German clubs raise Kiwanis’ public profile with a successful signature project. Welcome to the circus!
Photos by Hardy Müller
Reporting by Isabel Alvarez and Hardy Müller
Willkommen in Heilbronn. Willkommen im Zirkus! Welcome to Heilbronn. Welcome to the circus!
Step into the tent for a behind-the-scenes peek inside the Kiwanis Circus Palace.
Janaan is here. She’s a 13-year-old refugee from Syria, and this is her first visit to the circus. Her favorite part? The horses. She smiles and says, chukran bezaaf, which means thank you in her native Arabic.
Nalan Demir is here with her son, Mehmetcan. They are Turkish and living in Germany. Nalan is a teacher of languages and mathematics and brought children from her school to the circus.
In its second year, the Kiwanis Circus Palace is the brainchild of the Kiwanis Germany District, a fully loaded, hands-on project bringing 11 clubs from Division 18 together to bring joy to thousands.
“It is an event for children, that is important—for children!” says Günter Wohlfarth, lieutenant governor Division 18. “We can enable people to go to a circus who have otherwise no money for it. Everybody gets a box lunch, popcorn, drinks and every child gets six Kiwanis coins, which they can use to buy something. I think there is no event like this in the world. It’s fun. No … it is a pleasure, absolutely.”
Uwe Deuster is here too. As this year’s organizer, he has his hands full with last-minute preparation for what comes next.
“Today, or within the next days, we turn donations of 30,000 euros over to social organizations,” he says of the money raised through ticket sales. “And when you look into the happy eyes of the children, that’s the profit, that is the incentive to take action.”
Modern clown and comedian César Dias was in Heilbronn last year for the first Kiwanis Circus Palace.
“It is great and very fulfilling for my work when I see that the children like my show,” says the fourth-generation circus performer. “To make children smile is great for a comedian. Children are the most demanding audience, more than adults. You think children and clowns, that works. But that’s not true. It is more difficult to reach children by doing comedy.”
Most days, circus presenter and singer Fabian Egli can be found in the theater as a musical and opera singer—this circus thing is just a sideshow for him. But he loves every second of it. “(It’s a) great atmosphere,” he says. “When the people have fun, I’m having fun too.”
Ten-year-old Jona is enjoying the circus too. He lives right here in Heilbronn. He loves the sea lions, especially when they flap their flippers, which he says is “very funny.” He also loves the Chinese acrobats with their stunning high jumps.
He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the hard work of about 60 Kiwanis volunteers in Germany, who put in countless hours to stage such a large-scale event. Kiwanians, like Uwe Deuster of the Weinsberger Tal e.V. club.
“I joined Kiwanis because I wanted to do more than other people … to do social work is meaningful, good and necessary,” says Deuster.
In all, Kiwanians provided free entry to about 2,500 guests, mostly to large families, children from orphanages and school groups, says Günter Wohlfarth. That’s a lot of children and families enjoying everything from high-rope acrobats and flying artists to exotic animals from all parts of the world. Oh, and music and clowns, of course.
After the circus ended its first run in Heilbronn in 2014, Alexander M. Duecker of the Kiwanis Club of Heil-bronn St. Kilian had this to say: “We proved that it is possible to achieve goals that are regarded before as more or less impossible. Everybody in our division can be proud of the results; many of us made new friends from other clubs and appreciated the work of our fellow Kiwanians.”
It’s difficult to measure which performers garnered the most ooohs and ahhhhs, but it goes without saying that the audience had to catch its collective breath as the Duo Vanegas took to the Wheel of Death. And as contortionist César Pindo folded himself into a human origami piece.
It was Pindo’s first time at the Kiwanis Circus Palace in Heilbronn.
“I like it really much, and the show is of great quality because numerous great artists from all over the world perform in one show,” says Pindo.
And about those moments when the audience members are catching their breath? The Wheel of Death was a popular answer when many were asked to pick a favorite moment from the circus.
“Yes, it is a dangerous show with a high risk, lots of adrenaline,” says Wheel of Death performer Alejandro Vanegas, who performs with his nephew, Michael Ricardo Daza Vanegas. “It is very popular with children because of the danger.”
This story originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Kiwanis magazine.