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Juggling circus performer
Acrobats in the circus

A circus ( Latin circus 'circle' , 'ring', 'round arena '; plural: circuses) - or circus - is usually a group of artists who perform a performance with various artistic (circus) performances (acrobatics, clowning, magic , Animal training ) shows. In economic terms, a circus is an entertainment business .


Most circuses use the spelling "Circus" because of its Latin origin, for example in the proper name "Circus Krone". The German word Zirkus is derived from the Greek kírkos or Latin circus ('circle'). In ancient Greece and Rome, both terms referred to a circular or elliptical arena, in which primarily chariot races and, less often, animal fights of gladiators took place (e.g. Circus Maximus ). The modern circus has nothing more in common with the ancient circus than the shape of the “stage” .

Manege in the amphitheater or tent

The classic circus known in Europe is the traveling circus: It is often a family business that moves from place to place with a big top , also known as a big top. The big top, which most people take for granted today, did not exist in general until the beginning of the 20th century. Previously, circus performances had to be held in makeshift show booths , in theater buildings or outdoors.

Circus buildings are often round or oval like an amphitheater . The name circus is derived from the shape of the “stage”, the round or elliptical ring . Most of the time, arenas with a diameter of 13 meters are chosen, as this is a perfect measure to let a horse run in a circle. If the arenas are too small, the horse leans too much into the curve, making acrobatic performances hardly possible for a rider.

The Kronebau in Munich

In addition to the traveling circuses, there are a few circuses with permanent buildings. Modern, permanent circus buildings that host a year-round circus program still exist in the former socialist states, such as the capital city circus in the Budapest City Park and especially in the successor states of the former Soviet Union (such as in Riga , Chișinău , Moscow or Tashkent ). In France there are still a number of permanent circus buildings that are only partially used as a circus, such as the Parisian Cirque d'hiver . In Munich , the Circus Krone maintains a permanent venue with the Kronebau . The circus buildings of Circus Renz and Circus Schumann are historically significant . The Carré Theater in Amsterdam was originally a pure circus company.


Circus around 1891, painting by Arturo Michelena

The origin of the circus is above all a story of individual circus dynasties , i.e. artist families and groups. In its history, the circus has undergone numerous changes: both in its external shape - from the fixed circus building to the traveling menagerie to the flexible big top to theater stages - and in the form of its performances - from horse theater to monumental pantomimes to the Cirque Nouveau .

Philip Astley (1742–1814) is considered the father of the classic circus . The art originally presented was horse dressage, other artists followed. "Wild" and exotic animals were a relatively late addition. Different weightings depending on the region led to the development of national characteristics.

England in the 18th century

The cradle of the classic circus was industrialized England. Since the middle of the 18th century, the art of riding emancipated itself from the courtly or military occasion. The first art riders appeared. The venues of the so-called art equestrian societies were board-fenced areas under the open sky. This is where the round shape of the ring developed: Centrifugal force was used for the acrobatic tricks on horseback . In 1769 Astley bought a site on Westminster Bridge for his Riding School , covered the spectator galleries and expanded his troop to include riders, acrobats and a clown.

From 1770 Astley performed regular programs with increasing involvement of other arts such as Chinese shadow theater or ballet . The idea of ​​a program surrounding the horse training sessions was not new, but was only realized sporadically. Astley opened a permanent home in London in 1778/79, and the performances became a permanent part of the city's entertainment culture. In 1782 he opened another house in Paris. Astley's goal was to create a theater that everyone could understand and could get by with few words. He developed the genre " hippodrama ", which referred to the performance of pantomimes (theater pieces rich in images) with horses. Mainly battles and current events were depicted, such as the storming of the Bastille one month after the event in 1789. Recreating striking moments from the recent past was common in popular theater. This type of performance was very popular with the population streaming into the cities. - Astley fought against the term "circus" throughout his life.

France in the 19th century

The Georges Seurat circus , 1891

The term circus prevailed in the years after Astley in particular through events of the Antoine Franconi (1737-1836) owned Cirque Olympique in Paris. Since the beginning of the 19th century, he no longer referred only to the shape of the building, but also to the content of the performance, which was so differentiated from the theater. The demarcation was promoted by the Napoleonic theater decree of 1807, in which it was forbidden to continue to designate the performance of curiosities, rarities and the like as theater.

During this time, the performances developed more and more into sophisticated pantomimes, in which the language was increasingly used again. The pantomimes were characterized by expensive costumes, elaborate stage sets and several hundred extras. Although other artistic performances continued to find a place in the programs, they lost their importance: horse shows formed the basis of the program, the climax of which was the high school . In Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, the battles and deeds of Napoleon , who was considered a kind of folk hero, were the prominent subject of pantomimes. In the pantomime The Lions of Mysore (1831), trained lions were seen in the circus for the first time. It was a resounding success that paved the way for further animal training. With the emergence of the music halls in the middle of the 19th century, cabaret performances split off from the circus.

Innovations from America

Poster for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1900

Until the end of the 19th century, the circus only took place in permanent playhouses. An innovation that has fundamentally changed this image to this day came from the United States : the tent circus developed here at the end of the 19th century. The ringmaster Aron Turner used an umbrella-like, single-mast canvas tent as early as 1830. In 1873 the tent construction company Ludwig Stromeyer was founded in Constance , which developed into the main supplier of the German circuses. Paul Busch started his first trip with Chapiteau in 1884. From 1900 the tents spread rapidly in Germany. This had the advantage that you could play in cities that were too small to have a permanent circus building.

The golden age of the circus began with the traveling circus , which then became established in Germany . The number of circuses increased, but the level of these start-ups varied greatly, as did the skills of their directors. By the beginning of the war, around half had ceased operations. Neither before nor since have there been as many circuses in Europe as in the 1920s.

