The Plague and COVID-19 | DW Documentary

published on June 30, 2020


every 10 years the spotlight falls on a

small town in Bavaria when its residents

recreate the story of Christ's suffering

and death half a million visitors flock

then to oberammergau they come from all

over the world but the villagers don't

perform the passion play just for

tourists they do it because they made a

vow to God to commemorate his goodness

in this way when the plague the Black

Death threatened their village with

extinction four hundred years ago as a

cop dispersant fear the passion play

lives from the fact that we have a

message and that we derive that message

from the Gospels we ask ourselves what's

important today and we focus on

particular aspects of the story we look

for the themes that are important for

contemporary society of course the death

of Jesus is central to the Passion Play

but we ask why did he die on the cross

that's what we need to focus on why were

the people so angry why were the

religious leaders against him why did

people follow him and what did he want

to achieve we have to show all that in

our passions late at least that's our

intention of wounded psyche



October 2018 preparations are underway

for the next oberammergau Passion Play

in a few minutes the names of the 2020

cast will appear on this board for the

past 10 years the director Christian

struggle has wrestled with the difficult

question which of the town's residents

is most suited to portray Jesus or his

mother Mary or Pontius Pilate now he's

made his choice and it's been confirmed

by the town council behind closed doors

in every other theater in the world the

director chooses the cast he wants but

here it's not so simple every resident

born in oberammergau or has lived here

for 20 years has the right to a role in

the Passion Play so whether I want to or

not I have to cast them I never start

with a number for my first production in

1990 I had 1,400 adults now we have

1,900 adults and 450 children and I like

the fact that the qualification of being

born in oberammergau we're living here

for 20 years says nothing about the

person's social standing or religion

their gender or their orientation this

is a cross-section of our village

there's a lot of media interest who will

portray Jesus two actors are chosen one

of them has already played the role

twice Frederic Myatt remembers the first

time he was cast Tommy Tommy thought I

want to optically I wasn't expecting it

because I was in awe of the part then

suddenly I saw my name on the board and

I was gobsmacked it changes your life in

one day to the next

as the man who portrays Christ you have

a responsibility towards the village and

the Passion Play

you're the focus of attention and you

have to deal with that it's a point on

most amid souring the UM game

there are two actors for each of the

main roles they alternate in more than

100 performances but everybody listed it

on the board knows that their life will

change after months of rehearsing they

will perform the passion play for half a

year that's hard to reconcile with a

normal job whoever plays one of the main

roles usually has to take vacation for

the length of the run the Passion Play

demands everything of the participants

but it's not just the main roles that

are announced today Christian struggle

and assistant director Abdullah Karaka

have also decided who's to play Roman

soldiers and residents of Jerusalem more

than 2,000 people will take part in the

production for most oberammergau

families it's a tradition that's passed

down from one generation to the next

yes the tradition is almost 400 years

old everybody has pictures in their home

showing granddad as a Roman soldier or

grandma is Mary Magdalene everybody has

some kind of connection and even people

who have just arrived in the village

want to be involved in some way the feed

for 12 months people hardly talk about

anything but the Passion Play

who's been given what role is the talk

of the town in a few months the so

called hair and beard edict will be

proclaimed from then on men may no

longer shave or cut their hair unless of

course they're Roman soldiers familiar

person because this one for me

personally it's a sign that we're all

getting ready for the passion play quite

literally growing into the role we're

here to hear on it vol 89 box now with a

population of some four and a half

thousand oberammergau lies a hundred

kilometers south of Munich on the

northern edge of the Alps Germany's

highest peak the SOOC pizza and king

ludwig ii fairytale palace linderhof are

close by no wonder the village is one of

Bavaria's most popular tourist


although the Passion Play is staged only

once every 10 years it has a permanent

influence on the village the gospel

story is painted on the facades of

houses in all its variations the

numerous souvenir shops sell carvings of

saints apostles and crucifixes

oberammergau represents a tradition that

makes the gospel narrative accessible in

many forms The Villages crucifix

Carver's are as famous as its Passion

Play which has been attracting visitors

since the 19th century the British the

Swedish and the Danish Royals and the

Austrian Hapsburgs have all been here


federate mired knows he'll be tied up

here for the next ten months five times

a week from mid-may until october the

residence of oberammergau will rehearse

jesus's suffering and death each

performance lasts more than five hours

it's a mammoth undertaking 500,000

visitors come from all over the world to

see the passion play and is Jesus you

are at the center of things so you have

a responsibility each day that you

appear on the stage to perform as well

as you possibly can to go to bed early

the night before to know all the lines

to stay healthy because when the actor

portraying Jesus has had a bad day it's

especially noticeable


there's a festive atmosphere in

oberammergau today the villages enjoy

celebrating and they also like to do so

on stage 12 months before the Passion

Play they put on a show depicting the

