TORONTO — It was a streak that lasted nearly 400 years, broken only by the onset of COVID-19 in 2020.
The Oberammergau Passion Play, which takes place in the tiny village of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany, returns this year from May 14 to Oct. 2 after a two-year hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to this, the world-renowned play about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ had been performed every year from 1634 to 1680, and then every 10 years since 1680 to 2010 as part of a promise to God made by villagers in exchange for His protection against the bubonic plague.
Since its inception nearly four centuries ago, the play has grown to include approximately 2,000 actors – all villagers of Oberammergau – and half a million audience members, making it a major tourist draw and a substantial bookings driver for global tour operators, including Collette.
In 2010, Collette brought nearly 10,000 travellers to the event and came very close to selling nearly all 10,000 of its tickets for the delayed 2020 edition. This year, with travel demand at an all-time high following two years of global travel restrictions, the company has already sold about 7,500 tickets. Last week, it welcomed back its first departure from the play, as part of its ‘Imperial Cities of Central Europe,’ and the reviews so far have been nothing short of amazing, says Nicole Roesch, Collette’s Tour Delivery Manager who led the trip.
“We are getting some great feedback. Guests are overwhelmed – in a good way – with the performance after waiting more than a decade, and in some cases 12 years, to experience it,” she says.
But after a two-year break and the aftermath of COVID-19, the question remains whether the beloved play, or at the very least the experience of watching it, has changed at all for spectators.
According to the Passion Play’s official website, all access restrictions have been removed, meaning masks are no longer required and all seats in the theatre can be occupied. Any changes to health and safety protocols will be posted at the Information Centre, the box office, baggage drop-off and on the website.
Roesch, who has attended three Passion Play performances in her lifetime, can attest that the spirit of the play and its usual joyful atmosphere is still very much intact, despite the brief hiatus, and that guests are free to enjoy the performance without any safety protocols in place.
“We are not experiencing any kind of restrictions from the play itself,” she tells Travelweek. “Instead, we are relying on travellers to proceed where they feel comfortable, whether that be masking or unmasking.”
For good measure, Collette is mandating that all travellers, tour managers and drivers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with the final dose administered at least 14 days before the start of the tour. The company is also mask friendly and following all local protocols. Collette’s safety protocols can be viewed here.
Of course, for a global event that sees up to half a million guests per year, social distancing can be a concern to those still wary of large crowds. But Roesch says that guests, for the most part, have felt at ease while on site.
“The area has become much more relaxed and the locals along with our guests seem to be quite comfortable. Also, the space allows for the open air, which is a highlight for many of the guests,” says Roesch.
She adds that the ambience at this year’s play is “fantastic” and that guests and locals alike are simply grateful to be part of it.
“One of the great benefits about travelling with Collette is that we stay right in the region of the play so we can hear locals talking about their performance schedule and when the kids are performing, and actually see the performers cycling to the theatre,” says Roesch. “There is so much excitement and a kind of ‘glow’ around the play this year.”
Collette is currently offering seven itineraries featuring the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2022. Although the majority of departures are already sold out, there are a few remaining spots on each of the seven departures.
For more information go to www.collette.com.