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Street Art in the 1700s – Oberammergau, Germany


I’m not a huge fan of graffiti as a tourist attraction. Visiting street art murals or areas when I go to a place rarely ranks on my list. But in Oberammergau, Germany, their ‘street art’ is a totally different story. On our way to Neuschwanstein Castle, we stopped in a little village about 45 minutes away, seemingly identical to the other villages we had been passing on the drive. As we navigated the streets however, we began to notice the intricate paintings on the facades of houses.

Recognize this story?

Oberammergau is actually known for this type of house exterior wall art, called Lüftlmalerei. The images look so fresh and new like they were done yesterday, but some date back as far as the 1700s. The paintings were done using a fresco technique, where the painting is done with water based paint on freshly laid plaster. The paint is the absorbed into the plaster and and becomes an integral part of the wall itself. As mentioned, it is also known as Lüftlmalerei, which translates to mean “Air painting”. ‘Luft’ means ‘Air’ in German, which means Nena was singing about 99 air balloons.

As opposed to ground balloons.

Franz Seraph Zwinck is the most well known painter of this type. The term Lüftlmalerei is said to have originated from the fact that he was a painter and that he lived in a house named ‘Zum Lüftl’. Other but lesser credited theories posit that the term originates from the fact that it was imperative the painting be completed before the air dried it, locking the image in.

Looking closely, you’ll see that the some of the images on the houses depict classic fairytales – Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, while some are more of a Religious nature.

Initially used as a status symbol, the amount of and the intricacies of your painting were equal to how wealthy you were. To be honest, my favourite houses were the plain ones that had the intricate designs around the windows alone, giving it a nice frame to the point where you don’t need shutters. Does that make me mentally impoverished?

Also, did I just discover the 1700s term for ‘Basic’?

The Village is also famous for it’s wood carving industry and even more popularly, it’s “Passion Play“, a play put on every decade in fulfillment of a vow made to God for ending the Bubonic Plague which had ripped through the village for a year, killing roughly 350 people. The Play depicts the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and has been performed every 10 years since 1634 (with the exception of wars). According to the Website, almost 2000 people want to appear in the 42nd play, set for 2020. Ads, dates and ticket prices are already up for the next play, which will run shows every day from May to October.

The requirements for females to act in the play were pretty stringent also – you had to be born in Oberammergau, be younger than 35, and be unmarried (aka a Virgin). Over the years the rule appears to have been relaxed, but who knows? I certainly haven’t satisfied any of the criteria so I was never a contender.


I’d recommend the Lonely Planet Guidebook on Munich, Bavaria & the Black Forest. Because we really didn’t know about the town until we were literally in it, I did no prior reading about it. The Guidebook mainly has ways to get to the village, which is pretty useful if you’ve been persuaded to go because of my wonderfully written review.


47.5957° N, 11.0724° E

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