Julius Kärger Circus Breslau

In 1832, hotelkeeper Julius Kärger purchased a plot of 3 morgens in Nabycińska Street (Schwertstrasse 3),[1] parallel to Le­gnicka Street (Friedrich-Wilhelmstrasse). It seems that Kärger intended to erect a hotel complex there. Several clues lead to this presumption: the profession of the owner, the location of the plot in one of city’s three main arteries, as well as the considerable size of the estate. Hoverer, the hotel complex was not finally erected. Having bought several estates in the neighbourhood of 1 Maja Square (Königsplatz) at the same time,[2] Kärger may have merely treated the purchase as an investment. (…)
Mauermeister C. Peβcheck and Zimmermeister F. Vorback were in charge of drawing up designs. The designs by both masters were approved in May 1855, and the construction works must have started at that time. They were completed in February 1856.
The building was ample but not monumental in appearance. The vast façade had no ornamental elements and did not constitute a landmark among local buildings. Only the inscription Cirkus informed pedestrians of the particular purpose of the building.
In spite of this, Kärger’s initiative was welcomed with substantial enthusiasm and interest. The audience gathered here for the first time on 19 February 1856 to watch Miss Ella’s show.[3] From that time, the circus was duly used for the next nine years.
An event that had a significant impact on the history of this particular shrine of art was the fire of the Stadttheater on19 July 1865. The lost of the only theatre in the city activated the whole of society, since this dramatic event equally touched the actors performing on the stage, the shareholders of the theatre and the audience. On 25 July 1865, at a meeting called by the shareholders, it was decided to immediately arrange some sort of substitute theatre (Intermistertheater). A committee composed of former shareholders of the Stadttheater was set up by a local regulation and charged with this task. The members came to the conclusion that Kärger’s circus was the most easily adaptable for this purpose. [4] The nature of this building allowed the stage to be arranged relatively quickly and without large outlay, and let the actors’ company resume its work. Moreover, there were many additional rooms, where a dressing room and a prop room could be installed.
According to the schedule, the adaptation works lasted six days. The two-month season in the Intermistertheater was inaugurated on 30 July 1865 with the vaudeville Die Lebensmüden byE. Raupach. [5]
As the transformation of the circus into a theatre building arose out of a sudden necessity, the adaptation works did not exceed the most indispensable changes. The stage was installed on the site of the existing podium, whereas the stalls were arranged on the site of the riding course. It was covered with a wooden floor and seats were installed. As we know from the Wrocław press, the highest expense was for equipping the stage with machinery, which amounted to 2,000 thalers.[6]
In spite of the financial limitations, there were attempts to give the interior a more representative character, through introducing a colour scheme used in theatre architecture. The walls of boxes were covered with red wallpaper and the seats upholstered with leather, in sharp contrast to the rest of the auditorium which was maintained in white. Gildings covered little elements of modest decorations, stressing the ceremonial appearance of the interior. However, there was not enough money or, more importantly, time, to decorate the modest façade. Some changes were introduced though for the sake of the audience: two additional entrances were opened next to the main one. [7]
The six-week period when the audience applauded the classical repertoire under the roof of the Kärger’s circus was not merely an episode. Although October 1865 saw the building again being used for its original purpose, the fact it had succeeded as a theatre building was not without consequences. As the above mentioned proceedings law came into force, George Kruse, at that time the owner of the circus, felt encouraged to apply for a licence to operate a theatre enterprise. He received it in the same year, which sealed the future of Kärger’s établissement. On 2 October 1869, Georg Kruse opened the theatre named after him with the premiere of Königsleutnant by Karl Gutzkow. From that day, the circus building served as a theatre for over seventy years, and remained as such in the memory of the residents of Wrocław. Admittedly, Kruse gave up theatre activity after financial failures on 15 September 1870, but already on 21 September of the same year, the Talia Theatre, under the guidance of Friedrich Schwemmer, started activity within the walls of the old circus. It is also worth noting that, from 1 January 1875, the Talia Theatre worked as a subsidiary of the Miejski Theatre. [8] In 1932, on the occasion of 70th birthday of the author of The Weavers, the theatre was named after this outstanding turn of the century playwright. [9] The G. Hauptmann Theatre was closed in 1936, and from that time plays were staged in the Miejski Theatre and in Schauspielhaus inZapolska Street.
Architectural transformations of the building
In addition to the two events mentioned above in connection with the foundation of the Talia Theatre, which has no longer existed for years, namely the fire of the Stadttheater andthe proceeding law from 1869, there are two more factors that were equally influential on the decision to set up the theatre: the location of the compound and its architectural form. The changes to the function of the building led to particular construction works. It is a fact of great importance that the successive owners of the shrine tried to modernise the compound (as far as their financial status, which was sometimes modest, allowed them to do so), in order to meet the expectations of the visitors. Both the specific nature of the original function, which had a considerable impact on the architectural form of the building, as well as its successive transformations prompt us to reconstruct these stages.
Kärger’s circus was erected in the neighbourhood of Przedmieście Mikołajskie, at the corner of Nabcińska and Legnicka Streets, the latter being the most important artery in this part of Wrocław. The urban development of the city, initiated in 1806 by the order to pull down fortifications, included the areas to the west of Mikołajska Gate. However, the evolution of Przedmieście Mikołajskie was not as dynamic as that of Przedmieście Świdnickie. What is more, the social structure of the new district also developed differently, as the owners of the estates did not constitute the Wrocław establishment: they were mainly merchants and craftsmen. It seems that a turning point for this part of Wrocław was the opening of the Świebodzki Railway Station in 1864. At that time, more and more inns and restaurants were set up in the neighbourhood of Legnicka Street. (…)
In July 1854, Ferdinand Vorback and Carl Peßcheck submitted for approval the design of the building they had been commissioned to draw up by Kärger. The projection of the ground floor and of the auditorium, visible on the design, the cross-sections along the North-South and East-West axes, as well as a drawing of a little column, give us a partial idea of the concept of the builders. [10]
A plan of Kärger’s estate, drawn by the builders, shows that the designers tried to use all three of the already existing buildings, located along the western, southern and eastern sides of the plot. They maintained the old buildings, modifying them slightly: only one of them (to the west) was partially pulled down. The concept of the builders was motivated by an economical approach, which considerably influenced the spacious idea of the compound. It was built on an irregular projection and composed of four buildings of various functions, as well as a vast inner courtyard from the northern side. The front building, on the projection of an elongated rectangle, was situated along Nabycińska street and comprised the entrance, box offices and cloakrooms. From the south, it was adjoined by another building on the projection of a very elongated rectangle (whose sides were in the proportion 1 to 7), which was to house animals. Another small, separate building in the north-western corner of the compound was destined for a boiler room. Thus the main building of the circus, designed and erected from scratch, was located inside the space organised by the old buildings. It was built on an irregular projection, whose contour was multilateral from the side of the courtyard. In the middle, there was an arena surrounded by the amphitheatrical auditorium, consisting of four segments, separated by entrances at the ends of the axes (North-South, East-West) (…)
The arena was separated from the seats by a large passage; along the border of the auditorium there were little (probably cast iron) columns, rhythmically placed, supporting the space over the arena, which was closed in a semicircular way. The main, two-storey part of the building was covered by a multisided tented room, crowned by a lantern used for ventilation.
It is fair to presume that the suggested solution did not fully satisfy the client, since new designs of the circus, signed by Pefichecka and another builder whose name is unknown, come from 1855. It seems that the building was erected according to these designs. (…)

