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Trip Report: Oberammergau Passion Play and Austria

My friend Chuck and I were walking between bus stops in the outskirts of Vienna, trying to make our way to the Emily-recommended Kurpark Oberlaa. A soccer ball came flying at us from the direction we were headed and rolled down the street. Nobody was around, but I decided to chase the ball a block or so and grab it. When I returned to my friend, we continued our walk. We came upon a community park/playground across the street. I saw an 8-year-old frantically looking for something. I held up the ball. He saw it, smiled, and started running toward me. Unfortunately, a car was coming down the street. A firm “Halt!” and an outstretched arm/hand stopped him. After the car passed, I threw the ball to the kid. The kid smiled and ran back to the playground. I felt kind of like a superhero… a superhero who gets kids nearly run over by cars.

It was my second good deed for a kid that day. Not 30 minutes earlier, I had raced into the street to grab some two-year-old’s well-loved small stuffed bunny that fell out of her stroller (unbeknownst to her or her mom) as her mother pushed the stroller over some Straßenbahn tracks. The mother and grandmother gave me many Thank yous when I presented the bunny to them – not Dankes or Vielen Danks. Just Thank yous. They can always tell I’m an American.

This was my second trip of the spring, following my trip to Normandy and Berlin with a golden-hearted teen. The primary inspiration for this trip was the Oberammergau Passionsspiele. Chuck and I purchased our tickets and lodging package in 2018. The planned 2020 itinerary was Oberammergau followed by Bavarian and Austrian Alps. I loved that itinerary. By the time the 2020 trip was planned, though, my friend was dying to see Salzburg and Vienna. I had visited the former twice and the latter three times. But… I’m a flexible guy… so, I was ok with the change in plans. The itinerary? Munich x 1 night, Oberammergau x 2 nights, Salzburg x 5 nights, and Vienna x 5 nights.


Munich was great. I saw a lot of… the airport. Long story short: our itinerary changed on the day of travel due to a delayed flight, and we arrived in Munich before Chuck’s checked bag (sigh) did. Due to Chuck’s PTSD from a prior trip related to lost luggage, we waited at the airport until the bag arrived several hours after our morning arrival. Did I mention I’m flexible? Also… patience is always improved by the presence of a good book… for me on this trip, the book was The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans… about Archduke Franz Ferdinand… turns out it’s a love story… with a dark ending. It’s a good book.

Our Munich hotel was the Sendlinger Tor location of the always dependable Motel One chain. A basic room that has a little design flare. Great common area. Great breakfast. After our morning meal, my friend and I wandered the Marienplatz area. Despite a prior trip to Munich, I ran from spot to spot, saying, “Ooh! That’s cool!.” Chuck was less impressed.

We joined the noon crowd to watch the Glockenspiel play. Sadly, my body betrayed me. I fell into a massive coughing fit. Zero cough before or after that moment the entire trip. I felt disapproving eyes fall upon me. I swung around, expecting to find annoyed stares, but instead met angry glares. Humor always diffuses such moments, eh? I announced loudly, “Tut mir leid! Das COVID ist schlecht!” Meh… that didn’t go over so well. (Just for the record... that's a joke... I didn't really shout that to the crowd).

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In 2022, Oberammergau is synonymous with Passion Play. As mentioned above, that’s why Chuck and I were there. The town is very cute. The murals on the buildings are super cool. My favorite was the story of Hansel and Gretel, painted on a building originally opened in 1922 as an orphanage, funded largely by donations from a German actress and from German Americans. The neighborhoods and the nature-ey outskirts of town are nice, too. The walk up to the Woodworking School and then farther out of town is nice and offers a nice view of the town from above. The Passion Play itself was a worthwhile experience, but for me certainly was not life transforming. Spoiler alert: I was a little disappointed that Jesus didn’t show up at the end.

As noted above, we purchased a package for the play, which included 2 nights lodging and meals at Hotel Wolf. It made life easy. I liked the hotel quite a bit – very gemütlich. Friendly staff. Quite good food. Our first night in town was on a non-performance night; it was very nice to wander around without crowds.


