The beginnings of the wood carving trade of Oberammergau date back to the Middle Ages. It was first mentioned in a report from the year 1111, according to which the monks of Rottenbuch brought "...the art of carving all kinds of small household articles from the Ammergau..." to the Berchtesgadener Land.
The scale of the works of art, carving technique, materials, and diversity of the motifs make tThe broad spectrum of wood craft in Oberammergau very impressive. Carving religious motifs is thought to date back to the pilgrimages to Ettal. In addition to these religious wood carvings such as crucifixes, nativity figures or miraculous images, they also exported serially produced secular wood carvings throughout the world: "Fadengaukler" (jumping jacks), small toy figures such as farmers, soldiers, animals, wagons, and jointed dolls, as well as elaborate tabletop games for adults, exquisite needle cases, or cases for jewels and other valuables. The Oberammergau Museum provides visitors with a wide cross-section of these works of art. It presents the history of the wood carving tradition and the extraordinary art skills of the wood carvers as well as offering a contemporary concept of an exciting experience museum. For those who prefer to find out more about the origin of a wood carving before deciding on a purchase we recommend going to the "Pilatushaus" (Pilate house). Here you can watch artists and craftsmen at work in the Lebende Werkstatt (living workshop) and witness the "birth" of a hand carved figure. Opening hours: Tuesdays to Fridays, 1:00 PM - 6:00 PM.
The travel report in which a man from Florence praised the fine quality of wood carving in Oberammergau dates back to 1520. In 1563, the Abbot of Ettal even gave the Ammergau wood carvers their own crafts code. At this time, goods were predominantly sold locally. In the 18th century, several publishing houses from Oberammergau set up subsidiaries throughout Europe. From there, so-called "Kraxenträger" went out on foot to sell the goods from door to door, carrying them on a "Kraxe", a wooden back frame with a shelf.
Today, there are 60 active wood carvers who produce and sell goods ranging from figures of saints all the way to various everyday objects made of wood.
The Oberammergau wood carvers are even able to carve a nativity scene that fits into a walnut shell. The so-called Schnürlkasperl, a kind of jumping jack, is an example of a "special work of art". One exhibit in the Heimatmuseum (homeland museum) of Oberammergau shows a "Fadengaukler" (another kind of jumping jack) that can be seen from two sides and is actually two figures in one: a soldier and a harlequin. Be it a legend or history, the story of ridicule of Napoleon's occupation soldiers is told in this figure. In the front, we see the likeness of a French redcoat and in the back, it turns into a clown.
Anyone interested in trying their own hand at wood carving can do so in a wood carving course in Oberammergau.
Oberammergau is also famous as one of the towns where Bavarian Lüftlmalerei mural painting had its origin after it spread from Italy to the foothills of the Alps in the 18th century. Oberammergau was one of several centers of this art craft that sprang up along the trade route between Venice and Augsburg. Wealthy merchants, farmers, and craftsmen had their houses decorated with this special technique of painting that is still characteristic of the town today. The motifs predominantly deal with religious topics with many of them relating to the Oberammergau Passion Play. However, motifs taken from fairy tales and stories about the inhabitants of the house or the town's chronicle also decorate the walls of houses in Oberammergau in the form of wall frescos - occasionally with humorous references directed at insiders. The Pilatushaus with the scene, "Jesus before Pontius Pilate".
More Information: Woodcarving and HandicraftTraditional arts and crafts