German army bends the rules for Passion Play

Frederik Mayet (third from left) portrays Jesus in the 2010 Oberammergau Passion Play (CNS/Michael Dalder, Reuters)

Every 10 years, the German army allows a few men to breach its “clean-shaven” requirements and complete their compulsory military service with long hair and beards. The men are performers in the Oberammergau Passion Play. Source: The Age.

The villagers-turned-actors are from the picturesque Bavarian town of Oberammergau which, since 1634, has staged a passion play that tracks the last weeks of the life of Jesus Christ. The devout villagers staged the original play as an act of religious quid pro quo. As the Black Death was wreaking havoc across Europe, it was decided to stage a play in the hope that God would free the village from the plague.

Miraculously, the suffering in the village soon stopped and the villagers held the first play the next year. It is now an international tourist attraction with a season of six months. Two alternating casts perform in the five-hour play (with dinner break) in German. In 2010, more than 500,000 people attended, with the profits reinvested in the village's infrastructure. The 2020 season starts in May.

Visiting Sydney recently on a promotional tour, Frederik Mayet, who will be one of two men playing Jesus, said the army’s exemption for hair and beard growth did cause surprise when five local 20-year-olds signed in for their military service.

“Everyone was looking at us. But the play is so important, they have made an exception.”

Actors start growing beards and hair on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. 

In 2000, Mayet played the disciple John. In 2010, and again for 2020, he has been cast as Jesus. “When I was first chosen as Jesus, I thought, ‘I cannot do it.’ There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders. There is a lot of pressure in the village.”

Only people born in Oberammergau or who have lived there for 20 years are allowed to register to take part in the play. There are no auditions, just a public “sorting hat” style day where names of people chosen by the director are announced and written on a large board.

While Mayet and his children will be among the 1080 adults and 600 children taking part as cast or crew, his wife is still relegated to the sidelines. “She is from a neighbouring village and she has to wait longer to qualify.”


Oberammergau Passion Play: the burden of playing Jesus (The Age

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