A glimpse behind the scenes of the Swiss National Circus Knie

Cirkus Knie - Switzerland's largest circus

Switzerland may not have a royal family, but it has the Knie family: The country's most famous artist family and the owners of the largest Swiss circus.

The Knie dynasty with a 200 year old circus tradition has always captivated the crowd with its show extravaganzas. This year's show is no different. With a mix of breathtaking aerial performances, entertaining gags and different animal acts (endearingly presented by the eighth and youngest generation of the Knies), the "Wooow!" tour definitely comes with plenty of wow moments. It is definitely worth a visit!

And the wows are also the facts and figures behind the traveling circus.

This season, Circus Knie will be performing 333 shows on 243 days, and travel with 230 staff members from 14 countries and 80 animals that daily need a whopping 700 kilos of straw. It tours on two special SBB trains and more than 70 camper vans, clocking up around 2791 kilometers by train and 3500 by road. A five-strong kitchen crew will prepare more than 43,000 hot meals, 22'000 breakfasts and 5000 snacks during the entire season. Not bad, right?

Circus Knie - Circus Wagons

Impressive are also the living quarters of Circus Knie.

Lined up closely behind and next to each other, the circus wagons build a temporary mini town. A mini town that includes an own repair workshop, laundry, saddlery, office, canteen, fire engine, school and zoo.

Circus Knie - Fire Engine

A mini town that sometimes stays only for two days, sometimes up to five weeks at the same place. At times the living quarters are right next to the circus tent, on other occasions it is set up in the outskirts of the town.

Like in Zürich, where the living quarters are a 20 minute train ride from where the actual circus magic is happening on Sechseläutenplatz. (It is not always easy to find a space that accommodates 30‘000 m² for the entire circus entourage and setup.)

We visit the living quarters two hours before the afternoon show starts.

Circus Knie - Living Quarters

It is quiet. A few kids cruise around the wagons with their bikes, but otherwise it is quiet. It seems to be a very relaxed place. I get told that - especially at night, after the evening show finishes – there is this special "camp feeling".

Celebrating the togetherness, the success of the past shows, the close sense of community while being on tour together. But now, two hours before the show, it is just a quiet and relaxed place as the artists are getting ready. Ready to take the tram to go the tent. Ready to perform.

Down at the circus, the vibe is a lot different.

You can feel the excitement in the air. You can smell the popcorn and the animal scent. You can see the crowd slowly arriving. The show will start in less than half an hour. While the circus visitors soak up the pre-show vibes, the circus staff are vigorously ensuring that everything will just be perfect.

Circus Knie - Repair Workshop
Circus Knie - Chanel pony is getting ready for the show

The technicians are checking the light and sound system.

Cirkus Knie - Technicians checking

And the bar crew is stocking the fridge with soft drinks and ice cream.

Circus Knie - Swiss National Circus

The animal keepers are braiding the horses' manes, cleaning the camels' fur and getting the goats ready.

Circus Knie - Cheeky camels' back

Meanwhile, the Chinese acrobats are doing handstand warm-ups.

Circus Knie - Chinese acrobats

It is still not as hectic and frantic as I had anticipated, but I like the relaxed concentration and professionalism of the circus staff. They are collected and calm, but you can tell they are excited to perform. And so is the crowd: Many little faces glowing with anticipation and nervously waiting for the ringmaster to exclaim: "Manege frei!" (Clear the ring!)

Circus Knie - Performance (Nicolas Senn)(Photograph copyright Circus Knie/Nicolas Senn)

And then, the show finally starts. The crowd is in awe by the incredible performances, and the comedians have everyone in stitches. But young and old alike will agree after the show that it is truly the youngest generation of the Knies that wow the crowd with their skills, charm and charisma.

There is six year old Chanel impresses with her beautiful white pony. Her older brother Ivan (15) fearlessly stands on top of two galloping horses and her ten year old cousin Chris playfully performs with a herd of cheeky goats.

The future of Switzerland’s most admired circus family is undoubtedly in good hands with these talented circus princes and princess!

More information on the Circus Knie Tour 2017 (German and French only)
More information about the Knie dynasty

Circus Knie - Circus Wagons

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Nuria McCrea-Grifoll

Nuria’s life-long passion for language led into a (freelance) career in writing and communications consultancy. Switzerland is Nuria's beloved home country, but the world is her oyster. Nuria loves traveling near and far, even though these days, it means globetrotting with kids in tow.
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  • Jo Adams

    No animals should be used in a circus, they are not toys for our entertainment.

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