Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2008. Oberammergau Passion Play, 1980

Oberammergau Passion Play seen on 23.06.80 by Valmai Esslemont:

My son Fraser and I went on a 23 day tour of Europe, highlight Oberammergau, in a party led by Rev. John Clarke, Methodist minister of Randfontein. There were 27 in the party, and as half of us had been led through Palestine, Istanbul, Europe and UK by Rev. Clarke in 1978, Fraser and I felt we were among Christian friends.

We visited France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany, including Dachau concentration camp. We found Innsbruck celebrating its 800th birthday: crowded streets, bands playing, and singing and dancing in the open. Varsity students wore mediaeval costumes and there was turning of pigs on spits, and feasting: much beer and wors was consumed.

Our bus couldn't get near our hotel, so we had to carry our luggage. A walking-stick I'd bought in Athens flea-market was useful throughout the trip. As I was 70 years old (two other party-members were older than me) I needed a stick to get in and out of buses. From Innsbruck, we went to Oberammergau in Bavaria.

Four of our members couldn't be accommodated in Oberammeregau, where we were billeted with private families. Rev. Clarke asked for volunteers to stay in Garmisch and Ettal. Fraser volunteered to stay at Ettal, and a woman volunteered to stay with Rev. Clarke and his family at Garmisch. Six of us were billeted with the Lang family, mine host Robert Lang, grandson of Anton Lang, who'd played Christus in the Passion Play three times running. I remember hearing about Anton Lang as a child, when I grew up in a Westleyan parsonage.

My companion and I shared an attic, where we bumped our heads on the ceiling every time we approached our beds. My companion brewed cups of tea any time, day or night, as she had an electric kettle.

The Lang home was the only place where we got good food on the whole trip - boiled eggs, ham, cheese, jam, etc., a change from coffee and rolls continental breakfasts. Lunches and dinners were also good, but I couldn't stomach rabbit, so was brought schnitzel. Robert Lang did the waiting, but was so hard-pressed two of us helped him, while his wife and daughters did the cooking.

It was raining the day we viewed the Passion Play. Robert Lang advised us to take rugs, as it was freezing in the hall seating 6000 people. Our seats were near the back of the hall, so we couldn't see the actors' facial expressions. Many of the audience-members had opera glasses, which I recommend. I'd bought an English translation of the play, which was spoken in German, but the story was so well known from Christ's entry to Jerusalem to the Ascension, the translation wasn't necessary, except to study afterwards. Despite rain, the 50 strong chorus and crowd scenes continued on the open air-stage.

The tableaux from the Old Testament, paralleling events in the New Testament, and the rest of the acting was performed on a covered inner-stage. I wept when the actor performed Christ's agony of mind in the Gethsemane scene. The play lasted all day, with lunch interval. In Durban, I'd seen David Horner's smaller Passion Plays, which compared favourably with the Oberammergau passion.

We explored beautiful Oberammergau village - hot springs, climbing, summer snow on the mountains, a cable-car station. Woodcarving being a speciality of the district, I bought a carving of the Last Supper, plus two carved wooden angels. People thronged from all over the world. I thought I'd talked to every nationality on the trip, but was astonished to see Tibetan lamas eating hard boiled eggs in an Italian restaurant.

Rev. Clarke stayed calm in trying circumstances. Most of our party got flu, except Fraser, another member and me. Rev. Clarke's wife was ill and barely survived the trip. One lady lost her passport and travellers cheques, and another lady lost her suitcase. Rev. Clarke helped find them. Rev. Clarke gave thanks to Almighty God for His love and protection.

Fraser and I had nine flights altogether, and back in SA we found tighter security.

The 1984 Passion Play will celebrate the 350th anniversary of the vow taken by Oberammergau villagers to perform the passion of Jesus, if God would stem the Black Plague. No further deaths were recorded after the vow was taken.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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