The tiny Alpine Bavarian villages of Oberammergau and Mittenwald were the main reason for my agreeing to change the Europe plan from Tuscany to Germany. Deciding between the two was tough, but I chose to stay at Mittenwald as there was more to do in and around Mittenwald and it seemed cuter. However, we did visit Oberammergau on the way from Hopfen am see to Mittenwald, driving through stunning Alpine scenery.
We left the mountains behind as we drove along the Romantic Road for a part of the journey as it overlaps with the Deutsche Alpenstrasse (German Alpine Road), a 450 km drive along the foothills of the Alps, a road we were going to take before we added Austria to our itinerary.
An equally scenic drive through the hills took us to Oberammergau within two hours, which gave us enough time to explore this amazing town nestled at the base of the Alps.
We wanted to park outside the town as we still hadn’t figured out the parking, but we ended up driving straight into it and had to park at a parking lot with parking meters. Not knowing what to do, all of us tried different things. The hubby started searching the net, the kid tried reading instructions on the meter (in German) and I looked for human help. Just then, a couple came up to their car, asked if we were parking, dumped their ticket in our hands and drove off. We were shell-shocked. We suspicious Indians were convinced that they were trying to make us pay for their parking. Just then, a lady walked by. Luckily she knew English and explained that you prepay for the hours that you assume you will be there for. So the couple who gave us their ticket gave us the extra time left. So much for doubting others.
With 1.5 hours parking time available to see Oberammergau (hubby was thrilled by this time limitation), we promptly set off. As always, I wanted to find the TI (tourist information), as always, hubby wanted to aimlessly wander through. We finally grabbed a map and started walking about.
It was a fine day, cloudy but without rain, and the town was charming as could be. The main street was full of beautifully painted houses that caught my attention the most (and my camera).
The houses in this region are traditionally painted by a hand painting fresco technique that involves painting on freshly applied wet plaster. As the painters work quickly in fresh air (luft in german), the term lüftlmalerei got associated with this technique. This pattern became famous in the mid 1700s, wherein the paintings used to display the wealth of the owner.
The paintings were so beautifully drawn that they looked more like 3 dimensional art forms. I thought they were plaster initially and later realised that they were painted on so fabulously.
The main street had lots of souvenir shops that certainly tempted us to walk in and sample their wares.
Oberammergau is also the site of a play that only runs once in 10 years. The passion play was started as a bribe to God to spare the town from plague, the great killer of the 17th century. The people vowed to perform a play on the life and death of Christ every 10 years if they survived. So they did, and so the play is performed till today. In 2020, for 5 months, Oberammergau will be one of the most sought after cities in Germany. The play is still a savior for the town.
A lot of the painted buildings feature images from the play. Most depict religious beliefs or Christ at the cross. There are some on the other hand that have nothing to do with religion. For example windows are painted around to create a 3D effect of baroque architecture.
Whatever the work, the effect created was so stunning that I felt that I was walking through an open air art museum. Pictures cannot do Oberammergau justice, they can’t capture the atmosphere of the town at all.
Oberammergau is also known for its wood carvings and has plenty of shops with wooden souvenirs. Decorative wooden articles are placed outside the stores as well.
Every street, every turn had something charming and photogenic.
The kid must have loved this little town for she happily posed for pictures. She was even happier when she came upon a little cat stretched out over a wooden ledge.
Since I’d lost my Rick Steves guidebook and hadn’t stopped at a TI, I didn’t know what exactly to see in the picturesque town, so the main street, Pilatus house (where woodcarvers displayed their art) and the frescoed “Red riding hood” house and “Hansel and Gretel” house were on my agenda, mainly the fairytale houses. So we were walking farther and farther away from our car, hunting for them, when we passed by a pretty church.
By now, we weren’t sure whether we were in the right direction. The hubby never asks for directions, so I walked into a beautiful souvenir shop and asked for help.
It was a very charming shop with wonderful women at the counter, who told me to walk ahead. I was too shy to take pictures of their shop without buying anything, and to this day, I regret doing neither of those. We plodded on in the heat when the kid squealed out, “Yarns, I want these yarns. I’m going to knit with my grandmother.”
“Hmmmpphhh, no shopping for crap,” I said sternly, knowing I’d be saddled with yarns that never got knitted. Now the clouds had moved off and the sun was blazing down. Naturally we were uncomfortable in our warm jackets. We walked on, getting quite frustrated at not finding the fairytale houses despite walking for so long. So we turned back, hoping to find the TI and figure out the route. Walking back faster now, as our limited time was ticking away, I still lagged behind and took loads of pictures.
I saw something pretty from afar and naturally took a detour to see what it was. It was an open square with lots of flowers with a huge statue of Christ on the cross.
Just behind it was a gorgeously painted house, the Pilatus house, that was sadly closed as it was a Monday.
Just ahead was the TI, where I got a more workable map, a loo and the all important knowledge that we could drive to the fairytale houses as they were anyways on the road out of town. This turned out to be very useful information indeed as our “free” parking was soon to end.
Reluctantly (for me), we left this pretty little town to drive to Mittenwald. Of course the town was too photogenic to put away the camera, especially when one sees a statue like this.
The hubby lived up to his promise to stop the car at the end of the town to see the much desired “Red riding hood” house, that I felt was well worth the walk, had we walked till there.
What a cute Red riding hood! Just as she should be drawn. What was sad was the fact that these were actual people’s houses, so we were invading terribly on their privacy. No wonder their curtains were drawn shut and they had “Keep Out” signs on their locked gates. That didn’t stop me from going trigger crazy when I saw more fairytale houses.
What skill the Lüftlmaler (the Lüftl painters) possessed! They could create art like this.
And my favorite, the “Hansel and Gretl” house.
It was a wonderful short trip to an outstanding town. Oberammergau deserves a night stay for sure, maybe during the Passion Play when the entire town plays a role in the play. But for now, we were content with this “free parking” duration trip. True Gujjus!