Traveling also meant that the pantomimes, which were very elaborate in terms of equipment, lost their importance and instead more and more a numbered program emerged. In the same way, circus music broke away in terms of cast and program from the incidental music in the theater from which it came.

Other elements originally associated with the image of the circus today, which came from the United States, were rail travel or the union of menagerie and circus (the display of wild animals was previously separate from the circus, such as the sideshow ) and its use of sawdust instead of ring carpets or sand.

By William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), who was commonly known as "Buffalo Bill", the European circus received another asset: the great popularity of the Wild West circus meant that art Protect moved into the European circuses and daring cavalry (often called " Dschigiten ") that was given priority over classical riding .

Predatory training replaced the horse shows that had dominated up to that point, and large animal shows supplemented the performance. In addition, sensational numbers were increasingly found.

Circus in Germany

Germany at the end of the 19th century

Adolph Friedländer : Pony and Elephant . Poster for Carl Hagenbeck's zoological circus , 1895/1896
"Traveling circus", Angelo Jank , 1906

New impulses for circus art came from Germany from the middle of the 19th century. Ernst Jakob Renz (1815–1892) was the first German who was able to significantly influence the circus on an international scale. He also developed the saddle into a belt so that the artists had even more support. After Circus Renz , Circus Busch became a synonym for the German circus.

Renz and Busch ran circuses with several houses in the big cities of the German-speaking area: Berlin, Breslau, Vienna, Hamburg. The programs were characterized by an unimaginable variety. Everything that was new and original found its way into this circus: water games, figure skating, ballet, singers and even Siamese twins . The horses continued to come first.

At this time, at the beginning of the 20th century, artistry was given a higher priority in the programs. One of the main reasons for this was the rapid spread of vaudeville in close connection with the Anglo-French Music Hall and the American Vaudeville , in the context of which the artistic genres were differentiated: in juggling, for example, a distinction was made between power and salon juggling. Clowning was particularly important at Renz: up to 14 clowns could perform in one evening. The great demand for artistically high-quality and new numbers for vaudeville and circus meant that more and more sporting disciplines such as roller skating, ice skating and artificial swimming were included in the programs. Acrobatics in particular became a major part of the performances.

In large equipment pantomimes, Renz and Busch worked with a lot of technology: waterfalls, fountains, sailing boats and elevators were used. The actions of the pantomimes included everything imaginable: from heroic sagas to fairy tales and history, operas and tragedies to current events. At Busch, writers were later hired to write the pieces.

The German circus until the end of the 1920s

The Swiss Circus Knie in Zurich

While the beginning of the 20th century represented a heyday for many circus directors, the artists, trainers and clowns - apart from a few unusual performances - earned little. Musicians and dancers were particularly poorly paid. It was not until 1920 that the General Circus Directors Association (ACDV) was formed, and Paul Busch was elected chairman . In the same year, a uniform collective agreement for all circus artists was passed with the International Artist Lodge (IAL) led by Max Buldermann . It remains to be taken into account that the artists made up the smallest part of the circus employees. All other workers and employees remained without rights.

Considerable difficulties arose for the circuses by the First World War and later the Great Depression . Many companies had to close, others avoided the problems by traveling long distances to less affected countries. Often the circuses had to be scaled down to reduce costs, or they were split up to find sources of income in different countries. During this time, new genres such as trampoline acrobatics and circus magic emerged .

Germany in World War II and in the post-war period

Many circuses lost their employees as a result of the persecution of the Jews . During the Second World War , the companies suffered from seizures of material and later from war losses from bombing. During the air raids on Dresden , for example, the building of the Circus Sarrasani and almost all materials were destroyed and the livestock were destroyed.

In the post-war period there was a great need for diversion, both among the population and among the occupiers . This resulted in the founding of a large number of circus companies, which in the following years could not all hold up and whose artistic level was sometimes very low. All well-known circuses from the pre-war period also played again.

The shortage of men resulting from the effects of the war led to an oversupply of artistically active women who turned primarily to the variety genres of dance and music. So these arts were in the foreground in the programs. However, it remained a temporary phenomenon that receded as life returned to normal.

The circus in the two German states

Circus - GDR stamp set

The number of circus companies decreased in both German states, but for different reasons:

In West Germany , circus deaths peaked in the mid-1950s. Reasons for this were, among other things, the competition that television represented and rising travel costs. The organization of the circuses as a family business was retained. There were new influences on the circus in the late 1970s with Roncalli . After a period of paralysis and always the same classic numbering programs, Bernhard Paul developed the idea of ​​the circus as a total work of art : The circus does not begin with the program, but as soon as you enter the ring and ends when you leave it. Pieces with a continuous plot were created, in which the artistic numbers were embedded.

Since in the GDR, especially in the 1950s, the cultural offerings were not very extensive in many places, the circus performances had a prominent position in the event calendar. During this time, the three large nationalized circuses (Barlay, Busch and Eros) recorded more visitors than all theaters in the GDR. On January 1, 1960, the VEB Central Circus was founded. In 1980 the VEB Central Circus was renamed “ State Circus of the GDR ”. The artists were entitled to a pension, were paid even in the winter months, and an occupational disability regulation was introduced. This improved living conditions, which, however, made the businesses unprofitable. Private circuses almost completely disappeared. The first graduates founded in Berlin in 1956 and today the Berlin Senate entertaining College for artistic new numbers came to the circus, especially group numbers were trained. The traditional numbering program prevailed in all circuses.

Circus in Austria

At the beginning of the 20th century there were three large circus buildings in Vienna: Circus Renz, Circus Busch and Circus Schumann.