We cannot say much about the external appearance of the building, apart from the fact that it was very modest. Although a drawing from 1857, showing a part of the façade with the main entrance, has been preserved, it seems that the design was never completed. However, it is fair to presume that Kärger cared about giving the façade some representative qualities, and this is why he commissioned E. Hayn to draw up a separate design for the modernisation of the façade. Hayn’s idea consisted in an unconventional concept of the part of the façade that comprised the entrance. The three-axis middle part was flanked by pilaster strips and crowned with a pediment. At the height of the ground floor, the façade was divided by three semicircular recesses. In the centre of the second floor, covered by designed rustication, there was a triforium gallery, crowned with entablature. The motif of arcades was reminiscent of Rundbogenstil, whereas the entablature over the gallery and the pediment were finished with antique forms.(…)
Bożena Grzegorczyk, Architektura i budownictwo teatralne we Wrocławiu od około 1770 roku do schyłku XIX wieku [Theatre Architecture and Building Engineering in Wrocław from about 1770 to the End of the 19th Century], published by: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2000.

[1] E. Kiseritzky, Das Gelände der Ehemaligen Festung Breslau 1813-1870, Mitteilung aus dem Stadtarchiv und Stadtbibliothek zu Breslau 1903, p. 60.
[2] Ibid., p. 60.
[3] Schlesische Zeitung, 19 February1856, No. 265.
[4] Breslauer Zeitung, 25 July1865, No. 341.
[5] L. Sittenfeld, Geschichte des Breslauer Theaters von 1841 bis 1900, Breslau 1909.
[6] Breslauer Zeitung, 30 July 1865, No. 51.
[7] Ibid.
[8] L. Sittenfeld, op.cit., p. 174.
[9] Neue Breslauer Zeitung, 4 September 1932.
[10]The Architectural Archive of the City of Wroclaw, vol. 3990.

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