The Circus Building, One ofCopenhagen’s Cultural Icons

By Christine Marie Nielsen

Today the Circus Building on Axeltorv in the heart of Copenhagen is the oldest of its kind in Europe. This magnificent Circus Building was inaugurated with an enormous public celebration in Copenhagen on 8 May 1886. Since then, the building has played host to a wide variety of Danish and international circus troupes. From 2003 the spectacular Wallmans Dinner Show has been the Circus Building’s resident entertainment.

A bargain

In 1884, Fritz Petersen, a master carpenter, purchased the site on Jernbanegade, next to Axeltorv, for DKK 954,000. The Circus Building was then built. It was designed by the architect H. V. Brinkopff, while the beautiful horse-racing frieze, which encircles the outside of the building, was created by the sculptor, Frederik Hammeleff. At that time the Circus Building covered a much bigger site. It stretched right up to Studiestræde and was occupied by stable buildings, which housed all the different circus animals, including elephants, giraffes, and horses. Facing Axeltorv was the Artistcafé, a café, where guests could let their hair down during the intervals. The Artistcafé still exists today. Exactly as it was all those years ago, the café is a popular venue for visitors to the Circus Building and Wallmans prior to the start of the show.

1914. Fire in Copenhagen

In spring 1914 a fire broke out in the Circus Building. Sadly, when the fire brigade arrived, it was too late. It took between three and four hours to extinguish the fire. As a result only the foundations, external walls and portal remained. Fortunately the building was empty during the fire, so there was only material damage. After just one year, in 1915, the Circus Building was rebuilt. This time it was the very first building in Denmark to be constructed with the use of reinforced concrete. The architect, Holger Jacobsen was commissioned to undertake the task, in cooperation with consultant engineer Cock-Clausen. The external walls and frieze of the original building were preserved. During the summer the Circus Building again provided a venue for international and Danish circus troupes, while in winter the building was used for theatre, pantomime and ballet performances.

The fight for the Circus Building

Circus Benneweis presented their first show in the Circus Building in 1970, but at the time there was great debate and uncertainty with regard to the future of the building. As a result of the debate about the possible demolition of the Circus Building, at the start of the 1970s Circus Benneweis initiated a campaign for the conservation of the building with the support of active politicians and a united Danish press. The campaign attracted so much popular and political support that in 1974 the City of Copenhagen purchased the building from the ANVA department store. In 1982 the City of Copenhagen began a comprehensive and thorough renovation of the Circus Building with the objective of restoring it to its original appearance. That led to highlighting the distinctive architecture of the Circus Building with the enormous dome, the arched corridors, the festive lobby, the coloured seating and the special circus atmosphere. Meanwhile, everything was given a highly successful, extra touch with the unique colours selected by the architect, Verner Panton. After the restoration both the Circus Building itself and Verner Panton’s colour scheme were listed. This meant that the future of the Circus Building was secured as a significant part of the city’s cultural life. Circus Benneweis continued to perform in the Circus Building right up until 1990.

The Circus Building in the 21st Century

After the renovation, the City of Copenhagen outsourced the management of the building, first to Tivoli (1984-1996) and then to Parken (1997-2002). In 2003 the Swedish entrepreneur Hasse Wallman (born 1936) took over the running of the Circus Building. In 2009 Wallmans became part of the entertainment company 2Egroup, who two years later, in 2011, purchased the Circus Building from the City of Copenhagen. So, since 2003 Wallmans have occupied this Copenhagen cultural icon. Today this well-known, popular dinner show, during which guests see a spectacular show, while simultaneously enjoying a delicious 4-course meal, is the Circus Building’s main activity.

Wallmans’ first decade in the Circus Building

It is not only the people of Copenhagen and Denmark, who make the journey to the Circus Building. Just as the cast of the show comprises creative and professional dancers, singers and circus stars from many different corners of the world, today’s guests also cosmopolitan, representing an enormous cross section of different countries. In contrast to traditional Danish plays and musicals, Wallmans Dinner Show is international. Every guest, regardless of nationality and language, can be bowled over, entertained and thrilled. In addition to Wallmans Dinner Show, today the Circus Building also plays a major role in Danish and international business communities. The Circus Building can accommodate professional and social events, with room for between 200 and 1,000 guests. This makes it an ideal venue for everything from corporate events, award shows and anniversaries to congresses, conferences and meetings. In 2013/2014 Wallmans are celebrating their first 10 years in Copenhagen with a special anniversary show entitled Sweet Addiction. The anniversary show has received rave reviews from both the Swedish and Danish critics. Last year’s show was seen by a total of almost 75,000 guests, while, since the beginning of 2003, Wallmans Circus Building has entertained more than 750,000 guests.