Salzburg made the “overrated city” list in Cameron Hewitt’s book Temporary European, which, by the way, I read in 2-3 days a few weeks ago – highly recommended. Whereas Cameron seems to reduce the city to Sound of Music land, I view it as a place of far more complexity and like it quite a bit. It was the site of my first trip to Europe back in 2014. The impetus for that trip was the Salzburg Festival. I watched this trailer for the festival over and over before that trip. It made the city seem like a magical place filled with culture. It is! At least to me. But not to Cameron.

Culture for this trip was primarily the fortress Mozart concert/dinner. We got the super duper VIP tickets (or whatever they were called). It got us a seat at dinner along the edge of the panorama terrace of the fortress, which offered nice views of the Alps in the distance. The food was good but not exceptional. We also got front row seats for the concert, which, unlike the food, was exceptional. Very talented musicians… one of whom I chatted with in German at intermission. The VIP tickets were a nice splurge. And my friend Chuck, who historically has not been interested in classical concerts, found the performance “wonderful.” He is now interested in going to local philharmonic performances in our small city.

Eisriesenwelt, the ice cave at Werfen, was a favorite activity for this leg of the trip. To get there, catch the train to Werfen and then walk about 10 minutes to a parking lot where you catch a shuttle to the entrance to the ice cave complex. The shuttle is cash only. There is no ATM nearby. Three University of Minnesota students showed up only with credit cards; they got turned away at the shuttle stand. Overhearing their conversation, I of course paid their way in exchange for them telling me about their 2-week European adventure as we rode the shuttle up to the entrance of Eisriesenwelt. The entrance to Eisriesenwelt is not the entrance to the cave. My phone said I climbed the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs to get to the cave entrance (not counting the cable car ride!). Then I climbed the equivalent of another 40 flights inside the cave. The ice cave is awesome but perhaps not a good activity for the mobility challenged. In a “we’re not in the US” moment, I was handed an open-flame oil lantern just before entering the cave with the instruction of “Try not to catch anyone on fire.”

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There was also a day trip to Königssee. I love that place. We took the boat to the Salet stop, walked to Obersee, hiked around the small lake and then through an alpine meadow to Röthbach Waterfall. I love that hike. It’s gorgeous. And the waterfall is super cool. On our boat ride back across the lake, we visited St Bartholomä (a bit of a yawner, in my opinion) and then walked some of the paths in that area. At the end of our day, we waited for a bus at the bus stop near the parking lot. While flexible is a good descriptor for me, so is restless. Standing still is hard! I started wandering the area while waiting for the bus and stumbled upon a nice view of Eagles Nest perched high above the valley in which I was standing. The sun was reflecting off the building’s windows – it’s a great photo of two dots of light at the top of a mountain.

Another day trip to the Berchtesgaden area included a stop at the salt mine, followed by a walk along the river to the bus station, and then a trip to Eagles Nest. Walking the trails above Eagles Nest was great fun, including scaling and negotiating a 6-foot-high snow drift blocking one trail to a scenic outlook.

Of course, there was a Sound of Music tour. We did the Panorama big bus version. Chuck had not watched the movie in a while, and I pulled it up on my laptop the night before so that he could see some of the places we would see the next day. He became engrossed in the film and ended up watching the whole thing.

As far as restaurants go, I love, love, love the Afro Café. Best falafel ever… wonderfully spiced… served atop a fresh, delicious salad. I had a nice curry dish with vegetables and fish there, too. Great coffee. Great tea. The tea bags are almost art… small woven cotton sachets that are… yup… you guessed it… super cool.

Lodging in Salzburg was at Gästehaus in Priesterseminar Salzburg. It was my third stay there. The price is right at 67 euro per night for a single room at the a/c-free facility, but I was on the noisy side of the building. Happily, ear plugs were provided. Breakfast was nice, and a coffee machine dispensed tasty espresso for free at breakfast and for a small fee throughout the day. A coin-operated washer and dryer are available in the common area for laundry.


Continuing our tour of cities on Cameron Hewitt’s overrated list, we next arrived in Vienna. I have to admit my first impression of Vienna in 2015 after taking the RS walking tour was that it was kind of like Vegas with old buildings. The copious signs on every building made it seem overly commercial and a bit fake, to be honest. It has grown on me since then. Whereas I stayed near the opera house on previous trips, I stayed near Schwedenplatz this trip and had nice access to the rest of the city via walking and via the U-bahn.

