Of Beards and Bubonic Plague: German Village Prays for a (2nd) Miracle

Of Beards and Bubonic Plague: German Village Prays for a (2nd) Miracle

Only the beards remain: Both village hairdressers are shut because of the coronavirus.

“If you didn’t know this was Oberammergau, you’d think this village is full of hipsters or jihadis,” joked Cengiz Görür, 20, a son of a local restaurant owner and the first Muslim to get a leading part in the Passion Play.

He was cast as Judas, the play’s traditional villain, which, as the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung recently wrote, “some outside observers find very modern, others a little nasty.” The director said he got the role for his great acting talent.

It has been more than two weeks since the postponement was announced, and a collective sense of gloom has given way to an anxious calm. Like elsewhere in Germany, Oberammergau is adapting to the new reality of life under a pandemic — but perhaps more than elsewhere, villagers are looking at their fate through the prism of their local history.

The story of the plague profoundly shaped this village, remarked Eva Reiser, who was to play Mary.

“How will the coronavirus change us and our world?” she wondered. “What will be the stories they tell about us?”

Already, the coronavirus has given new significance to the words Frederik Mayet, who was to play Jesus, had been rehearsing.

When Jesus addresses the people of Jerusalem, he talks about how “poverty and disease are carrying you off.” In two years time, when the pandemic has taken its toll and the Passion Play is resurrected, Mr. Mayet said, “that sentence will have a whole different meaning.”

Mr. Stückl, the director, can trace his own family back to the days of the plague. Its first victim was one of his ancestors, the caretaker of the church.


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