The Vienna Renz building was built in 1853 as a permanent venue for Ernst Renz. Renz was the son of a tightrope walker and from the middle of the 19th century helped the circus to gain artistic and social prestige in the German-speaking area. In addition to the circus buildings in major German cities such as Berlin and Hamburg, the building in the Wiener Zirkusgasse near the Prater also developed into an arena for horse training and acrobatic equestrian art pieces, which were performed in all circus buildings by both men and women. In addition, the famous clown characters and the circus pantomime were further developed. The building was demolished in 1957 due to war damage after it had served as a permanent venue for the Carl Hagenbeck Circus from 1924.

The Rebernigg circus closed in the 1960s, and that of Elfi Althoff-Jacobi in the mid-1990s .

In Austria, a general "wildlife ban" has been in force since January 1, 2005, which prohibits circuses from keeping wild animals or allowing them to appear in their programs. After long and tough negotiations with the EU Commission, the Austrian ban was recognized on December 12, 2006. Again and again, foreign circuses try unsuccessfully to circumvent the existing Austrian law.

Circus in Switzerland

The circus as a European cultural asset

On October 13, 2005, the European Parliament in Brussels passed a resolution affirming the status of the circus as a European cultural asset . MEP Doris Pack (CDU) worked out and justified the draft. The resolution called on the Member States to recognize the circus as part of European culture, if they have not already done so. The European Commission was asked to take concrete steps to achieve recognition of the circus as part of European culture. In the introductory remarks it was made clear that the classic circus "including animal demonstrations" is meant. Otherwise, the resolution dealt with schooling, vocational training and working conditions for circus workers and safety standards for circus tents and other mobile circus facilities.

Circus today

Family circus

There are currently around 300 circus companies of various sizes traveling in Germany - from small family circuses to medium-sized circus companies with a lot of staff, material and animals. The growing cultural and leisure offer, rising costs, various requirements, advertising bans in some cities and the development or relocation of the venues to the outskirts are problems that companies have to master.

Starting in the 1970s, there was new impetus for the circus from France, which led to the development of the so-called Cirque Nouveau . Probably the largest and best-known company in this genre is Cirque du Soleil from Canada. In addition, there are own developments on every continent. Examples include the Chinese State Circus or Circus Baobab from Africa.

Educational forms of the circus have been developing in the Federal Republic since the early 1970s and in parallel in other European countries: the children's circus and circus education .

In Germany there is a tendency to stage guest performances as "events", e.g. B. as a Christmas circus .

Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on circus companies

The circus companies are badly affected by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic . Since circus is considered a trade in Germany, there are no subsidies or subsidies as there are for theaters or museums.

Circus performances

Traditional performances include acrobats , artists , clowns , jugglers , magicians and animal training .

In the past, some circus performances also included the display of “misshapen” people (freak show, often as a sideshow ), exotic “ people shows ” and the staging of “patriotic plays”. These parts of the circus tradition were abandoned during the 20th century due to ethical considerations or a lack of audience interest.


Duo Pisaevi from Russia on the swing trapeze


Under juggling includes all numbers on the throwing or skillful manipulation (z. B. Turning, Beat, balancing) based objects. Such objects are for example balls, clubs, rings, plates, hats, cigar boxes, diabolos , devil sticks and torches. A distinction is also made between contact juggling . In addition to individual juggling, there are also partner and group juggling.

Handstand acrobatics, hand-to-hand

In handstand acrobatics, various handstand tricks - including one-armed ones - are shown, such as climbing stairs in a handstand or balancing with your hands on blocks on the tips of vertical poles.

Closely related is partner acrobatics , in which one partner balances with their hands on the hands of the other partner, their head or other body parts, while special figures and movements are shown.

Human pyramids & cascaders

One of the oldest acrobatic disciplines is the building of human pyramids, in which several upper men are balanced on the shoulders of several lower men and show several figures. Related to this are cascadeurs who stand on the shoulders of the subordinate and then show various fall figures or jump over tables, etc. These artists often also show figures from floor exercise such as wheel flick, flic-flac and other floor jumps, usually in rapid succession of several jumps .


Contortion is also called rubber. Here the body (usually the spine) is extremely bent or extremely stretched, for example in the splits or in bending, like a far overstretched bridge. Contortionists are also called contortionists.

Trapeze & air ring

With the trapeze , various hangings, handstands, headstands, etc. are performed on a bar that is attached to two or more ropes. In addition to the static trapezoid, there is also the swing trapezoid. Most tricks are combined on the static trapeze and the swing trapeze.

Closely related to the single trapezoid are performances on a ring, ball, vertical net and similar constructions hanging in the air. They can also be presented statically, swinging or circling. As a rule, the corresponding performances are shown individually or in pairs (rarely in threes).

A special feature is the so-called fishing chair, which is only used for partner performances. The fishing chair carries a catcher that can swing, throw and catch a plane.

Flying trapeze

The flying trapeze , in which the artists fly between several trapezoids and perform pirouettes, somersaults and other figures, has a completely different character than performances with the single trapeze . Related to this are performances in which trapeze is dispensed with and the artists are thrown from the hands of their colleagues for their jumps. The Luftreck is also related.

While single and double presentations are common with static trapeze, swing trapeze, air ring, air ball, vertical network, etc., the flying trapeze is shown by larger groups with at least one catcher and usually several fliers.

Vertical rope, vertical cloth, straps

The vertical rope is a rope-like rope that hangs from the ceiling. Various slopes and figures are also carried out on it. In addition to the vertical rope, there is also the vertical cloth, which consists of one or two cloths (attached to the same hook). You can find support by skilfully wrapping the body parts. The cloth is longer than floor length, about two meters, because it has to drag on the floor even when rolled up. Closely related to the vertical rope and the vertical cloth are the straps , long straps, the ends of which are wrapped around the wrists and on which various figures are shown.

