The town of Oberammergau is in Bavaria, the most south-easterly state in Germany, not far from the border with Austria. It is famous for the Passion Play, which depicts the suffering and death of Jesus and has been staged there every ten years since 1634.
The town and the area around it are also renowned for the woodcarving tradition that predates the first performance of the play. In 1508, the Florentine statesman Francesco Vettori visited Oberammergau and described it as a 'very healthy but poor village, where most of the inhabitants were fine woodcarvers. The villagers were famous for carving crucifixes and different scenes inside a walnut shell.' These kinds of sculptures are still produced today; this example was carved by Joachim Seitfudem:
In the 18th century, the woodcarvers from this area would travel around Europe carrying a distinctive type of rack called a 'Kraxe', on which they carried carvings for sale.
The peddler, called a 'kraxenträger', is a figure whose hard work and resilience is still celebrated in the area today, both in public statues and in sculptures by contemporary carvers.
This region is quite staunchly Catholic and many woodcarvings of saints, Jesus or Mary his mother could be seen on local shrines or around important features such as springs of drinking water.
The village of Bad Kohlgrub is not far from Oberammergau. One of the most respected local woodcarvers lives and works here; Hans-Joachim Seitfudem. This is his shop:
I was in the village to celebrate the wedding of his son, Joachim, who is also a woodcarver. Jo kindly explained a lot about his father's work, as Hans-Joachim is friendly but speaks very little English and my knowledge of German is not much better.
Unlike the larger woodcarving outlets in Oberammergau, Hans-Joachim does the majority of his carving by hand using linden timber and does not use replicating machines. He is an extraordinarily quick and skilled worker, having explained to Jo that a carver must be fast to make a living.