German pastor defends plastic Jesus to toymaker

ZIRNDORF, Germany — Pastor Markus Bomhard has learned that you can’t just crucify a doll and get away with it.

For more than two years, the German clergyman has been setting up Playmobil toys in biblical scenes and photographing them to illustrate his online version of the Good Book.

But he has recently received signs of displeasure from the toys’ maker.

The manufacturers of the 3-inch tall line of Playmobil figures, Zirndorf-based Geobra Brandstaetter GmbH &Co., accused Bomhard of copyright infringement and asked him last month to stop customizing them and using their trademarked name on his Web site.

Today, however, they said they were willing to work with him to find a way he can keep the site without violating the company’s rights.

“We are working on a compromise together,” spokeswoman Gisela Kupiak told The Associated Press. Some 2.2 billion of the Playmobil toys, which range from farm animals to dinosaurs, planes, trains, automobiles and ships, have been sold since their 1974 debut.

The evangelical pastor first built the scenes for his three daughters in their home in Steinbach, near Frankfurt, and gained an online following after uploading pictures to a Web site. He later posted a note from Pope Benedict XVI congratulating him on “facilitating access to scripture in a playful manner.”

Playmobil does not object in principle to biblical scenes. The company, in fact, offers figures of the three Magi, Noah’s ark and even Jesus in the manger. The problem is doll mutilation.

“We have ascertained massive manipulation of the figures,” the company said in a statement. “For example, their arms were deformed with a candle flame or hair dryer to nail them on the cross.”

Bomhard acknowledges the manipulation. He also says he painted figures of Adam and Eve a flesh color and added plastic leaves for modesty. Playmobil does not manufacture nude dolls.

Playmobil says it has known about Bomhard’s site for a year and only decided to act against him when they decided that his distortion of the figures was going too far, and that he could encourage children to do the same.

“We cannot accept such displays for security reasons because our products are made of plastic and are flammable,” the company said.

This week, Bomhard replaced the online book with a notice that he had “neither money nor energy nor time” to redo the project according to the toymaker’s strict conditions.

But it is back up after the company said it would work with him.

Bomhard has now renamed the site “Klicky-Bibel” from “Playmo-Bibel,” and said he is willing to accommodate the company in other ways, too.

“I would even photograph the cross from behind, so that you couldn’t see the objectionable figure anymore,” Bomhard told The AP.

But he estimates that more than half of the toys in his scenes are modified, so any compromise must allow for at least some disfiguration.

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