play that led to the village committing

itself to a tradition of religious

theatre it's the year 1633 the Black

Death is ravaging southern Germany

bringing still more death and

destruction in the wake of the 30 Years

War the village goes into lockdown to

stave off the epidemic but a man from a

neighboring village already infected

with the plague manages to circumvent

the watch men the result is predictable



the Black Death carries off children

women and men the gravedigger played by

raucous Ruckle who's also one of the

actors portraying Jesus in the Passion

Play has his hands full

finally the residents of oberammergau

discover a way out of this suffering the

promise to stage a passion play every 10

years eventually defeated the plague the

village chronicle relates that from the

day they took the vow nobody in the

village died of the disease


October the 20th 2018 on this day it's

not just actors appearing on the stage

of the oberammergau theater but real

priests in an ecumenical service the

village residents renew the vows of 1633

as they do before every staging of the

Passion Play

I hope this will get tied in first pose

ultra for fun suit over America we are

at suit our lives once it does pass eons

peel off


Shema Israel a Jewish prayer set to

music by choir master Marcus Vick is one

of the great passion hymns under said so

I think there's a different approach to

religion in oberammergau but often

outside of the church the church has the

same problems here as in the neighboring

villages the oberammergau performers

don't view their passion play as a

specifically Catholic event and haven't

for decades but when director Christians

struggle gave one of the main roles to a

Muslim it caused something of a stir

it's kind of garbage beaten by Spain I

can also pray in Arabic because we

Muslims also pray in Arabic the Satan

when you can see from my whole family

who live as Muslims even my relatives in

Turkey my grandmother's and grandfathers

and my cousins we're all pleased they

know very well that it's a Christian

play but they say it's great you're

doing it you don't have to be a

Christian to understand religion first

aid when the cast is presented to the

media there's special interest in the

fact that jenga's guru a Muslim will be

playing the traitor Judas

I've been asked if it's a provocation

that a young man from a Turkish family

is playing Judas no it's not in casting

the roles my only consideration is who I

can envision playing them who do I see

in the role how good is he on stage


they'll devour sheep and cattle they

will not stop get worked up winter 2019

the first rehearsals are called they're

held in the towns smaller theater the

actors familiarize themselves with the

new script in small groups playing Judas

jenga's guru tries to persuade Jesus to

lead a rebellion against the Roman

occupiers this concentrated work on the

script opens up new perspectives I mean

Jesus birth a human I guess for him that

nothing got my image of Jesus has

changed a bit

after all the changes to the script

we're changing the performance a bit and

also seeing the roles a bit differently

thought to myself Jesus is really more

than Jesus he was a person who wanted to

teach people how to behave towards each

other to love one another even when it's

hard no violence violence is no solution

give I'd this kind of news you have to

draw the good out of people's this and

not simply hope for the best people have

to stand up and do something themselves

and the people didn't understand that

dimensions touch done they're stupid

when somebody slaps us in the face we're

supposed to tolerate it

chuckle is insistent the actors imagine

how their character thinks and feels

this involves dealing with religious

issues if you aren't really interested

in what we're portraying here and that

includes an interest in religion and you

can't be part of it in many of the

discussions we've had here of course

I've noticed that he brings a different

perspective a Muslim perspective to the

Last Supper and other things he has a

genuine interest in the production of a

series of it if you go to lead them the

people will rise and will drive the

wretched Romans from our land

do not be afraid of the Romans do not be

afraid of those who kill the body but

cannot kill the soul rather be afraid of

the one who can destroy both soul and

body love your enemies Clement on I need

a caution or not most most of course

when you have one of the big roles you

have to approach it differently and I

must say I found a completely new

understanding through the Passion Play

and by portraying Jesus I think about

the themes and Jesus's message it's

quite differently I have to say I've

developed a new enthusiasm for the

themes from Michigan I view it as a

great gift to be able to think about

these issues so intensely otherwise you

can perhaps only do this as a student of

theology we have the opportunity to

think about them intensely every 10



is just cut it out order instance I'm a


Jesus is safe right I often used to

think that Jesus is arrogant when he

says I am the way but I think he means

it differently I am the way to God I'll

show you I'll tell you if you do this

and be like this the society in which we

live would be better Jesus is often

quite pragmatic and straightforward he

says if somebody's hungry give him

something to eat when somebody's naked

give him clothes

when he's a stranger give him shelter

that's very simple and that's what makes

me think Jesus is like a compass he

knows what's good and what's bad and

actually everyone knows intuitively

what's good and what's bad and Jesus

challenges us to follow that inner voice

and say do what's good and don't do

what's bad that's very simple it

orientates you on God and what's better

in the world and what's more just

directors in the world on the table he's

a decent poacher and I think that

churches have sometimes forgotten how to

bring this message across they often

focus on whether it's right to let

divorcees who've remarried go to