It's good to know your limits. My ability to tolerate royal palaces is very, very finite. Chuck’s ability and interest? Boundless. For Schönbrunn, he got the super duper grand tour ticket (or whatever it’s called) for both of us. I had previously toured the place. I made it through about two rooms of gilded arches and crystal chandeliers before I turned to Chuck and said, “Chuck, take all the time you want here. Enjoy all things Habsburg. I’m going to move at a faster pace than you, and that’s okay. Don’t rush because of me.” Then I walked through the palace in about 8 minutes, took a quick glance at the gift shop, headed out the front door, popped in my ear buds, and wandered around while listening to my favorite German band and occasionally offering to take photos of couples or small groups where the picture taker was getting left out of the picture. Chuck walked out of the palace quite a bit later, and then we spent the rest of the day exploring the gardens. We each had an amazing Eisschokolade at the restaurant at the Gloriette.

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Another day we visited the Hofburg Treasury. Once again, my gnat-like attention span for royal things led me to blow through the Treasury in about 12 minutes. I told Chuck once again to take all the time he wanted while I went and checked out the balcony from which Hitler had spoken following the Anschluss; I then walked the expansive Heldenplatz, which had been filled with adoring Austrians who wanted to see the Führer. Chuck hit the Habsburg apartments after that while I went to check out the Fred-recommended military monument dedicated to Habsburg victories at Deutschmeisterplatz. Military stuff! Yes! That’s what I can sink my teeth into!

Then came the low point of the trip. An hour when joy drained from my being… when everything before me seemed dark and meaningless… when I questioned the very notion of travel because I had never had such despair fill my heart. Spanish Riding School Practice. The most boring thing I have ever done in Europe and perhaps in my life. I have to admit I had minimal interest in doing this, but Chuck really wanted to do it, so I agreed to accompany him. That flexible thing? Came back to bite me. As Emily noted in another post, the horses just walked in circles. At first, I was internally angry, though I didn’t show anything externally because I didn’t want to ruin Chuck’s experience. After about 15 minutes, though, I began laughing uncontrollably because the horses… just… kept… walking… in… circles. Then I pulled out my phone and entertained myself with the Rick Steves Forum. Holy horse that was a miserable activity. For the record, Chuck was unimpressed, too. He regretted not going to a show.

The high point in Vienna for me? The Army Museum (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum), of course. From the sculpture out front to the hall of military leaders to the Panzer Garten, it’s great! It has the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated. The car still bears the hole created by the bullet that killed poor, Habsburg-rejected Sophie. The clothes that Franz Ferdinand was wearing lie in a glass case, exposing the hole in his collar where it was pierced by the fatal bullet. There is a photo of the assassin, Gavrilo Princip; it quite literally sits on the floor, leaning against the base of a wall in the exhibition room. The WWI exhibition is excellent. The WWII exhibition, not so much – just a hodge-podge of things thrown into a vast room. Vienna still seems to be coming to terms with its role in that war.

Other activities: Vienna State Opera Tour – great. Welt Museum – okay. Austrian National Library – gorgeous. Vienna Walks 1914-1945 walking tour (not particularly popular, per our guide, who was interested in why we chose that tour) – great. Cold War walking tour with Third Man Museum owner Gerhard – great. Walk in the Augarten, observing the Viennese at play (and seeing the park’s Flak towers) – super cool!! Walk through Türkenschanzpark in the Cottage Quarter – great. Walk through Kurkpark Oberlaa – okay. Soviet War Memorial (Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee) – great.

My favorite restaurant in Vienna was a great Vietnamese restaurant hidden in an atmospheric courtyard near our hotel. Pho Linh. Humble, kind owner. Fresh, delicious food. Great experience. Another favorite: Gorilla Kitchen near Karlskirche served up some tasty American-sized burritos and bowls. We both got bowls instead of burritos; these were enjoyed.

Lodging in Vienna was at the Hotel Vienna. Decent price. Decent location. We were under the impression there was a/c. But there are a few rooms that do not have a/c. We got those rooms. Happily, temperatures were mostly comfortable during the time we were in Vienna.

