Circus trivia

One of my relatives travelled with the circus and/or performed as an artist. Can you help find more information about him/her?

We would love to give it a go! However, although the museum’s archives contain information and material related to a large number of artists, it is far from everyone who has been mentioned by name in our files – or they may not be easy to search for. You can read more about the museum’s options for helping you in your search for family history information here.

Why is the Circus Museum located in Hvidovre?

The old barracks called Avedørelejren were closed down in 1997. The municipality of Hvidovre bought the barracks in 1999 with the aim of creating a dynamic area with a mix of business, residential housing and culture.

Throughout the 1990s the Greater Copenhagen municipality had run a project aimed at registering the artist Ølund Barly’s extensive collection of artefacts relating to the history of the circus and its artists, and by the turn of the millenium the municipality needed a place to create an artist- and circusmuseum.

After considerable work the municipality of Hvidovre succeeded in getting the collection to Hvidovre and in 2001 the Circus Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time in Avedørelejren.

When was the first circus performance in Denmark?

It is difficult to say for sure, but the late 1700s is a good estimate. Circus as we know it today with animals, acrobats and clowns came to be in the 1770s and 1780s, while the travelling circus tent appeared around the year 1800. From the 1790s it became easier for circuses to perform in Denmark, and international menageries were for example allowed to perform during ’kildetiden’ (a three-week midsummer market) in Dyrehavsbakken north of Copenhagen. Cirkus had its big breakthrough in the mid-1800s when among others the German Circus Renz made a big impression with its visit to Copenhagen in 1860.

Are there really fleas in a flea circus?

Yes! At least mostly. It is actually possible to create a show with fleas that fx walk a tightrope, ride a bike or juggle a ball. But as it is incredibly difficult to harness and train fleas, and because these days it is very hard to find human fleas (the best ones for a circus), many flea circus directors today perform without fleas. When Marco Assmann’s flea circus performed at the Circus Museum in February 2013 it starred real fleas!

Why does the circus have a ring?

The ring as we know it from a modern-day circus originated in 1768, when the British dragoon and horsetrainer Philip Astley (1742-1814) discovered that it was easier to perform acts on horseback if the horses rode in a circle rather than a straight line. The circle has to have a diametre of approximately 13 metres to obtain the best centrifugal force. The circle also made it much easier for an audience to see the acts.

Why are there no bears, lions and tigers in a Danish circus?

Since 1962 it has been illegal for any circus or travelling menagerie to include wild animals in their acts. The law prohibiting their use was created because of several examples of animals that attacked their trainers and examples of animals being mistreated. There is an exact list of the animals that can be used by circuses or menageries today.