Touring Bavaria: living history, art, inspiration

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series exploring tourist-worthy destinations in Bavaria.

Tiny villages, lush green valleys, and proud churches and chapels along winding country roads: these are the images visitors to the Upper Bavarian region   can expect during the summer months. 

Oberammergau, located next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, holds many treasures of the Bavarian culture.

Picturesque wooden and romantically-painted houses greet all visitors as they enter the village. 

The houses, with their special murals, create a colorful landscape along Oberammergau’s petite streets.

This unique painting technique is only found in Upper Bavaria and Tyrol.

The tradition of mural painting came from Italy and originated in Baroque fresco paintings.

One of the most popular mural artists was Franz Seraph Zwink from Oberammergau. He was born and raised at the farm house “Zum Lüftl.” To this day, people still refer to mural painting as “Lüftlmalerei.”

The paintings on Oberammergau’s houses range from landscapes and village sceneres to historical figures, religious images and saints. During the 18th century, most of these houses belonged to the more wealthy families, and the paintings often referred to their professions as farmers, craftsmen and merchants.

The colorful trompe l’oeil painted around windows and doors is another characteristic of Lüftlmalerei and creates a dynamic architectural illusion.

Visitors to Oberammergau should also tour the woodcarving workshops, offering specially-shaped figurines, one-of-a-kind artwork and interior decorations.

Another highlight is the world famous Passion Play, which takes place in Oberammergau every 10 years.

“Although Oberammergau is one of the most popular places in Bavaria, this town preserves its cozy character,” said Andrea Winter, a U.S. Army Garrison Garmisch employee.

“The Bavarian way of life mixes with the tradition of mural painting and wood carving, still actively performed by Oberammergau’s residents. The easy way of life here is amazing,” she said.

Winter visits Oberammergau frequently in the summer to enjoy the cozy atmosphere and “the best ice cream outside of Italy” at the Eiscafe Paradiso, located at Dorfstrasse.

Fifty kilometers from the village,  visitors will find the Wieskirche, a church dedicated to the scourged saviour — Jesus Christ, beaten before his crucifixion — located at the Pfaffenwinkel, or priestly corner.   

The word “Pfaffe” is an old Bavarian expression for a priest or pastor. The name “priestly corner” was chosen for this area because of the many churches, chapel and monasteries, and a long tradition of pilgrimage.

The Wieskirche is a treasure in the middle of this hilly grassland.

Built between 1745 and 1754 in the Rococo style, the church combines all the characteristics of a pilgrimage church. The graceful structure of the church interior is dominated by the mercy altar, with the statue of the scourged savior in the center.

In 1983, the Wieskirche was named a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Visitors are deeply touched by the sacrosanct atmosphere that surrounds the church.   

“This area is a peaceful oasis in the middle of Bavaria. Here, people are able to reflect on their inner self and get away from the everyday routine,” said Winter, who visits the church on a monthly basis.

This sacred atmosphere can be felt during the early morning hours, when the sunlight illuminates the church, and at dusk, when the angel statues and paintings appear to dance in the evening light.

The locals refer to this as the “miracle of light at the Wies” (grassland).

To this day, Bavaria continues to preserve its rich culture and charming  traditions — not for tourists, but for themselves. 

Perhaps Marianus II Mayr, one of the Wies church’s founding abbots, said it best: “Happiness lives here, and the heart finds its inner peace.”