There are few people walking this Earth who can say they were put up for the night by Pontius Pilate, but, after a recent trip to Bavaria in Germany, I can now concretely make this claim.

I hear you ask, ‘Why is Pontius Pilate living in Bavaria?’, and indeed maybe more pressingly, ‘Why is this Roman governor who condemned Jesus to crucifixion still alive?’

Well, therein lies the story.

Pontius Pilate in this instance doesn’t refer to the man who lived 2,000-odd years ago, but in fact, Anton Preisinger, a hotelier and amateur actor from Oberammergau, Germany.

He will play Pontius Pilate in Oberammergau’s 2020 Passion Play – a performance which takes place once every 10 years.

Anton Preisinger, who will play Pontius Pilate.

On a tour of the town during our stay, local guide Andrea Kemmler explains the inception of Oberammergau’s Passion Play, which dates back almost 400 years.

“In 1633 the plague came to this tiny village. At the time the population was around 500 and 85 adults died of the Plague,” explains Andrea. “Most families had someone who died of this horrible illness.

“They were very religious people and asked God for help. They promised to show the life and resurrection of Jesus every 10 years if the Plague was stopped in Oberammergau.

From that special day on, nobody died of the plague here. Locals believed in this miracle and at Pentecost in 1634 they fulfilled this promise for the first time. That was the very beginning of this tradition.”

To say normal life stops in Oberammergau for this once-a-decade occasion is something of an understatement.

In 2020 the Passion Play will run from 16 May to 4 October, five nights a week, with 4,200 people at each performance.

The actors are comprised completely of local people. You need to be born in Oberammergau or have lived there for 20 years to participate.

The actors in the play range in age from three months to 93 years.

The population of Oberammergau is around 5,200 people and roughly half of these (2,500 people) take part in the play.

To put this in perspective, the town is the same size as Birr, Co Offaly, or Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan.

In some scenes there could be hundreds of people on stage and throw a donkey into the mix if it’s Palm Sunday.

A large number of the people taking part make up ‘the crowd’ who are like extras. The Passion Play is staged in a large amphitheatre in the town.

The audience is covered but the stage is open air, although there’s a retractable roof in case of rain.

The Passion Play Theatre.

With half a million visitors in the five months the play runs, naturally it’s of huge economic value to the town.

Andrea says the money generated is put back into town, for example, for refurbishments.

When we visit in October 2019 there’s work ongoing in the theatre and new cobble streets have just been laid.

Also, Oberammergau and neighbouring towns are famous for their frescos on the side of buildings, many of these are being touched up.

The actors are all voluntary and do so because of the tradition and pride associated with being in the play.

However, due to the demanding schedule, some of the main actors go part time in their jobs and this loss of income is supplemented.

Oberammergau, Germany.

Attending the Passion Play is an all-day affair. It runs for five hours across two acts, with a three-hour interval. During the interval people have their dinner.

The play is in German. Although it’s said that because it’s such a visual performance and most know the story, it doesn’t impact too much if you don’t speak the language. A textbook with an English translation of the script is available.

A hairy situation

If you walk around Oberammergau during the Passion Play or in the year or so beforehand, you will notice many men have long hair and beards.

This is not a fashion trend. Under the Hair and Beard Decree, from Ash Wednesday the year before the Passion Play men taking part must grow their hair and beard.

Jonas Konsek, who will play Nikodemus.

Jonas Konsek is playing Nikodemus, a high priest. He sports long hair and beard proudly when we visit. Jonas is soon to be a father.

His only worry regarding his appearance is that next October when he shaves, his new son or daughter won’t recognise him.

“A lot of young children are afraid of their fathers when they shave after the play, because they don’t recognise them,” he laughs.

This is Jonas’s second time having a main role. In 2010 he was Peter, a disciple. In 2000, at 13, he played one of King Herod’s servants.

Since 1980 there have been two actors assigned to each of the 21 main roles. During the performances they play the part on alternate nights to make things more manageable. The rehearsals started in recent weeks, taking place almost every day.

Jonas Konsek with long hair and a beard.

Jonas says he doesn’t have to attend every day, as he’s not in every scene. This is a very demanding time for the actors.

Anton Preisinger, the aforementioned Pontius Pilate and owner of Hotel Alte Post, in contrast to Jonas is clean shaven.

The actors playing Romans are the only ones exempt from growing their hair and beard, as the Romans shaved and had short hair two millennia ago.

