Preparations are already well underway for the Passion Play, the decennial staging of Jesus’ final days set to be held in the small Bavarian town of Oberammergau in 2020, and the German National Tourist Office welcomed travel trade and media to Berkeley Church last night (Feb. 5) for a glimpse into what’s become a unique draw for visitors to the country.
Joining the GNTO’s Director for Canada, Antje Splettstoesser, at the event were two very special guests: Christian Stueckl, the Passion Play veteran who will direct its 2020 staging, and Frederik Mayet, who played the role of Jesus during the play’s last run in 2010.
The duo provided the assembled audience with an insight into a tradition whose roots go back over 380 years; with almost half a million visitors expected to flock to Oberammergau for the next series of performances, which run from May 16-Oct. 4, 2020, it’s little surprise that tickets are in high demand.
Frederik Mayet and Christian Stueckl address the audience during the event.
“The reason [Oberammergau 2020] is promoted so early in the market is because the tickets go on sale so early,” Splettstoesser told PAX. “We know that the group tickets are already selling really well, which is why we want to create an awareness for everyone either on the group side or FIT; the FIT tickets will go on sale in March 2018… book early, in order to avoid disappointment.”
Stueckl emphasized the world-famous play’s community roots in Oberammergau, with all participants required to either have been born in the town or have lived there for at least 20 years. Around 2,000 actors featured in its 2010 run, and despite its Catholic roots, Stueckl noted that in recent years, the play has opened up to participants from several different religions.
Canada-Germany travel on the rise
Interest in the play is already high, and there was more good news for the GNTO as Splettstoesser announced the latest figures for Canadian travel to Germany – with the country recording an 8.8 per cent increase compared to the previous year for the period between January and November, 2017.
With 638,929 overnight stays by Canadians in Germany during that time, Splettstoesser said that the figures demonstrated the growing appeal of both Germany and Europe as a whole for Canadian travellers.
“It reflects on Europe overall to begin with,” she commented. “But we also feel that people, more and more, realize the beauty and the diversity of the country of Germany. That’s why we see that big increase. With the variety of product – river cruises, castles, city stays, driving on the Autobahn – there are so many things you can do, and I think people take advantage.”
The increase in Canadian travellers to Germany, Splettstoesser added, was likely to be much higher when figures for December are made available – with the country’s Christmas markets a big draw for visitors from Canada. “We get very strong in the shoulder seasons, such as the Christmas market, which have become very popular,” she commented. "Germany is also known for the season outside of May-October."
The figures, she said, also did not take into account the number of river cruise passengers who travelled through Germany in 2017.
The GNTO’s focus in 2018 centres around promoting Germany’s range of culinary experiences, with Splettstoesser saying that her constant message – ‘Germany surprises’ – resonates particularly strongly in this regard.
“We’re not just about the sausage and the 3,500 varieties of bread that we have,” she said, “but we also have fine dining, 300 Michelin-star restaurants, and world-class vineyards with more than 16 wine regions. Germany surprises every year, and this year, we surprise on the culinary side.”
‘The story behind the story’
Of Collette: Ron Lonsdale, vice-president - Canada; Brett Walker, general manager.
Anticipation for the 2020 Passion Play is also building among the Canadian travel trade, with tour operator Collette also set to host Stueckl and Mayet at an event in Toronto this week. Oberammergau will be incorporated into two of the company’s 2020 itineraries – Austrian Delight with Oberammergau Passion Play and Exploring the Alpine Countries – and Collette General Manager, Brett Walker, told PAX that bookings are already strong.
“The story behind the story is just as fascinating as the play itself,” he commented. “The show is a religious, but also a cultural event; the people who make it, the actors and the villagers themselves, are part of the reason it’s so interesting. Collette has always had a great relationship and tremendous collaboration with Oberammergau.”
Ron Lonsdale, Collette vice-president – Canada, said that while the play has evolved over the years, a significant component of its enduring legacy remained the spirit of the people of Oberammergau.
“The dedication of the villagers, and how they put on this enormous play while still raising a family and maintaining their livelihood is incredible,” he said. “Over the years, the choreography and music has changed slightly, but it’s all about people, and it’s the people behind Oberammergau that really make the play.”