communion and the bishops are suddenly

important but Jesus was definitely with

the people's Club a dimension yeah he

broke bread with Judas nobody's perfect

you have to be able to forgive and he

shared bread with somebody and maybe did

something wrong I think Jesus wouldn't

think about it for a second women often


marriages can crash sometimes it happens

but when somebody finds a new partner

they shouldn't be excluded in Oscars

trust again



time village she must've hit some and

this is my fourth production and I

remember when I was 25 and directed the

passion play for the first time the

actor playing Jesus had to take a lot

for me I was a young rebel so Jesus had

to be rebellious too

it was very important to me that Jesus

was rebellious but one grows older and

suddenly in 2010 I thought it's not

important to me at all whether he's loud

and suddenly I discovered places in the

Gospels that said I will not cry out and

one will not hear my voice in the

streets he wasn't somebody who got a

head through noise and rebellious but

resolutely and it's really interesting

that you've discovered Jesus anew every

10 years for the 2020 production the

context uh Denis became much more

important to me how refugees and people

on the margins of society are treated I

discovered the social Jesus much more

strongly and I thought it's crazy that

there were similar social issues 2000

years ago I was a stranger and you

didn't give me shelter I was poor and

you didn't give me anything to eat if

you look in that direction you suddenly

find that Jesus gives very clear answers

as to how we treat foreigners and

refugees or people on the margins of

society we shouldn't treat them as we do

it's not what Jesus intended


oberammergau in the grip of bishop old

even though there haven't been the usual

heavy snowfalls this year the Passion

Play Theater is the largest building in

the village and was constructed in 1898

especially to stage the play some other

Musical and theatrical performances also

take place here but its first and

foremost the Passion Play Theatre


the full rehearsals are held in freezing

temperatures for the first time in the

history of the Passion Play each actor

is registered electronically attendance

at rehearsals is compulsory another

reason to check attendance even actors

playing minor roles receives some

financial compensation the miranda

siesta mile partition the first

rehearsals in a passion play theatre

give you a wonderful feeling before that

we rehearsed in a little theatre but

here you have the feeling that these

people are people you've hardly seen for

10 years suddenly the village gathers

and stands together on the stage and

there are wonderful people among them

you come to the Passion Play theater for

the first time aged four or six or seven

then ten years later you're a teenager

and you recognize that it's a great

experience the village has a great time

putting on this production people

develop an emotional connection to the

passion play very young as a child or as

a teenager

the youngest have just as much right to

be on stage as the oldest people over 90

and it's a great experience for all of

them a wonderful time but this year

rehearsals were overshadowed by alarming

reports of a life-threatening virus on

March the 11th the World Health

Organization declared covert 19 a

pandemic could the place still be staged


with just three months to go before the

first performance unfinished props lay

scattered around the auditorium the

Passion Play is part of our DNA we need

is you get that feeling at rehearsals I

have it now when I call a rehearsal for

450 kids they come straightaway form

little groups run around and shout

Tommie old sheep and goats kick up a




that's the orchestra pit watch out I

always say that's why the Passion Play

has survived so long because it's our

biggest social event everyone meets up

from every section of society women men

children of teenagers old and young it's

simply our biggest social event and

everybody wants to take part

gate outside this Christian chuckle is a

hands-on director yesterday



March 19 20 20 lakhs of the entrance to

open Abigail advertised the great event

but a shadow has fallen on the

production this year the village council

which even embellishes its coat of arms

with the Passion Play has called a press

conference the play has to be cancelled

over gamma Gao has of course become

economically dependent on the Passion

Play and this will probably hit lots of

people hard what we've seen very clearly

at rehearsals during the past few weeks

is that the residents of oberammergau

are totally committed to their passion

play and everybody's sorry it won't take

place now at that moment I felt almost

relieved but the actors were also

standing around the square other people

who I knew were crushed by the decision

they take an unpaid vacation or dropped

out of university for a term we've

rehearsed almost every evening for

months on end it was like a bubble

bursting and I also feel deflated also

its opinion team talk Apple Platz

not the up soggy when they cancelled the

play lots of people were depressed so

was i it was like somebody pulling the

rug out from under your feet all my

plans for next year were turned upside

down it was decided yesterday evening

that we won't cancel the Passion Play

it's postponed until May 21st 2022 it's

ironical that the threat of a pandemic

what's made oberammergau famous for 400

years has now temporarily closed the

village the portrayal of Christ's

suffering and death which the residents

of oberammergau vowed to perform when

their village was struck by the plague

in 1633 famously ends with Christ's

resurrection that message of hope is

part of oberammergau legacy this time

the actors will just have to wait

another two years to proclaim it the

Christian stucco's that everyone will

play the same parts will all come

together in two years let's hope in good

health I'm already looking forward to it



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