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  • I’m grateful for every trip to Europe, even when seeing repeat sites. I got to see a lot of cool stuff this trip, including some new stuff like the ice cave at Werfen! Plus I got to spend a couple of weeks with a friend. Strengthening a friendship is always a great use of time!
  • I do a lot of walking in Europe. The final tally for this trip was 139 miles in 14 days.
  • Sometimes flexibility is overrated 🙂.
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Great report! Any comparisons with your May Oberammergau play experience?

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This was the May trip 🙂. I was a little slow getting the full trip report up.

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Thanks for taking the time to provide us with yet another entertaining trip report! :)

And especially great conclusions. Finding the balance is key. 🤣

Strengthening a friendship is always a great use of time!

Sometimes flexibility is overrated

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I’m sorry you didn’t like the morning exercises at the Spanish Riding School. I loved it and seeing the horses at the stables. But then I’m a horse and animal person. I would have loved attending a performance but I wasn’t in Vienna o a day there was one.

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We took the boat to the Salat stop

So, how did you like your salad? ;) Thanks for another entertaining report!

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Another great trip report, Dave! Thanks for posting - I love your travels:)

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Kudos to you for all that flexibility and strengthening the friendship. I was giggling as I imagined how many pictures you'd have been taking for others during my Vienna visit!

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Great report -- taking the time to write a short one rather than just throwing up a long one quickly really paid off for us readers.

What are we to make of your not mentioning, other than breakfasts, any German food as notable or a favorite?

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I've been waiting for this report Dave. Sounds enjoyable but with challenges. I want to see the war museum in Vienna when I go there next, whenever that is. Sendlinger Tor motel one is perfect. Nice location. We actually wandered over to the nearest grocery store for snacks for breakfast when we were there. I actually really liked Garmisch Partenkirchen more than Oberammergau as GP felt it was more right in the Alps, with a nice forest right next to Partenkirchen for example. Are you planning any trips right now?

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I too enjoyed the War History Museum in Vienna, and I agree with your comment that Vienna still seems to be coming to terms with its role in that war, much like Italy in that regard. Were they still displaying the "Heil Hitler" pillow?

Back in 2015, the Vienna Pass [card?] included a free visit to the Spanish Riding School "Morning Exercise" - which was basically like watching professional handlers "exercise" their dogs before a dog show. Beautiful facility, and I'm glad we left after about 10 minutes.

Thanks for another enjoyable trip report.

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TexasTravelMom -- Thanks for the kind words.

Julie -- I have to admit I'm not a horse person. There may be a little bit of hyperbole in my recollection. 🙂

sla019 -- Whoops! Thanks for pointing that out -- corrected!

Valerie and CWsocial -- Thanks.

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avirosemail -- Oberammergau was exclusively German food (and quite good German food) served by Hotel Wolf. After a few German meals, though, I'm ready to expand my horizons.

rob -- Good to hear from you. The Army Museum is well worth the visit in Vienna; I think you would enjoy it. Agree on Sendlinger Tor Motel One. I have done a day trip to GP and like it quite a bit. There is a lot to do in that area, and I would like to make it back for a longer stay. I hear Mittenwald is great, too... have you been there?

EP -- Come to think of it, I think there was a Heil Hitler pillow on display. We would have left the Spanish Riding school early, too, but at the end of our row blocking our exit was a large, sweating, hard-breathing man. My friend wanted to keep his 6-foot distance and not pass closely by him.

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Dave, just passed throught Mittenwald on the train, but photos I've seen look great. The whole Innsbruck, Mittenwald, GP area is nice.

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"The WW1 exhibition is excellent" How true. That part of the museum was refurbished and expanded for the centennial in 2014. I saw that the coverage on WW1 in 2009 and then again in 2014 and 2015 , much more extensive in coverage aside from tech modifications. Very revealing as you carefully view the WW1 exhibits and its reading materials. The Archduke and his wife were assassinated on their wedding anniversary.

The Soviet War Memorial is at the start of Schwarzenberg Platz. Straight down ca. 3 mins from memorial is the statue of the venerated (in spite of his numerous defeats at the hands of Napoleon) Austrian field marshal Schwarzenberg, whose statue is also among those along the wall on the ground floor of the Army Museum.

Thanks for an enlightening and detailed report.