Circus Williams in Germany

Circus Williams
Circus Williams winter quarters.
Circus Williams winter quarters.


Owner 1946-1951: Harry Williams
1946-1968: Carola Williams
Closed down1968
Address 116 Aachener Strasse, Muelheim
Place Cologne
Country Germany
Website Website


Key People: Peter Balder (animal trainer)
-1957: Henry Schroer (animal trainer)
-: Holdy Barlay (animal trainer)
-: Ronny Lorch (animal trainer)
-: Horst Schröer (animal trainer)
-: Fred Petoletti (animal trainer)
-1960: Alfons Williams (animal trainer)
-1968: Jeanette Williams (animal trainer)
1946: Heinz Geier-Busch (animal trainer)
1947-1951: Charly Baumann (animal trainer)


Elephant department

Head keepers
of elephants
1956-1968: Gunther Gebel-Williams
(elephant trainer)

Elephant keepers 1947-1956: Gunther Gebel-Williams
Record history
History of updates2023-11-26

Latest document update2023-11-26 13:33:37
Relevant literature
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Circus Williams, located at 116 Aachener Strasse, Muelheim, in Cologne, Germany , was founded in 1946. Circus Williams closed down in 1968.

Comments / pictures1941: Harry Williams (1902-1951) and Carola Althoff (1903-1987), daughter to Dominik Althoff married. Together they had the children Jeanette Williams and Alfons Williams. (Carola Althoff was married before to Reinhold Kwasnik, artist name: Harry Barlay, and together they founded (Circus Barley. In her first marriage Carola had the son Holdy Barley.)
1946: The circus Williams was founded by Carola and Harry Williams, with help from Dominik Althoff. But Harry Williams british citizenship was also a help for the pair to fund a circus right after the ending of WWII.
1946: Circus Williams hired fifteen-year-old Gerd Siemoneit to work as an animal keeper, he became later one of europes most famous animal trainers, and owner of Circus Barum. Heinz Geier, who would later become the Director and owner of Circus Busch-Roland, started as an animal keeper with Circus Williams.
1947: Carola also adopted Gunther Gebel, abandoned by his mother when he was 12 years old. Gunter was born 12. September 1934 in Schweidnitz, Silesia, as son to scenic carpenter Max Gebel and theater seamstress Elfried Gebel. Max Gebel joined the Wehrmacht and after the world did not stay with Elfried anymore. During two weeks in 1947, Elfried worked as seamstress at Circus Williams, but she left Gunther in the care of the Williamses as an apprentice with a five-year contract. Gunther learned abouth horses from Harry Williams, and about large carnivor training from Charly Baumann and Gerd Siemoneit.
1950-12-22: During christmas engagement for Tom Arnold at the Harringay Arena in London, Harry Williams had an accident, he was violently ejected from his chariot.
1951-01-10: Harry Williams died of his injuries.
1951: Carola Williams leased her circus to Harry Barley, and sent Gunther to her brother, Franz Althoff, from whom Gunther learned how to train elephants.
1952: Carola took charge of her circus again, together with her brother Adolf Althoff, and she gave more resonsibilities to her adopted son Gunther Gebel-Williams, while her own children was not traveling with the circus due to their education. Gunther improved his elephant training from Adolf Althoff.
1956: Adolf Althoff left the circus, and 22 years old Gunther now took over the elephants from him. He also developed further with horses, being schooled by Carola’s father, Dominik Althoff (1883-1974).

Circus Williams in Germany Germany

1956: Gunther Gebel-Williams at Circus Williams 1956 in Erlangen in Germany
1960: Alfons died in a car accident in Belgium.

1956: Circus Williams toured Sweden in association with Kate Bronnett’s Circus Scott, under the title Cirkus Scott-Williams
Circus Williams in Germany GermanyWilliams Elephants in 1959
Circus Williams in Germany GermanyWilliams Elephant tent in 1959

Circus Williams in Germany Germany
Circus Williams in Berlin, 1960

1961: Carolas daughter Jeanette married Gunther Gebel, who changed his name to Gunther Gebel-Williams.

Circus Williams in Germany Germany

Circus Willams elephants and Gunther Gebel-Williams

1961: The circus had 11 elephants, showed in the ring by Gunther.
1962: Gunther trained an act with the african elephant Kongo and his trusted tiger Bengali.

Records about Circus Williams from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at
In 1963 in Turin Willy Togni presented with Gunther Gebel (later Gunther Gebel-Williams) a Group of 26 elephants, they united the Williams and Togni elephants in a single act. 11 of them were from Williams, the other owned by Togni: This is one of the largest ever elephant presentations for a single routined act in a same space.

Circus Williams in Germany GermanyThe peoples in the ring are the brothers of Enis Togni, Bruno Togni and Willy Togni, their father Ferdinando Togni and Gunther Gebel Williams. This was also the world premiere of the Togni-Castilla-Williams association of Circo Americano (the name existed in Spain by 1956, but as a one-ring by Castilla).
Raffaele De Ritis, Italy.

1967: Jeanette Williams and Gunther Gebel-Williams divorced, and Gunther married Sigrid Neubauer (born 8 September 1943), a former model from Berlin, who had the daughter Tina (born 16 November 1962 in Berlin) from an earlier marriage.

In 1968 Circus Williams were famous for one of the best animal acts in Europe

From "The Greatest Showman on Earth," Sports Illustrated, 09/26/1977
As Gebel-Williams' fame spread, so did his horizons. John Ringling North was the first to approach him about transferring his animal acts to America, but the timing was wrong. "I was too young," Gunther says. "When Irvin Feld came, I was somebody."

In the fall of 1968 Gebel-Williams flew to San Diego to see The Greatest Show on Earth for the first time. He remembers noticing how fat the elephants were, how they seemed to enjoy being inside the buildings and the train cars. It was good that nobody was skinny, he thought. Everybody was well fed. When GG-W returned to Germany, Schroer remembers him sitting down and thinking for a long time. Finally he stood up and said, "It is O.K. We go."

1968: Carola Williams rented out the circus to Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baileys in USA, and the entire circus went over the Atlantic ocean with the Swedish containership "Atlantic Saga", with 17 elephants, 9 tigers and 25 horses. This became the Ringling Red Unit, and Circus Williams did not exist anymore.

1976: Franz Althoff Jr son to Adolf Althoff and nephew to Carola founded Circus Williams-Althoff, but this circus was later renamed to Moscow circus.
1987-11-11: Carola Williams died in Cologne, 84 years old.
1991: Jeanette Williams founded the German National Circus Williams-Althoff, Ltd, touring short time in USA and later giving punctual circus shows.
2007: Jeanette Williams daughter, Caroline Williams, gave birth to the son Dominik Williams.

References for records about Circus Williams

Recommended Citation

Koehl, Dan (2024). Circus Williams, Elephant Encyclopedia. Available online at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

Circus Williams on

Circus Williams is mentioned on Elephant News:

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2021-11-13The list of elephant people is growing! - Elephant News

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