Local hairdressers nearly go out of business, once every 10 years, as this Bavarian village crucifies Jesus all over again.
That's because nearly half the 5,300-strong village lets both hair and beards grow for over a year to better resemble the Jews they will interpret in the Passion play which has been running here for nearly 375 years.
AdvertisementThe tradition goes back to 1633 when the plague struck the Alpine village and locals vowed, if they were spared, to put on a play about the crucifixion and reincarnation of Jesus once every 10 years -- for ever.
"A lot of people, including some 600 children stop having their hair cut from Ash Wednesday (February 25) 2009 to October 3, 2010" when the play packs up for nine years, says Doris Renner, 51, who runs one of the village's three hairdressing shops.
"That means a tremendous loss of business and shorter working hours for some employees," she adds.
But "Jesus", for his part, is working overtime.
Frederik Mayet, 30, a marketing student, is both "Jesus" and spokesman for the play.
To take part in the "Passion", "you have to be born in the village, have lived here for 20 years, or be married to someone from the village for over 10 years", he says.
The "Passion" is the "social event of the decade", says play director Christian Stueckl.
"Some want to take part because it's a tradition. Others for religious reasons. Still others, who aren't at all religious, just don't want to miss out," according to Stueckl, a village native who usually runs the Munich Volkstheater.
Villagers give up a lot of time to take part.
They will be playing to packed audiences in a made-to-purpose theatre, which can seat nearly 5,000, for five hours a day, five times a week, from May 15 to October 3 -- and that does not include rehearsals.
Nearly 1,000 villagers have acting roles -- for crowd scenes up to 900 at a time can gather on stage -- while others play in the orchestra, sing in the choir, sew costumes, or work backstage.
Donkeys, camels, sheep, goats, and doves will also be on hand.
The Passion "is very important for tourism and economically" for the village, says mayor Arno Nunn, a former policeman who has only lived here for 12 years and is therefore excluded from the play.
"In 2000 we made net earnings of some 25 million euros (34 million dollars), and we hope for much the same this year", according to the mayor who hopes for half a million spectators despite the fact that reservations are down because of the economic slump.
"Ordinary tickets are sold out, but only 75 percent of tickets sold in combination with hotel bookings have gone to date so we're hoping for a pick-up in last minute reservations", says Nunn who points to the importance of the foreign market as half the overseas' visitors are from Britain or the United States.
Choosing the actors is done at Easter, the year before the play, with names written up on a large board for all to see.
"Of course, sometimes people are disappointed they haven't got the role they wanted", says Nunn. Town councillors used to decide who got what, but this year Stueckl made all the casting decisions and the town hall, which had a veto right for the top roles, went along with them.
"I was euphoric when it was announced I would be Jesus," said Mayet, a Catholic.
"Everyone in the village came to clap me on the back to congratulate me. It's a great honour," he added.
But there has always been a political edge to the Passion.
Married people only won the right to take part in 1990 after going to court, while non-Christians, including Muslims, have only been included since 2000.
And big decisions regarding the play are still taken by village referendums.
"In the Middle Ages, such Passion plays often fanned anti-Jewish propaganda and there's been a lot of discussion about anti-Jewishness in the play in the wake of the Third Reich" and Adolf Hitler, says Stueckl.
Last year rabbis from the US Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee came to discuss the production with Stueckl and Catholic experts.
"Such exchanges are important and help improve the play" which is spoken in German, says Stueckl.
Rabbi Eric Greenberg of the Anti-Defamation League welcomes changes away from "ancient negative stereotypes of Judaism and Jews", but still has concerns about some of the visual images in the play and over how responsibility for crucifying Jesus is shared out between Pontius Pilate and the Jewish High Priests.
As for "Judas", he's played this year by a Protestant, Carsten Lueck, 40, who normally works on stage construction for television and theatres.
"Of course one feels a little more religious when one takes part in the play because we spend a lot of time reading up on theology and the Bible," he says.
"The worst part is growing the beard. I'll be rid of it as soon as the play's over," he says.
Renner's hairdressing shop plans to open late Sunday on October 3.
"They'll be coming in droves and we'll be working flat out from 10 am to 10 pm for days," she says with relish.
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