Circus Knie

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The logo of Circus Knie
Circus Knie in Rapperswil, 2013

The Circus Knie is a Swiss circus . The founders have their roots in the Austrian circus dynasty Knie .

The founders of the German circus Charles Knie and the Austrian circus Louis Knie also come from the Knie dynasty.


Friedrich Knie (senior) was in the Habsburg Monarchy (also known as the Danube Monarchy ) personal physician to Empress Maria Theresa . In 1784 his son Friedrich was born in Erfurt .

Circus wagon alluding to the time it was founded, picture from 2012

Friedrich Knie (1784–1850) is considered to be the founder of the Knie circus dynasty. Like his father, Friedrich wanted to be a doctor. However, in 1803 he broke off his medical studies. He was so enthusiastic about the performances of an equestrian troupe, especially that of the young Wilma, that he decided to join the troupe. The love affair did not last long, but Friedrich liked the life of an artist. In 1806 he founded an independent tightrope walker and artist company with acrobats and his own horses. Under the name of the Vienna tight-rope dance group , they performed with their uncovered arena in the countries of the Danube Monarchy, Bavaria , Baden and Prussia . He received a lot of encouragement and recognition from kings and princes for his performances and became famous. In Innsbruck he met Antonia Stauffer (1786-1833) in 1807, whom he married in the same year. From 1814 the knees appeared regularly in Switzerland. After the death of Friedrich Knie in Burgdorf (Switzerland) in 1850, Karl Knie (1813–1860) took over the management from their five children.

Notice on the occasion of a performance in Berlin, May 16, 1854

Karl Knie was married to Anastasia Maria Staudinger (1808-1881). They had seven children who were already the third generation and all of whom had long been involved in the circus. Karl Knie was known as a tightrope walker and as “Europe's first acrobat”. Son Ludwig emulated his father and also became a great tightrope walker. During a stay in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1860 , his father Karl died. Anastasia Knie took over the management.

Franco-Prussian War 1870 to 1871

At the time of the Franco-Prussian War , the Knie family had to dissolve their arena. In 1872 mother Anastasia moved to Bern , where she died in 1881.

Arena knee in Neustadt in the Palatinate, 1904

Son Ludwig Knie (1842–1909) married Marie Heim (1858–1936). Through hard work and iron savings, the two managed to rebuild the arena. Her sons Louis (1880–1949), Friedrich (1884–1941), Rudolf (1885–1933), Karl (1888–1940) and Eugen (1890–1955) could be found in the arena from the age of four. In 1896 Ludwig took the four-year-old Nina Zutter into his family. The eldest son Louis left the family and founded his own arena in Germany. He was often and happily with his troupe for performances in Switzerland. So put the native of Vienna the application for a Swiss citizen letter . On December 26, 1900, he was naturalized with his wife and five children in the municipality of Gerlikon - Gachnang in the canton of Thurgau . The third and fourth generation of the Knie family of artists emigrated to Switzerland. In 1907 Ludwig Knie officially registered in Rapperswil . With Anneli Simon (* 1905- †?) Another foster child came to the Knie family. After Ludwig Knie's death in 1909, his wife took over the management of the arena.

First World War 1914 to 1918

During the First World War , guest appearances abroad and an expansion of the company were not possible. After the end of the war, the four sons Friedrich, Rudolf, Karl and Eugen Knie wanted to implement the long-cherished wish to convert the arena into a tent circus . Mother Marie Knie refused any financial support for this “megalomaniac” project. The sons had to break one of their basic principles and bought a two-masted tent that could hold 2,500 people on credit. At the opening performance on June 14, 1919 on the Schützenmatte in Bern, it read above the entrance: Cirque Variété National Suisse Frères Knie . The Swiss National Circus Gebrüder Knie was founded. The success was considerable, the public wanted to see the new circus and the attractions. In this way, the borrowed money could be paid back after just a few months. In the same year the Knies set up the first permanent winter quarters in Rapperswil on Lake Zurich , where animal training and other program numbers were practiced during the time without performances.

With Friedrich (called Fredy) (1920–2003) and Rudolf (called Rolf) (1921–1997), the sons from the marriage of Friedrich and Margrit Lippuner, and Eliane (1915–2000), the daughter from the marriage of Eugen and Hélène Zeller, the fifth generation was already standing in the ring, as usual, from the age of four. In 1926, 42 railroad cars were required to transport the more than 80 Circus-Knie vehicles from one venue to the next. In 1929 Fredy Knie got his first horse of his own. He soon made a name for himself at home and abroad as the “youngest school rider in the world”.