As with other aerial acrobatics, these devices can be used statically, swinging or circling. Usually single performances are common, but partner acrobatics are also possible here.

Swing rope, swing cloth

The swing rope and swing cloth is a rope or cloth that is hung on both sides and used in a similar way to the swing trapezoid. Individual and partner performances are also possible here.

Slack rope

Artist on giraffe and slack rope

The slack rope is a rope hanging loosely between two fixed points . On this, various tricks are demonstrated in balancing. Slight sideways swinging movements keep the artist in balance . In addition to running and turning on the slack rope, there are many different tricks such as unicycling , juggling , hand and headstands, swinging and rola-rola .

Wire or high wire run

It is balanced on a tensioned wire rope, classic utensils are fans or umbrellas . The balancing bar is another help, but it is only really useful on the high wire, especially when working outdoors or with a second person on the shoulders. High jump poles are often used for this in amateur circuses.

You can also do wheel strokes, arcs, splits or jumps on the tensioned wire rope, you can ride a specially prepared unicycle or sit on it in a chair.

Death wheel

Wheel of death with rope jumper
(New York 2008)

The death wheel consists of an elongated steel structure that rotates around its center and at the ends of which (more rarely only at one end) treadmills the size of a ringwheel are attached. The artists can run on these structures both inside and outside and show various jumps, somersaults, etc.


The trampoline was taken over from sport. It is partially combined with other devices, platforms, etc. that are integrated into the performance. It is also possible to combine a horizontal trampoline with an inclined trampoline so that jumps between these trampolines can be shown.

Slingshot board and Russian swing

The sling board is a seesaw-like construction that allows artists standing on it to be hurled very high in the air by jumping onto the other end, so that they can perform different figures during the flight and often land on the shoulders of other artists. The Russian swing is very similar, a swing-like construction on which the artists stand before jumping.

Russian ingot

The Russian bar is an elastic bar that is carried by two sub-men and on which artists are thrown up while standing or sitting in order to show different figures during the flight phase.

Antipodes and Icarians

In antipodal performances, the artist lies in a special chair or just on the floor and juggles various objects with his feet. The Ikarier performances are related, in which a partner is balanced on the feet of the underman instead of objects and shows various jumps and somersaults, after which he repeatedly lands on the feet of the underman.

Ladder acrobatics

In ladder acrobatics , handstands, headstands or so-called stand-ups are performed on one or two free-standing ladders. Due to the lack of anchoring, the ladders must be kept in constant balance during these feats.

Rola-Rola / Rola-Bola

The Rola-Rola (also: Rola-Bola) belongs to the group of balance devices. The artist balances on a board that is balanced on one or more rollers and on which he shows various tricks, juggling, or the like.

Vertical bar and horizontal bar

The horizontal bar , which comes from sport, has also found its way into the circus. There, several bars are often combined so that several artists can work on it at the same time, or jumps between the bars are possible. The vertical pole (sometimes also called "Chinese mast") is also often used for artistic performances.

Artistic bike and unicycle

Various tricks, jumps, juggling, etc. are shown here on bicycles and unicycles (including giraffes (tall unicycles) and high bicycles ).

Cyr wheel and gym wheel

The gymnastics wheel, which originated in sports gymnastics, has also found its way into circus acrobatics. A modification is the Cyr wheel , in which different figures are only shown in a single ring while it is rotating and rolling.

Hula hoop

Artists also use hula hoops . Not only are tricks with a single tire shown, but also with multiple tires rotating simultaneously around the body or different parts of the body.

Roller skating

Various artists have specialized in performances with roller skates . As a rule, these performances are shown in pairs, with one partner turning in a circle on roller skates, while the other is turned by him through the air and shows pirouettes and similar figures.


There are also numerous mixed forms from the disciplines mentioned and also performances that cannot be clearly assigned to any classic form. There are also often modifications to the equipment used.

On other continents in particular, completely different performances have developed. In the Chinese circus, for example, tire jumping and chair pyramids are classic performances.

Animal training

Due to the increased sensitivity for the appropriate keeping and transport of animals as well as the criticism of the performances, many circus companies today do without animals entirely or they do without wild animals and only show performances with horses, ponies, dogs and (more rarely) domestic cats and the like Small animal training. In some states, the keeping of wild animals in circuses is restricted or prohibited by law.

Small animal training

Dogs, goats, pigs, cats, sheep, parrots and other smaller trainable animals are shown in many circuses. Often the animals are integrated into a strange number (clowning or slapstick).

Horse training

Horse training

In the circus, in addition to the high school (dressage riding), freedom dressage (a group of horses showing waltz, figure running, counter-running, climbing, pirouette, etc.), Hungarian Post (a rider, standing on a horse, holds the reins of several others ), Vaulting or acrobatic riding troops.

Exotic dressage

Zebras in the circus

Camels, zebras, llamas and cattle show figure running as a dressage group or are presented in the arena as an "exotic tableau", sometimes with monkeys, giraffes, ostriches, antelopes, rhinos, hippos, tapirs or crocodiles. Sea lions are presented in a humorous way. Elephants are mounted and shown in dressage groups.

Predatory training

Big cats (lions, tigers, more rarely also leopards, puma or jaguars) and bears, occasionally also hyenas, are shown in the central cage, which is connected to the cart and outdoor enclosure via the walkway. Most of the time, working with predators is done at a distance. Possible tricks are walking on bars, jumps over hurdles, for example, from platform to platform and over conspecifics, "living carpet" (= lying down), perch, standing up, lion or tiger bar (= standing up on the beam) etc. It is one of the most dangerous exercises when the big cat jumps through a hoop that the trainer is holding. A big cat that has once attacked a person is usually no longer used for dressage.


