THE rest of us have been giving thanks right now for a haircut, but in Oberammergau they’re all growing theirs in anxious anticipation of next year’s delayed Passion Play.

And none more so than Jesus himself.

Rochus Rueckel is a 25-year-old ­aerospace engineer graduate from Oberammergau by day, and the ­Messiah in his off time.

And a year out from the renewal of the Passionsspiele which was postponed last year because of Covid, he is already getting into character.

Rueckel recalls the disappointment of the 11th-hour cancellation in 2020 and how it impacted the Southern German village.

He said: “It all felt like the whole village was deeply sad, especially if you saw people who were at the hairdresser, because it’s so final.

“It was terrible. We were practising so long just for this aim, so it was very painful to stop so suddenly.”

Fast forward a year and the ­villagers are shaking their locks loose again, as they must by order of the Passion Play management.

The organising committee decrees that all participants of the Passion Play have to let their hair grow for authenticity, and the men their beards, too.

And so, since Ash Wednesday, ­February 17, Rueckel has been letting his hair down.

The village as a whole has been ­feeling hopeful in recent months about the prospects of staging, which takes place every 10 years and which has been running since 1634.

It was the year prior, 1633, that, during an outbreak of plague, the ­villagers made a pledge to God.

They would hold a Passion Play in devotion to Jesus every 10 years in ­exchange for deliverance from the pestilence. God was pleased, the ­legend of the Oberammergau Passionsspiele was born and soon pilgrims were flocking to the Bavarian village to witness the town re-enacting it.

Today half a million people from across the world swell the Bavarian village (population 5514) every 10 years to see Christ’s Passion played out over five hours through the Last Supper to the Crucifixion to the ­Resurrection.

The good people of Oberammergau are hoping that the world can return to something close to how it was ­before and they can welcome us all back again, having scheduled their dates for next year for May 14 through to October 2.

As a proud native of Oberammergau, the highlight of Rueckel’s ­adolescent years was playing a part in a play depicting the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth 2000 years ago.

He said: “I was 14 when I was ­involved in the Passion Play for the first time. I was part of the people of Jerusalem.

“It was very spiritual, especially the moment where we started singing Schma Israel (Hear, O Israel, [driving the merchants out of the temple], a Hebrew prayer which Markus Zwink, our conductor and musical director, has put to music.”

For Rueckel, then, to play Jesus has been the realisation of a dream.

He said: “I think moments where Jesus is ranting were fun to play for me, so that was not a problem. I asked Frederik how to play quiet scenes. That was very useful.”

The Frederik in question is Frederik Mayet, his fellow Jesus who he will share the role with through the summer and autumn of performances next year. The Passionsspiele is at its quietest when Jesus is on his cross and the 5000 rapt audience watch in reverence.

Mayet, 40, who first acted in the play in 2000 as John the Apostle, and Jesus in 2010, said the central role is physically challenging but that it is a privilege.

He said: “When you are growing up in Oberammergau you want to take part in the Passion Play in the same way as you might want to play for the national football team.

“Everyone in the village knows you are playing the part and there is pressure, but it is a very spiritual experience,” he added.

Mayet even visited Jerusalem to try to channel the man Jesus in the very streets where his final days played out.

He said: “It’s a very emotional part to play and it helps you realise how it was 2000 years ago and also reflect on the Church itself.”

Mayet also draws comparison with the times in which we live in today, making a parallel between 2022 and 1922.

“We have been through this in Oberammergau before, 100 years ago because of the Spanish Flu when the Passion Play was delayed for two years.

“And that gives us hope and shows us that we have come through this before and hopefully things will get better again.”

For theatre director Mayet, that means “hopefully getting together again and having a beer afterwards”.

Oberammergau has been a draw for pilgrims for nearly 400 years, as well as package holiday-makers – it’s 150 years since tour company Thomas Cook started tours to the village in the 19th century.

AS the 10-year wait for the renewal of the event stretches into 12 years and the appetite for the Passion Play grows, so too travel companies are putting plans in place for our return.

Oberammergau is putting an extra emphasis on youth for next year, believing that 2022’s young pilgrims, just like its young natives who went on to play Jesus, will become ­immersed in the Passion Play and return again and again.

It is introducing two special youth days for May 7 and 8 and two exclusive performances of the Passion Play where it hopes to gather 8000 young people between the ages of 16 and 28.

Overnight stays are available in private accommodation or at favourable conditions in hotels.

Tickets are already available from €8.

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