In the late spring of 1928 after the show closed, I signed on with a booking agency to find work as a hoofer. When I heard about a circus needing a girl to fill-in as the lion tamer’s assistant, I jumped at the opportunity. As a child, I buried my nose in stories about circuses, the sound of creaking wheels and the clatter of horseshoes as big colorful wagons trudged across country roads with acrobats, clowns, elephants–
In Germany circuses were banned from performing for most of the nineteenth century by the courts who deemed them vulgar entertainment. Then in the 1870s things changed with the popularity of street fairs. The end of the century saw a burgeoning of the circus in Berlin with clowns, acrobats and wild animals, but Berliners soon grew tired of pure spectacle and wanted something more exotic.
Frau Schneider, half of a vaudeville act until her husband died, knew how to appease their jaded appetites. She organized the Circus Schneider, an erotic circus located in a secluded forested area outside Potsdam. She put girls in skimpy costumes, artistes flying across the trapeze, gold-painted acrobats turning somersaults, flaming knife throwers aiming at pretty girls, maidens on horseback riding bareback and wearing no knickers. Each act a visual and stimulating treat for the jaded onlookers who wanted more than clowns and elephants. .
For my costume, Frau Schneider insisted I wear a crisp white blouse unbuttoned to the waist to reveal my lacy white brassiere underneath, camel jodhpurs and high black books. I was the bait in the lion’s cage to make the audience salivate with sensual anticipation while the big cats growled, pacing around me like nervous suitors.
I shivered, my wrists pulled up over my head and fastened to the iron bars of the cage, my blond hair frizzed by the lions’ hot breaths, my breasts heaving up and down. The audience cheered each time Jürgen cracked his whip, his white scarf whipping around him. He never thought about what may or may not happen in the cage, he told me, but that moment and nothing else.
I flirted with him, but his mind was always on his big cats. I knew something was bothering him, but he wouldn’t talk about it. He was unapproachable, possessed with a restlessness that induced him to spend all his free time with his animals.
Every movement I make in my act must be exact, he said, so that even if he were several meters away from a lion, one gesture, one step would command the animal to obey him.
I stayed on with the circus through the spring until a beautiful dark-haired girl showed up in Jürgen’s tent. Voluptuous, heavy gold belt pulled tight around her small waist, dangling earrings. Glistening black hair worn long, not bobbed. Her flashing dark eyes told me what I should have guessed:
Jürgen belonged to her.
To be continued tomorrow, May 22, 2009
Lady Eve Marlowe