For Anton, the Passion Play is very much a family affair. He’s the fifth generation of his family to take part. In 2010 he was Judas and has taken various roles since childhood. Both his sons are in the play.

When the last play finished, the first thing they thought about was how could they manage to get a part in the next one

His eldest, Anton Preisinger Junior, also has a main role.

“My eldest son, during the last Passion Play, was 12 and my youngest was eight, they were highly involved. When the last play finished, the first thing they thought about was how could they manage to get a part in the next one.”

One of the most important elements in preparing for a main role, Anton says, is the trip people occupying these parts take to Jerusalem, Israel, together before rehearsals start.

They see where everything happened, discuss the Bible and their characters.


If planning a trip to see the Passion Play in 2020, there are many things to consider in terms of tickets, accommodation and dining.

A ticket to attend the performance costs between €30 and €180. It can be booked here.

However, due to many moving parts, a lot of people opt for a package deal which incorporates entry, accommodation and food.

Scenes from the Passion Play, Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus.

With the influx of people to Oberammergau, beds can be very difficult to secure during this period, so staying in the surrounding area is common and also cheaper.

Packages are available on the official Passion Play website (listed above). These offer one- and two-night breaks with accommodation – both in the town and up to 25km outside it – and a three-course meal during the interval.

Packages range from €234 to €839 for one person for one night, depending on the ticket and accommodation.

Scenes from the Passion Play, the crucifixion.

A three-star hotel in a shared room for one night costs €369 per person. This price may fluctuate slightly depending on ticket type.

These prices include accommodation, ticket, three-course meal during the interval, textbook and the use of public buses on performance day.

It’s advised to purchase tickets sooner rather than later as some dates are over 80% booked up.

Also, if you’re booking accommodation and tickets independently make arrangements for an interval meal ASAP, as restaurants book up fast.


Although in Germany, Oberammergau lies very close to the boarder with Austria. We also stay in other towns close by in both Germany and Austria, which are good options as a base for the Passion Play and/or to extend your trip.

On the German side of the border we stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 25 minutes from Oberammergau.

This area is home to the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, accessible by cable car. We travel up from Lake Eibsee, a short drive outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

There’s snow on the mountain and in an unusually adventurous spirit I decide to go tobogganing. As a child I slid down the hill on the back road on an election poster, how different can it be?

Oberammergau, Germany.

A lot different it turns out! The last time there wasn’t a group of tourists standing at the bottom scattering like bowling pins as I hurdle towards them. Steering evades me.

In Austria, we stay in Seefeld in the Tyrol region, a little less than an hour from Oberammergau.

Mountains in Seefeld.
With the Alps dominating the topography of this area, skiing in the winter months is a huge industry.

However, complementary to that in summer, mountain hiking and biking is attracting an ever growing number of tourists. The cable cars are used in summer to access mountain paths. There are 500km of marked paths in the area.

If it’s possible, Seefeld is quite an active yet laid-back place. The locals all ski, hike, cycle and golf. At the same time, people don’t come across as rushing.

Oberammergau, Germany.

All of the places we visit have an intimate small town feel, not the location for someone looking for a big city adventure.

In Oberammergau we stay in the three-star Hotel Alte Post. A deluxe room for two adults costs €119. However, this hotel is now booked out for the duration of the Passion Play. The Hotel Königshof in Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a four-star and a deluxe room for two people costs €114 per night. In Seefeld we stay in the four-star Hotel Eden, where a family suite for up to four people starts at €123 per night.

We fly from Dublin to Munich airport. Munich is an hour and a quarter from both Oberammergau and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It’s an hour and a half from Seefeld. Ryanair flies from Dublin to Munich twice daily. You can get the train from Munich to each of these place. There’s a bus service from both Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Seefeld to Oberammergau.

Irish Country Living Travel was a guest of Advantage Austria on this trip.

Did you know…

  • Oberammergau is also famous for woodcarvings, particularly Christmas decorations, which are sold all year round in the town.
  • Ballylinan, Co Laois, started staging their own Passion Play, having been inspired by Oberammergau. Local woman, the Ploughing’s Anna Marie McHugh, previously played Mary Magdalene.
  • Oberammergau is in the Ammergauer Alps, ‘ober’ means upper in German, so it translates to ‘up in the Ammergauer Alps’
  • From 7-10 May special Youth Day performances of the Passion Play will take place, aimed at 16- to 26-year-olds.
  • Christian Strükl is the director of the 2020 Passion Play. In 1990 he directed his first and was the youngest person ever take up the mantel.
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