Most circus programs also include one or more clowns who are supposed to make the audience laugh with jokes and who are popular with the children. Classic clowns are from the Commedia dell'arte originated White Clown and the Stupid August , the White Clown represents the authority, while the fool constantly makes everything wrong August and annoyed the White Clown with his clumsiness. Nevertheless, the stupid August also has a certain shrewdness, so that he has the sympathy of the audience on his side. Often there are also several Stupid Augustees. However, some presentations do without this classic distinction (especially the white clown). Typical for clowns are often the use of musical instruments or small artistic feats that are integrated into a comic plot.

Performances by the clowns can be divided into entree and recapitulation: while the (usually longer) entree is the actual solo appearance of the clowns, the reprises serve to bridge the breaks between other performances. Sometimes there are both entree clowns and reprise clowns in one program. Closely related to the reprise clown is the figure of the comic prop master, who, unlike the reprise clown, is directly involved in the renovation work between the performances. A distinction can also be made between clowns who use language and clowns who work without language. Some clowns involve the audience directly in their performances, while others refuse to do so, as this is uncomfortable for some viewers.

Some modern circuses dispense with clowns entirely.

Famous clowns were / are Charlie Rivel , Grock , Oleg Popov , Trio Fratellini , Peter Bento Family , Luftmann Family , Los Rivelinos , Toni Alexis Family , David Larible , Bello Nock , Die Chicky’s , Les Rossyann , Les Muñoz and the in circus circles as Legend has it that Francesco Caroli is the white clown of Les Francescos .

In addition to the classic clowns, there is also a transition area between clown and pantomime. Famous representatives of this form are Peter Shub , David Shiner and Pic .

Well-known circuses

Circus Barum on the Hamburg Heiligengeistfeld

Agencies occasionally show circus productions with artistry from China, Russia, Africa and Mongolia. Christmas circuses have been in vogue in Germany since the mid-1990s and are primarily presented by classic circus companies.


There are several circus festivals around the world that take place regularly (usually annually), in which appropriate performances can be presented to the general public, but also to a specialist audience, and where performances are usually awarded. In addition, these festivals also serve to establish contact with colleagues. Such festivals are often the start of international careers. The major festivals are also recorded and their highlights are regularly seen on television in numerous countries.

The biggest and most famous festivals include:

  • International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo (Festival International du Cirque de Monte-Carlo), festival held in Monaco since 1974 .
  • World Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow (Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain), festival that has been taking place in Paris since 1977 , which aims to promote a modern circus and has refrained from animal performances from the start.
  • European Youth Circus, festival for young artists that takes place every two years in Wiesbaden.

Circus schools / artist schools

In numerous countries there are state and / or private circus schools that mainly teach acrobatics and sometimes clowning. While the next generation of circus artists is often trained by their parents and other artists, such schools are also aimed at people who have no connections in this area and who are striving for a career in circus, variety, etc. In Germany there are three preparatory schools that offer training to become a state-certified / state-recognized artist. The state ballet school and school for artistry and the private floor in Berlin, as well as the Circartive in Gschwend since 2015, offer a full training as vocational schools and should enable children and young people with highlighted talent to study for a bachelor's degree in artistry. Examples of universities with the course in artistry are the École nationale de cirque (one of the most renowned performing arts education schools), the Codarts in Rotterdam or the Fontys Academy for Cicus Arts and Performance (ACAPA) in Tilburg .

This must be distinguished from the circus schools of the same name, which as accompanying schools in larger circus companies enable the children of the employees to attend school without having to attend boarding schools or constantly changing schools. At these small traveling schools, only the primary level (elementary school) and the secondary level at most the secondary school certificate is offered.

Criticism of animal husbandry in circus companies

Housing conditions

The circus world has been confronted with criticism from animal welfare organizations and animal rights activists since the 1990s . They accuse the circus operators of not keeping animals, especially exotic wild animals, in a species-appropriate manner. Under such animals usually a livestock animal is under rights activists understood here by the respective animal (, exercise, and personal care, nutrition social contact with other dogs. A.) Its natural species-specific needs can satisfy as far as possible. A species-appropriate attitude is not possible in the context of the circus business. The enclosures are to meet in any case too small to natural physical needs. Chaining is also still a common practice in circuses.

Circus people counter this by stating that circus animals no longer come from the wild, but were born in human care. They are therefore used to contact and cooperation with their human partners from an early age. Most circuses would have added outdoor enclosures to their stables and, depending on the species, also water basins, even for predators. The behavioral biologist Immanuel Birmelin says that it is not primarily the square meters of the enclosure that matter, because: “Like humans, animals also find the greatest happiness in what they experience. The whole of neurobiology therefore speaks clearly in favor of the circus. Entertainment, learning, training - all of this is extremely important for animals. ” Peter Singer , on the other hand, cites scientific observations that are supposed to prove that even farm animals bred for generations do not lose their instinctive needs.

It is indisputable that the keeping of wild animals is more complex and expensive the more it takes the needs of the animals into account. However, many circus companies are under economic pressure and have to calculate hard. Theo Mantel, honorary president of the Federal Veterinary Association, who worked as an official veterinarian for 30 years and has repeatedly checked circuses, says: “There are traveling circuses who have to beg for food for the animals. The water is literally up to their necks. ”Traveling circuses are usually unable to meet the special requirements for keeping wild animals. The costs are too high for small and medium-sized businesses. And elephants can “simply not be kept appropriately in the cold German winter”. According to Immanuel Birmelin, chimpanzees do not belong in the circus: "An enclosure that does justice to their play instinct cannot finance a circus in the world."

