while I’m there? :) Please send some sunshine our way!

      1. Ah Bienenstich is a MUST to try it out you wil LOVE IT!
        If you ever get to a little sweet town called Bad Toelz about 40 kilometers from Garmisch, there is a Cafe I think it is called Dengler or something like that they have the world’s best Bienenstich, you see I am expert.
        Sunshine is an the way, after some rainy days the sun came ou today beautiful as ever in California. Garmisch has so many beautiful places like their little lakes must be beautiful now seeing them frozen, like Barmsee oder Pflegersee where you can see the Zugspitze, the highest mountain of Germany. Enjoy all the Christkindl Markets at tis time of the year..Servus as we Bavarians say

    1. The frescoes are fairy tale-esque! I could spend hours photographing them all, and often find myself craning my neck – my gaze upward -appreciating their artistry. It’s really a joy to be here!

  2. Tricia, absolutely beautiful pictures! Interesting summary throughout :)

    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?

    1. Hi Judy, I’d be honored if you reblogged this link. :)
      Thank you for your kind comment too. I’ve gotten a bit behind in the blogosphere, but once I have more time, I look forward to catching up on your tempting recipes.

  3. Thanks, Tricia!  Beautiful pictures.  We miss you two.  Hope to make it to Oberammergau soon!  Love to you and Shawn!



    1. Merna, how wonderful to hear from you! We miss you two as well (and dinners with your family and your grandpuppy). Here’s hoping that the rains have subsided in your part of the world. O-gau doesn’t look anything like it did in these early November pictures anymore. The mountains and village are dressed in snow. Give our best to Monty too, and looking forward to our next rendezvous.

    1. Yes, we’re happily back in Germany. (We previously lived in Heidelberg, before our round-the-world adventures began.) In what part of Germany do you live? It’s pretty to be in Oberammergau as it’s transitioned to a winter wonderland. More to come soon! As always, lovely to hear from you!

  4. Tricia! Hi! Wow, what a lovely city to spend a few months in. Beautiful photos! Gluten free? How come? In Germany – so tough but I am sure home cooking will play a large role :)

    1. Marina, thank you! Not sure if your sister made it to Germany during her grand tour of Europe?

      I’ve gone gluten-free with the hope that it might help reverse my thyroid condition. A lot of research seems to point to gluten as being the culprit with autoimmune conditions. I’ve been feeling great so far, except for when it comes to peeping into bakery store windows and wishing I could feast upon the delightful pastries and breads in this part of the world. In hindsight, Asia was much easier given all the rice and rice noodles. (We had to work pretty hard to locate whole wheat foods.) Interestingly enough, I hear that Italy is a gluten-free paradise! Who would’ve thought it would be with all the delicious pasta? I guess a large percent of their population is gluten intolerant/Celiac. As a result, all public places must offer non-gluten meals. The Italians also supposedly have baked with non-traditional flours for centuries.

    1. Jo, I don’t know how I lost track of this comment! Are you more of a summer or winter person? Certainly, the village is beautiful year-round. Here’s hoping you can make it someday. If I’m in town, we can meet up for a cup of coffee or tea. :)

  5. Wonderful post. How exciting to spend the winter somewhere so beautiful. Oberammergau reminds me of the Chalet School series of books I devoured as a girl.

    1. Rachael, many belated thanks! As I mentioned to Jo and Mark above, I’m not sure where this series of comments had disappeared? Growing up on the other side of the Atlantic, I hadn’t heard of the Chalet School series of books you mentioned. They sound as though they took place in such picturesque spots. :)

  6. Great work. I love the way that you’ve captured the spirit of the traditions of the townsfolk. The photographs bring back memories of when I visited Oberammergau. Really enjoyed this post. Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    1. Konstantine, belated thanks, and sending you all the best for 2013 (though the year is not so new now). So sorry your comment was misplaced in the holiday shuffle!

      Did you visit this region during the summer months or the holidays?

      1. INdeed I did visit this gorgeous town. I loved all the wood carving craftsmanship. It was absolutely amazing, and the painted murals around the buildings were also beautiful to behold.. I would love to experience the passion play. Take great care and God bless.

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed your photos of O’gau. I lived there 1950-1952 (as a child) and have visited 3 times since and am going back in September. It is truly a magical place and your pictures captured that quality.

    1. Susan, ‘Vielen Dank’ for your kind comment. I would love to see your pictures from the ’50s. Several months ago, we enjoyed watching black & white video footage from the early 1900s. It was fascinating to see that not much has changed. In what part of the city did you live – in the American community?

      I’ll be lucky enough to be returning there soon, since my parents have chosen to retire there. I cannot wait to see the mountains with greenery on them, and the flower-boxes overflowing with geraniums. We spent a greater part of the winter there (Nov-Feb), so I’m now looking forward to summer hikes.

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