History of Circus Williams 1945-1949
Carola Althoff was born December 1st 1903 in Bad Sassendorf, Germany as the oldest of eight children. Her father Dominik Althoff (*1882, †1974) owned Circus D. Althoff and was a famous horse trainer at that time. Carola and her siblings underwent a stringent training regiment at their father's and Carola Althoff, the first-born always had to lead by example. At age 3 she was already performing in the ring as the "world's smallest horse back rider". Her passion from early age on were horses, a passion she passed on to her children.
Carola Althoff married the artist Harry Barlay in 1931 and they founded their first own circus, Circus Barlay. They separated and Carola Althoff returned to her family's show. Beginning 1936 she and her brother Franz started managing her parent's circus. In 1941 she remarried German born jockey and animal trainer Harry Williams. The couple's children Jeanette and Alfons were born during World War II.
The years of the war meant a difficult time for the young family which lost almost everything during this time. However shortly after the war ended, they started touring again. Since Mr. Williams had a Britsih passport, the circus was able to travel again in 1945, only a few months after the end of the war, as “The Great Williams Circus Show”.
Circus Williams became the starting point for a lot of great circus careers in the years after the war. Famous big cat trainer, Gerd Siemoneit-Barum started working at Williams in 1946 before moving to Circus Barum. Heinz Geier, the latter owner of Circus Busch-Roland, worked as an animal keeper and Günther Gebel joined Williams in 1947. Heinz E. Baumann, a.k.a. Charly Baumann, discovered his talent as a big cat trainer at Williams in 1947 after saving the animal trainer Jean Michon during a lion attack.
Circus Williams was also very important for establishing normal life, especially for the carnival tradition in the destroyed cities of Düsseldorf und Cologne. Since most of the halls, gymnasiums and other large assembly places were destroyed during the war, social gatherings like carnival meetings etc. were held in the Williams big top in 1947.
Carola and Harry Williams started building an arena in Cologne in 1946. The building had a capacity of over 2,500 people and represented the largest public multi purpose building in Cologne after its opening in 1947. Obtaining building materials shortly after the war was more than challenging. Supplies were short and getting them lead to some rather strange barters. In exchange for building material the circus traded elephant excrements, which was then used as a fertilizer.
Carola Williams donated a little billy goat to the Cologne soccer team 1. FC Köln as part of a carnival joke. According to the legend, the little animal had a little stage fright and peed against coach Hennes Weisweiler, which resulted in its new name: Hennes. Its successor Hennes II was also donated by the Williams family. A goat is up to this day the mascot of the Cologne soccer team.
Carola Williams is nowadays a legend in the city of Cologne due to her contributions to the reconstruction of several buildings, such as St. Aposteln church and a hospital in Cologne and her charity work.