It is also criticized that for many animals two to three gigs per day and the high background noise represented enormous stress . Proponents of animal training consider the high level of background noise during performances to be unproblematic, as long as the animal teacher can focus on his protégés. Only when the animals turned their attention to their surroundings would the public noise become a stress factor.

Animal rights activists also criticize the frequent transport of animals. The journey of a person in a car seat cannot be compared to the strenuous journey of an animal in a cramped animal transport trailer. Circus people argue that the animals are used to the transports. Dieter Seeger, chairman of the Association of German Circus Companies, describes it as follows: “From riding stables you know that the horses sometimes have to be dragged onto the trailer. For us, however, it is sufficient for the animal trainer to clap his hands twice and the horse voluntarily trots into the transporter. ”As the behavioral biologist Immanuel Birmelin reports, cortisol tests on lions and elephants show that the stress level does not increase even on long journeys noticeably changed and after the trip does not differ significantly from the values ​​measured on wild animals.

Birmelin also emphasizes that circus animals were much less bored than zoo animals. Overall, he came to a positive assessment of animal husbandry in the circus: “From a behavioral point of view, there is no reason to ban elephants or predators in the circus, with only one exception, the bears. [...] The circus people are sensitive animal connoisseurs and great animal lovers. They could not afford to treat their animals badly, nor did they have the heart to do it. [...] In the circus I experienced great moments in human-animal communication. People love their animals - and their animals love them. ”On behalf of many animal rights activists, Peter Höffken from the PETA organization says that Birmelin is an example of“ tendentious scientists ”whose“ circus-friendly studies ”should be viewed with caution.

According to a representative survey by the Wahlen research group , two thirds of Germans rejected wild animals such as elephants, giraffes or tigers in circuses in 2015. Opposite them are the friends of the classic circus who want to visit the circus also or precisely because of the animals.

Criticism of the dressage

Animal rights activists like the organization PETA claim that dressage in the circus is characterized by violence. Whips, clubs, stun guns and elephant hooks are also used for training, with which the animals are inflicted pain. According to the alliance “Animals belong to the circus”, circus animals can very well be trained to be “gentle and animal-friendly”. The animal performances were based on a close relationship of trust between humans and animals, which could not even arise if the animal were tortured. With animal-friendly training by a sensitive animal teacher, the animals usually showed relaxed behavior during rehearsals and performances.

Wildlife accidents and outbreaks

According to the organization PETA, there were 24 accidents involving circus elephants in Germany between 1980 and 2010. In addition, people suffered bites from monkeys, bears, leopards, tigers, and camels. Traffic accidents have also occurred in connection with wildlife outbreaks. For example, on August 22, 2017, there was a traffic accident near Treuenbrietzen in Brandenburg after two Watussi cattle broke out of a circus camp. A 56-year-old driver died when his car hit a tree after colliding with the cattle. A debate sparked in 1994 the elephant Tyke , who killed her trainer at a performance in Honolulu and then broke out of the circus. She walked through the city for half an hour until she was killed by police officers with 86 shots.

Animal protection law and guidelines

Since July 2013, the German Animal Welfare Act has provided the possibility for authorities to prohibit or restrict the keeping of wild animals in a circus - the text of the law speaks of "displaying animals of wild species in changing locations" - if the keeping or transport of the animals "only under considerable Pain, suffering or damage ”is possible ( Section 11 (4) of the Animal Welfare Act). This is criticized by animal protection associations as completely inadequate. With such low requirements, there could be no question of serious animal welfare . The newer target formulation in § 11, to avoid significant pain, suffering or damage, is even a step backwards compared to § 2 . There it says that the keeper or carer of an animal "must accommodate the animal according to its species and its needs [...] in a manner appropriate to its behavior" and "must not restrict the animal's ability to move appropriately" in such a way that it experiences pain or avoidable suffering or harm be added ( Section 2 of the Animal Welfare Act).

The general formulations of the Animal Welfare Act do not offer any guidance on the question of how the keeping of certain animal species should be designed. In Germany, the “Guidelines for the keeping, training and use of animals in circus operations or similar institutions” specify the requirements for animal welfare in circus operations. The guidelines set out numerous requirements in detail, for example that an outdoor enclosure for up to five large cats must have a minimum area of ​​50 m² and an additional 5 m² for each additional animal.

The behavioral biologist Immanuel Birmelin rates the guidelines as "appropriate" and " animal-friendly ". Animal rights activists criticize, on the one hand, that the guidelines are only recommendations and have no legal force. A spokesman for the organization Animals United commented, for example: "These are not laws - and guidelines can or cannot be obeyed." Germany is "a legal free space for circuses". On the other hand, keeping them in narrow enclosures and cages is fundamentally contrary to the needs of wild animals. For the animals, keeping them in the circus means “lifelong renunciation of their natural behavior and constant transport in a confined space”.


Controls by the veterinary offices at the guest venues are intended to ensure compliance with animal welfare in the circus. Animal rights activists point out that due to the change of location of the circus operations, the responsibility constantly changes between different veterinary offices, which makes effective control much more difficult. In addition, the veterinarians could only check whether the poor requirements of the Animal Welfare Act are being complied with and not demand more animal welfare on their own initiative.

The Circus Register Ordinance, which has existed since 2008, aims to ensure that animal welfare is monitored in circuses. Theo Mantel, honorary president of the Federal Veterinary Association, considers the central circus register to be a "paper tiger" due to his practical experience as an official veterinarian. According to Mantel, circuses have various options for circumventing the register: "Some circuses sometimes appear under up to four different names within a very short time." And the information would not be passed on quickly enough between the federal states.

