Mary, Joseph, Jesus and, of course, a stable. More than a hundred different variations of this scene can be seen on the streets of Bornheim every year. A large number of mangers adorn the streets of the small town near Landau during the Christmas season—from the traditional model made of wood and moss to the modern interpretation made of jelly bears. Ulla Kaub started this tradition in 2003. Today, visitors come from all over the region to see the various depictionsof the nativity scene in Bornheim.

Ulla Kaub becomes nervous. It’s barely two weeks off. “I’m late,” admits the senior with the snow-white hair as she sits somewhat sheepishly on the bench at her dining table. She has put up only one manger so far, but she plans to have five by the first weekend of Advent. That’s when the season starts in Bornheim. More than a hundred mangers will adorn the streets of the small town near Landau for as long as six weeks. Large and small ones, traditional as well as modern ones; in front gardens, on window ledges and in courtyards. “The mangers in Bornheim are unique, as far as I know,” Ulla says. There is a hint of pride in her voice, although the slender woman doesn’t like to take centre stage.

Final corrections done. Ulla Kaub’s mangers tell stories.

Ulla started the tradition of the Bornheim mangers in 2003 (Helmuth Bischoff wrote a book about mangers in the Palatinate – LINK). At the time, she had no idea what would become of her initiative. “I simply asked the then mayor, Dieter Hörner, if I could install a manger in the town centre.” Ulla wanted to set up a walking loop route, as a meeting place for the locals. She didn’t have a particular passion for nativity scenes at the time. But that would change in the years to come. Instead of four or five families, as she had hoped, 16 immediately got in touch and installed mangers in front of their homes. “That really surprised me,” she remembers, “because usually people don’t have time for anything anymore.”

The tradition started with 16 mangers. Today, there are more than a hundred throughout the town.

Today, visitors from all over the region come to Bornheim to see the mangers during the Christmas season—from Karlsruhe, Heidelberg and as far off as Frankfurt, Ulla knows. The Bornheim locals install more than a hundred variations of the birth of the Christ Child every year. “I don’t really want to have more than that,” the initiator admits. “The idea is that you pause and take in what you see. This isn’t possible if there are too many.” Around a third of the mangers are handmade. The locals of Bornheim come up with something new every time. There have been mangers made of corks or jelly bears, clay pots, Playmobil figures, strings and fairy lights. The library usually sticks Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to its windows with clay paper. Ulla also remembers a very simple version made of wooden blocks. The figures were only distinguished by lettering. “I thought that was a great idea,” she enthuses. However, she doesn’t want to emphasise any of the many works of art in particular. “All of them together are great. The more variety, the better.”

Ulla prefers using second-hand material when she makes her figures. She finds it either in bulky waste collections or through friends and acquaintances. She once even asked the builders on her doorstep for the remains of a pipe. Almost the whole village has come to know what the trained gardener can use. Ulla originally comes from Edenkoben. She moved to Annweiler with her husband and later to Bornheim—because of the building site. “The mangers are with me all year round,” she says. “The season is never really over!” When she dismantles the mangers on the Sunday after Epiphany she can already see which figures, fences, steps, houses, roofs or fountains need repair. Ulla’s figures are always based on the same principle. She first saws and carves feet, hands, arms, legs and heads out of wood and then joins the individual parts with wire so that the figures can be moved. Very different figures can be created from this basic structure. She has created the Holy Family as life-size concrete figures, for example, using cloths that she dipped in concrete and draped over the basic structure.

Pause and take in what you see

Ulla Kaub

She contributes some five to seven of the more than hundred mangers in the town every year, collecting some four boxes of moss from the forest in autumn—with the forester’s permission, of course. There are some 50 figures in her front garden now, among them the three Wise Men and a sheep dog. A donkey lugs two water jugs to the stable. Goats climb over a tree stump on the left. Behind the stable, hidden from view by a few hanging branches, you can make out the towers of Bethlehem, which Ulla has made of chipboard. How she knows to do all this? “Experience,” she answers. And she attended a course at the manger-making school in Klüsserath near Trier “We have learnt how to make a nativity scene look old and mystical: well-worn steps, dark wood, crooked slats; that kind of thing,” says Ulla, who can now call herself a master manger maker. She passes on her knowledge to children and adults every now and then through manger-making classes (here is the story about master manger maker Lutz Kuhl from Annweiler).

50 figures are out and about in Ulla’s front garden every year.

Ulla feels always relieved when all the mangers are completely installed on the first day of Advent. And she is always amazed at the works of art her neighbours have created. She then offers guided tours of the town twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, where she talks about the materials, the construction process and other special features. “Not with Christian contents,” she emphasises. “I don’t want to convert people.” Last year’s route was over seven kilometres long. There is a flyer available at the Wachthäusel building in Hauptstraße road that lists all sites for visitors who want to explore the route on their own. The Storchenzentrum (stork centre) offers a manger rally every year, too, which you can participate in using an app.

The walking loop route starts at Wachthäusel building (a photo from the archive). Ulla installs this manger herself as well. Foto: Hans-Jürgen Heilmann

Ulla wants to go to the Wachthäusel building this afternoon, too. She will again personally set up the nativity scene at the official start of this year’s route there. The municipality has rented two garages to accommodate all the props she needs for the mangers in the public sites. An inn, an oriental-style palace, fountains, fences, goats, sheep, shepherds and kings are already there, waiting for the initiator of the manger village. But all of this is actually just an accessory. A good manger, Ulla thinks, is characterised, above all, by what matters most in it: Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child.

Bornheim municipality compiled an 80-page book on mangers in 2022, titled Krippenbuch. You can purchase it for 15 euro writing an email to rathaus@gemeinde-bornheim.deThe municipality will send it to you.

Helmuth Bischoff wrote a book on mangers in the Palatinate featuring Bornheim, the manger village: Stimmungsvolle Entdeckungen (atmospheric discoveries), published by Kurpfälzischer Verlag, 148 pages, 22 euro


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