After Rudolf Knie's death in 1933, on Karl Knie's proposal, with Eugen's consent and against Friedrich's will, the family business was converted into a stock corporation in 1934 . Friedrich Knie was annoyed; Karl Knie now mainly determined the course. In 1934 he rented a water pantomime from the German Circus Busch, which was a success. In 1935, Karl Knie hired a 50-strong Indian troupe for a show. Since the audience stayed away, a financial fiasco arose. The impending bankruptcy could only be prevented through deposits from Friedrich Knie’s private fortune. In 1937 Friedrich Knie withdrew from the ring. Son Fredy Knie had long since taken over the horse dressage.

Second World War 1939 to 1945

In 1940 Karl Knie committed suicide. He had suffered from severe depression . Friedrich Knie's physical health was also poor. When the tour started in March 1941, he no longer went along. He died on April 27, 1941. His sons Fredy and Rolf in the fifth generation took over management of the company.

The military requisitioned some circus horses. The German ambassador in Bern campaigned for the circus. Thanks to his efforts, artists from abroad could again be hired. But the Knies were obliged to give a guest performance with their animals in Berlin . Fredy and Rolf Knie traveled to Berlin with horses and elephants in the winter of 1943. All survived the bombardment of Berlin unscathed.

post war period

In the years after the Second World War , it was easy for Circus Knie to hire the best artists. They enjoyed working in intact Switzerland. In autumn 1945 Fredy married Pierrette Dubois (1921–2013). Fredy junior was born in 1946 and their son Rolf was born in 1949. They represented the sixth generation. Cousin Eliane Knie married Jacky Lupescu (1919–2012), she left the company in 1959. Her son Charles Knie (* 1947) founded the Charles Knie circus in Germany in 1995 .

Rolf Knie (senior) married Tina di Giovanni (1921–2011) in 1950. 1951 son Louis and 1954 son Franco were born. As usual, the youngsters were in the ring early on. At the age of four, Fredy Knie junior rode in front of an audience in Antwerp and went on a Swiss tour the following year. In 1955, Louis Knie made his debut as “the world's youngest elephant trainer”.

In 1956, the circus moved into its new winter quarters south of the Rapperswil train station. Rolf Knie senior presented his elephants himself for the last time in 1969. After completing the tour, he withdrew from the ring. In the early 1970s, four knee generations lived in the circus for a short time. In 1972 Fredy junior married Mary-José Galland (* 1948). In 1973, the seventh generation was founded with daughter Géraldine-Katharina Knie.

Louis Knie married the American art bike artist Germaine Theron (* 1948) at the end of 1973. In 1974 their son Louis junior was born. Franco Knie was his first marriage to Doris Agostini (* 1941). 1978 son Franco junior and 1980 daughter Doris Désirée were born. From his second marriage to Claudine Rey (* 1949) comes his son Anthony (* 1989) and from his third marriage to Claudia Uez (* 1967) the twins Nina Maria Dora and Timothy Charles (* 2009).

In 1975 Rolf Knie (* 1949) married Erica Brosi (1948–2010). Her son Grégory-Frédéric saw the light of day in 1977. At the age of six he celebrated his first appearance in the circus as "Peter Pan" with his own pony dressage. After his parents divorced in 1983, Grégory left Switzerland. Father Rolf Knie , who was popular as a clown with young and old, also left the circus in 1983. First he tried his hand at being a stage artist, until he decided to paint as a hobby.

At the end of 1992 the brothers Fredy Knie senior retired from the business at the age of 72 and Rolf Knie senior at the age of 71. They handed over the reins to their sons. Franz Knie (known as Franco Knie sen.) Became Chairman of the Board of Directors and Technical Director, Fredy Knie jun. Artistic director, and Richard Schärer was appointed chief financial officer. The company was now called the Swiss National Circus . At the same time, Fredy Knie senior said goodbye to the arena in which he played every performance for over 51 years as the "Grand Seigneur of Horse Dressage".

Due to a dispute among relatives, Louis Knie left the family business with his wife Germaine and son Louis at the end of 1993. He emigrated to Austria and bought the Austrian National Circus from Elfi Althoff-Jacobi. After a long illness, Rolf Knie senior died in 1997. A year later, his brother Fredy Knie senior remained paralyzed on one side after a stroke. Erica Sigel (* 1944), his second wife, looked after him until his death at the age of 83 in 2003.

Louis Knie junior (* 1974), who emigrated to Austria with his parents, and his wife Gipsy de Rocchi (* 1975) founded the eighth generation of the Knie dynasty with the birth of their son David Louis Knie in 1999. In mid-2001, the son of Géraldine Katharina (* 1973) and Ivan Pellegrini (* 1971) Ivan Frédéric was born. In 2003 Franco Knie junior (* 1978) married the Chinese artist Linna Sun (* 1979). In mid-2006, Chris Rui was born. Géraldine married her second husband in 2009, the Italian artist Maycol Errani. In March 2011, daughter Chanel Marie was born. At the age of three this had her first appearance in the circus arena. With grandfather Fredy Knie junior, she was allowed to participate in the traditional issue of “Big and Small” in 2014. Louis Knie junior married his second wife Ilona Pistekova (* 1981), a Czech trapeze artist, in 2010; her son Loris Franco was born in 2013. Maycol Knie junior, Géraldine Knie and Maycol Errani's second child, was born in 2017.