Since many circus companies operate across borders in several European countries, the European Community already drew up a corresponding regulation in 2005 "to define the veterinary conditions for the movement of circus animals between member states". The annex to the regulation contains forms for recording the number of animals as well as the trips and performances of the circus and samples for individual animal passports.


According to a list from the Austrian Animal Welfare Association as of 2018, keeping animals in circuses is completely prohibited in Greece , Malta , Bolivia , Guatemala and Honduras . In Italy , a law was passed in November 2017 that provides for “the gradual elimination of animal appearances in circuses”, commented Culture Minister Dario Franceschini . In around 25 other countries, wild animals are specifically prohibited in circuses, including in Europe: Belgium , Bosnia and Herzegovina , Bulgaria , Denmark , Estonia , Ireland , Croatia , Latvia , the Netherlands (since September 15, 2015), Norway , Austria , Romania (from 2017, but with an 18-month transition period), Scotland , Serbia , Slovenia ; in England the same regulation is to apply from 2020. In more than 10 other countries restrictions apply to the keeping of wild animals in the circus, for example certain wild animal species are prohibited in that country. The animal welfare organizations provide different information for some countries, for example for North Macedonia and Cyprus .

The trend is towards more bans, but wild animals are still allowed in the circus in many countries, including Germany, France and Spain. The topic remains controversial, also in German politics. In June 2015 ten animal welfare and species protection associations called on the then Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Christian Schmidt to “finally ban” the keeping of wild animals in circuses. The Greens , the Left and the SPD are in favor of a wild animal ban (as of 2018) ; The Union , the FDP and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture under Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) argue against such a ban . In 2003, 2011 and 2016, the Federal Council tried to initiate a nationwide ban on wild animals such as monkeys, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, bears and hippos in circuses. These three attempts were blocked by the Union parties and the responsible Federal Ministry, mainly with the argument that such a ban would be equivalent to an occupational ban and could therefore not be justified.

Numerous municipalities in Germany have now decided not to rent any more public land to circuses that keep wild animals or certain wild animals. In October 2016 there were more than 50 municipalities, in March 2017 already more than 70 municipalities. According to PETA, Ansbach was the 100th German city with a municipal circus wild animal ban in June 2018. However, the municipal bans are legally controversial. At least the primary responsibility lies with the federal legislature, which has no general ban on circus wild animals. Some circus operators have successfully defended themselves against municipal bans. Several administrative courts have ruled that a municipality is not entitled to ban circus performances with wild animals. For example, both the Hanover Administrative Court in January 2017 and, in the second instance, the Lower Saxony Higher Administrative Court ruled in March 2017 that the city of Hameln's wildlife ban was unlawful. The municipal bans can be understood as a political signal to the legislature that a nationwide legal ban on wild animals in the circus is desirable. With this justification, the organization PETA continues to include in its list of municipal bans those cities whose ban has been declared unlawful or which have withdrawn their ban due to the legal situation.

Many circus companies have already started to reduce the number and importance of animals in the circus program, be it because of the increasingly strict animal welfare requirements, because of the ongoing public criticism and a critical attitude in parts of the audience or because of the high cost of keeping animals. There are now some circuses that do without animals at all. So kicking Circus Roncalli on non-animal performances since 2018th

See also



  • Noel Daniel (Ed.): The Circus. 1870-1950 . Taschen, Cologne 2008, ISBN 3-8228-5153-1 .
  • Ernst Günther / Dietmar Winkler: Circus history: An outline of the history of the German circus. Henschel, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-362-00060-6 .
  • Sylke Kirschnick: Colonial scenarios in the circus, panopticon and lunapark . In: Ulrich van der Heyden, Joachim Zeller (eds.) “… Power and share in world domination” - Berlin and German colonialism . Unrast, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-89771-024-2 .
  • Sylke Kirschnik: Clear the arena! The cultural history of the circus . Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-8062-2703-1 .
  • Rolf Lehmann: Circus. Magic of the ring . Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1979.
  • FK Mathys: Circus. Fascination yesterday and today . AT Verlag, Aarau 1986, ISBN 3-85502-251-8 .
  • Natias Neutert: Where is the circus? Somewhere else! A review in Die Zeit November 16, 1984. online
  • Winfried Christian Schmitt / Volker W. Degener: Circus. History and stories. Lentz, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-88010-228-7 .
  • Volkhard Stern: The circus is coming! Always on the move - circus parades in Germany from 1900 to 2000. EK-Verlag, Freiburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-88255-889-0 .
  • Dietmar Winkler: Circus in the GDR. In the balancing act between niche and world renown . Edition Schwarzdruck, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-935194-30-3 .

Animal husbandry and dressage

  • C. Kröplin et al. a .: Guidelines for the keeping, training and use of animals in circuses or similar facilities . Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Berlin 2009. online (PDF; 142 kB)
  • Hans-Jürgen and Rosemarie Tiede: The high school of predatory training . Freizeit-News, Kaufbeuren 1997, ISBN 3-928871-04-8 .
  • Klaus Zeeb: How to train animals in the circus . Enke, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-7773-1937-6 .

Circus schools

  • M. Kogan: Circus is taught here . In: Ernst Günther, Heinz P. Hofmann, Walter Rösler (Ed.): Cassette. An almanac for the stage, podium and ring (=  cassette ). No. 3 . Henschelverlag Art and Society, Berlin 1979, p. 161–167 (based on the Eastern Bloc).

