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A historic tradition

Every holiday season, visitors come from near and far to Algona to observe

December 10, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, lifestyle@messengernews.net , Messenger News

ALGONA - Since it was built by German prisoners of war in 1945, the Kaib Nativity Scene has been visited by people from around the world.

On Sunday, one guest came from Bogota, Colombia.

Walter Kaemmerer, of Bogota, came with Dean Schultz, Algona. Both men work for American Power Group, Inc.

Article Photos

Barb Harms, left, and Carol Rudig look over the Nativity in Algona Sunday afternoon.

"We convert diesel engines to run with both natural gas and diesel," Schultz said. "I'm teaching him some new systems at work."

Schultz figured that while he was in the area, Kaemmerer should go see the nativity, and the Grotto in West Bend.

"It's pretty," said Kaemmerer after taking some time to experience the scene. "It would have been a lot of work. They had a lot of time."

Kaemmerer has an unusual connection to the display.

"His dad was a POW in the U.S.," said Schultz, though he wasn't held in Algona. "He was a German bomber pilot and got shot down." The scene was made by Eduard Kaib and five other POWs interned at Camp Algona. The prisoners took about six months and $8,000 to create the display, using their own money. Each figure was constructed by covering a wooden frame with cement, and using plaster to create the finer details.

"Eduard was an engineer, and knew how to build things," said Nativity Board member Jerry Helmers. "Col. Lobdell knew they would be missing their families, and thought this would help."

Carol Rudig, of Fairmont, Minn., came to visit on Sunday after a long absence.

"I was here as a little girl. I haven't been back since," she said. "I remembered the people were big. I didn't remember all of those sheep."

The 35 sheep have always been there, Helmers said. Though the scene is basically unchanged from last year, visitors who have not been in for many years might want to come back again. In the past few years all of the figurines have been professionally restored, the hillside has been enhanced with rocks for a more natural look, a railing separating the people from the scene has been removed, brighter LED lighting was installed, and a hillside was added under the shepherds.

One sheep has been moved, though.

"We do have a sheep, that lost a leg a few years back, sawed in two so that you can see the insides of the sheep. That's been moved over near the door so it's much more visible," said Nativity Board Chair Marvin Chickering.

Visitors on Sunday stopped to look at the sheep. Phil Ruger of Fenton was surprised how much of the little critter was solid cement.

"I just thought there was more wood in there," Ruger said. "Like they had built it around a log instead of a two-by-four, so they could use less cement."

Little improvements keep the scene looking its best.

"We just got a new CD player. The last one was I think 19 years old, and it would stop and go," said Helmers.

The sound system provides visitors with narration describing the scene, a German rendition of "Silent Night," and the song "Fear Not in Stile Nacht" by Joyce Rouse, inspired by the scene.

New this year is the oak counter where people sign in, courtesy of a local woodworking group "Chips off the Old Block," said Chickering.

"Our new website is up as of last Monday, algonanativityscene.omeka.net," he said. "It has a number of pictures, and we think it will create added excitement."