Each December the Oberufer Shepherd’s Play is performed for EWS students and friends by our faculty and staff. The name Oberufer Play applies not only to The Shepherd’s play, but also to a Paradise Play and a Three Kings Play. Oberufer is an island in the Danube, east of Vienna, close to the borders of Hungary. This island was settled by farmers from the Lake Constance region sometime in the 15th Century, and due to the relative isolation of island life, their traditions and folkways remained intact for centuries. One of their traditions was to perform these plays each year. In fall, when the harvest was in, the players were chosen regardless of religious affiliation or status, and received their parts from an esteemed farmer who would direct the plays for years, and then pass this honorable responsibility to an heir. The songs and words were passed on by word of mouth for generations. In the middle of the 19th century, a professor from Vienna, Karl Julius Schroer, who was researching folklore and regional traditions, discovered the Oberufer Plays. He was charmed and impressed by them and returned a few years later to write down as much as he could. Years later this professor became the teacher and revered friend of Rudolf Steiner. Towards the end of the 19th century Professor Schroer spoke to Steiner about these plays. His enthusiasm and concern about the possible loss of such precious folkways touched Steiner, who quickly realized their beauty and proceeded to bring order to the sketchy script and the music. In 1910 the first revived performance took place in Berlin, Germany. From then on, these plays have become part of the Christmas time tradition for many Waldorf schools all over the world. They were first translated by Cecil Harwood, from England, who tried to keep intact the medieval way of speaking and the simple beauty of expression.
Written by Ilse Kolbuzowski