Individual companies

  • Franz Althoff: So'n Circus. Franz Althoff tells. Dreisam-Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau 1982, ISBN 3-921472-55-5 .
  • Ernst Günther: Sarrasani - as he really was. Henschel, Berlin 1984.
  • Werner Köhler / Edmund Labonté (eds.): Circus Roncalli. Story of a legend. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-455-11190-4 .
  • Klaus-Dieter Kürschner: From the menagerie to the largest circus in Europe: Krone. Ullstein, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-550-06936-7 .
  • Marlies Lehmann-Brune: The Althoffs. History and stories about the largest circus dynasty in the world. Umschau, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-524-69097-1 .
  • Bernhard Paul: Roncalli and his artists. Lingen, Cologne 1991.
  • Helga Pisters / Bernhard Paul: Circus Roncalli. Edition Panorama, Mannheim 2006, ISBN 3-89823-275-1 .
  • Thomas Schütte / Mario Angelo: Walk into the Circus Roncalli. Argos Press, Cologne 1981, ISBN 3-88420-015-1 .
  • Frieda Sembach-Krone: Circus Krone. Your favor - our pursuit. An authorized recording by Hellmuth Schramek. Ehrenwirth, Munich 1969.
  • Gisela Winkler: Circus Busch. History of a ring in Berlin. Be.Bra, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-930863-36-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Circus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Circus  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Circus  Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gerhard Eberstaller: Splendor and end of a circus era. Wiener Zeitung of March 10, 2003, accessed on May 3, 2019
  2. Radiokolg,, sent July 14, 2016, heard on July 14, 2016.
  3. Zirkus-Wildtierverbot, report from January 11, 2007. Accessed on April 20, 2015
  4. ↑ Ban on wild animals remains ( Memento of August 7, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), Animal Public, report in 2011. Retrieved on April 20, 2015
  5. a b Resolution of the European Parliament on new challenges for the circus as part of European culture of October 13, 2005,
  6. ^ Doris Pack: Report on new challenges for the circus as part of European culture of July 18, 2005, See also the Reason section there .
  7. George Etscheid: Poetry in the ring online, April 3rd 2011, accessed on January 2, 2013.
  8. Dominik Baur: Corona crisis shuts down the circus: lion droppings instead of an artist show . In: The daily newspaper: taz . July 14, 2020, ISSN  0931-9085 ( [accessed July 15, 2020]).
  9. a b c d e The fairy tale of the great suffering of the circus animals Interview with Immanuel Birmelin,, December 3, 2011
  10. Peter Singer: Animal Liberation - The liberation of the animals . Rowohlt, Reinbek b. Hamburg, 1996. p. 192 f.
  11. a b c d e “There are traveling circuses who have to beg for food”, June 5, 2017.
  12. a b c Dispute over wild animals in the circus: Hippos and Co. out of the arena?, October 19, 2018.
  13. Immanuel Birmelin: Wildly intelligent . Kosmos (Franckh-Kosmos), 2011. P. 107 ff.
  14. What we want, accessed on February 23, 2019.
  15. ^ Letter to the city: Lmenau circus fans want to continue to see wild animal dressage, December 13, 2018.
  16. The dressage of wild animals, August 2013.
  17. Arguments for the maintenance and promotion of the classic circus with animals, see 5th argument.
  18. Accidents and outbreaks in Germany
  19. One year after the Watussi accident: Proceedings terminated, August 25, 2018.
  20. Synopsis (text comparison) on the changes to the Animal Welfare Act on July 13, 2013
  21. Current situation, accessed on February 16, 2016.
  22. Animal welfare reports / animal welfare guidelines: keeping animals in circuses at the BMEL . The guidelines (PDF) are also linked there.
  23. Guidelines for the keeping, training and use of animals in circuses or similar facilities (PDF), p. 10.
  24. a b Veterinary offices are helpless, accessed on February 16, 2016.
  25. Circus - Amusement at the Cost of Animals Animal Rights Watch , accessed February 18, 2019.
  26. ^ Text of the Circus Register Ordinance
  27. animal welfare in livestock 13 July 2013. See Section circus Registry Regulation facilitates control of animal welfare .
  28. Regulation (EC) No. 1739/2005 of the Commission of October 21, 2005 laying down the veterinary conditions for the movement of circus animals between Member States . In: EUR-Lex .
  29. a b c circus animals are still allowed in many (EU) countries, July 18, 2018.
  30. New law: Italy wants to ban animal performances in the circus, November 10, 2017.
  31. Animal protection: The Netherlands prohibit wild animals in the circus, December 13, 2014.
  32. Bans on keeping wild animals in circuses: Circus animal bans in Europe and worldwide, August 2018. With graphics on Europe and more detailed information in the text.
  33. According to the list of the Austrian Animal Welfare Association (as of July 2018), a national wild animal ban applies in North Macedonia (then still called "Macedonia"). According to the colored Europe map in PETA's online article (as of August 2018), there is no national ban there.
  34. According to the list of the Austrian Animal Welfare Association (as of July 2018), wild animals are prohibited in Cyprus. According to the colored map of Europe in PETA's online article (as of August 2018), all animal displays are prohibited in Cyprus.
  35. ↑ Keeping wild animals in circuses forbids Letter from ten associations to Federal Minister Christian Schmidt, June 19, 2015 (PDF).
  36. a b Bans on keeping wild animals in circuses: Resolutions in cities and municipalities in Germany, August 2018. With a list of the municipalities and more detailed information.
  37. ^ Circus animals: Zoff in der Manege, October 25, 2016.
  38. a b Municipal wild animal ban for circus performances controversial KommunalWiki of the Heinrich Böll Foundation , as of August 3, 2018.
  39. Ansbach is the 100th German city with a municipal wild animal circus ban, press release from June 27, 2018.
  40. Lower Saxony OVG confirms: City may not ban circuses with wild animals Legal Tribune Online, March 3, 2017.
  41. Circus Roncalli bans animals completely from the Manege, November 16, 2017.