From 1994 onwards, the small clown Spidi (Peter Wetzel) was a symbol of Circus Knie. After his death in 2018, the circus members and several hundred people remembered him in a service in the circus tent on the Berner Allmend.

On March 12, 2020, the premiere of a circus musical staged by Rolf Knie was celebrated in Dübendorf , which tells the 100-year history of the traditional Swiss circus .

Ownership and management

The Knie Circus and Knies Children's Zoo are owned by the Knie brothers, Schweizer National-Circus AG, Rapperswil. The Chairman of the Board of Directors is Fredy Knie junior . The main shareholders are Fredy Knie junior, Franco Knie senior and Rolf Knie .

The operational management is in the hands of the 7th generation. Géraldine Knie is the artistic director, Franco Knie junior is the technical director, Doris Knie, the daughter of Franco Knie senior, is responsible for the administrative management. Maycol Errani, Géraldine Knie’s second husband, is responsible for setting up and dismantling the tent and the animals.


Circus caravan, March 2011

As the only circus in Switzerland, Circus Knie has been relying on extensive rail transport of the artists' caravans, animal transport vehicles, tent trailers, generator vehicles, catering vehicles, building materials and office vehicles since the 1920s. Since 2005, however, road transports have been increasingly carried out with newly purchased animal transporters; not every venue can be reached by train.

Knie's Children's Zoo

Knie's children's zoo in Rapperswil

On Pentecost , on June 10, 1962, Fredy Knie senior and Rolf Knie senior Knie's children's zoo opened in Rapperswil. This invites you to visit from March to October. In contrast to other zoos , the focus is on direct contact with over 400 animals from all over the world. A part of the children's zoo accompanies Circus Knie as a hiking zoo on its Swiss tour. Benjamin Sinniger and Dr. Hanspeter Steinmetz Knies Children's Zoo.

Animal welfare

Over 100 animals live and work in the circus business. The keeping of animals is repeatedly criticized by some animal rights activists as not being appropriate for animals , while other animal welfare organizations, such as the STS , classify the keeping and the performances as unproblematic.

Circus through the ages

Elephant walk in Knie's Children's Zoo 2011

In the summer of 2015 three female elephants died. The 53-year-old «Sumatra» a natural death. The 52-year-old “Siri” had to be put to sleep because of an advanced cancer disease and the 54-year-old “Patma” because of kidney failure. The Knie family decided to do without the elephant numbers from the 2016 season. With this decision, an almost 100-year-old family tradition came to an end. The elephants have been an integral part of the program since the 1920s. The two female elephants “Delhi” and “Ceylon” accompanied the circus in the 2016 season, but have since been allowed to stay in the “Himmapan” elephant park in Knie's children's zoo in Rapperswil, which opened in March 2015.


  • Prize for bilingualism 2011. Awarded by the forum for bilingualism . (De) (fr)

Picture gallery



Web links

Commons : Circus Knie  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The history of the Knie dynasty ( Memento of the original from March 25, 2018 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Family tree Dynasty Knie
  3. The Swiss National Circus Knie, In the Beginning Was Love ( Memento from November 22, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Memento from Rapperswil-Jona. Retrieved September 11, 2015
  4. A proof of this can be found in the chapter Les Knie in: Edouard Rod : Nouvelles romandes. 1891.
  5. Gerlikon is now part of the Frauenfeld community
  6. Knee Brothers, Swiss National Circus AG Rapperswil  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , in the commercial register of the canton of St. Gallen@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  7. ↑ All- rounders in the arena In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of April 27, 2012
  8. sda : "Mach's gut Spidi": Circus Knie bids farewell to Peter Wetzel († 51) , August 13, 2018
  9. Fredy Knie junior: "Suddenly father said we have to part" In: NZZ on Sunday September 15, 2017
  10. ↑ Excerpt from the commercial register: Gebrüder Knie, Schweizer National-Circus AG Rapperswil
  11. Fredy Knie jun. (70) about tomorrow's circus In: Blick online from March 26, 2017
  12. ^ Rail transport Circus Knie
  13. Swiss National Circus Gebr. Knie , accessed on April 20, 2015
  14. STS Circus Report 2014 (pdf, approx. 2.6 MB), accessed on August 16, 2017
  15. Knie renounces circus elephants Neue Luzerner Zeitung, article 11 August 2015
  16. No more elephant numbers in Circus Knie. Regional news News, article from August 11, 2015
  17. ^ Prize for bilingualism 2011 . Retrieved May 16, 2019
  18. ^ Prix ​​du bi- et multilinguisme 2011 . Retrieved May 16, 2019