Who We Are
We are The Circus. Across all three houses – the apartments, the hotel, and the hostel – we have one main concept, a service-orientated approach to hospitality that emphasises the social nature of travel and a desire for sustainability in all aspects of the business.
At The Circus, we want people to come together, to feel welcome in comfortable space and to make themselves at home.
The Circus Hostel, Hotel and Apartments, are owned and operated by The Circus GbR, a private unlimited company established in Berlin 1997, owned by five shareholders who all represent the company fully and individually with unlimited signing rights. All five are working at different places in the company full time.
The Circus Holding GmbH, listed at the Amtsgericht Charlottenburg under the registration number HRB 90977 since 2002, holds a part ownership in Brewers Best of Berlin GbR, established in 1997 by Terry Brewer to offer high quality guided city tours in Berlin.
We have put together a timeline of the history of The Circus with the key dates and events. Below you can read a more detailed telling of our story.
History Part 1. Brief History:
1997 – The first Circus Hostel opens its doors on the street “Am Zirkus”, from which the hostel takes its name. The hostel has space for 40 guests.
1999 – The Circus moves to Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße and a 90-bed hostel, reflecting the ever-increasing demand during the first two years of the company’s existence.
2001 – Further expansion comes with the opening of the hostel at Weinbergsweg. The two locations can house over 300 guests in accommodation ranging from dorm rooms to roof-top apartments with ensuite bathroom and kitchen.
2006 – Further renovation of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße hostel is undertaken in time for the Football World Cup, hosted by Germany.
2006 – The hostel on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße is sold, and plans are begun to open The Circus Hotel.
2008 – The Circus Hotel on Rosenthaler Straße opens its doors, on the other side of the Rosenthaler Platz from the hostel at Weinbergsweg.
2010 – The Circus Hostel is closed for three months to undertake a complete renovation, including new interior design and infrastructure. With the re-opening, The Circus now has two fully renovated houses on Rosenthaler Platz, with room for over 350 guests.
2011 – The Circus Apartments are opened, offering 22 luxury boutique apartments for 2-6 people, aimed at those requiring more space or the facilities for longer stays.
2013 – At The Circus Hostel the entire ground floor is redesigned to include a new lobby and lounge space and the opening of a new gastronomic concept, the Katz & Maus Café & Bar. During the year The Circus GbR also completes the purchase of the hostel building at Weinbergsweg 1a.
2015 – The in-house microbrewery, Circus Hostel Brewing Co., opens its doors in the downstairs area of the hostel. It serves our very own seasonal beers for our guests to enjoy.
Before we begin – a word from Andreas Becker, co-owner and founder of The Circus:
“Looking back on it now, I remained as convinced as I ever was that our journey, from a group of punk-like chaotic adventurers with a lot of passion but little clue, to a respected and well-established company that is hosting thousands of people every year, is one of the most unlikely and entertaining stories that I ever came across. Perhaps it was only possible here in Berlin, at this time in the city, when the unimaginable became the rule. Every time I am asked to tell the story of The Circus, to our guests or the media, to friends and business partners, I have to shake my head in disbelief as I reach the end of our own story. ‘Is that really how it happened?’ I ask myself, and when I consider that it really is the journey that we undertook, a big smile forms across my face.”
– ANDREAS BECKER, founder and co-owner of The Circus
Between 1991 and 1997 Andreas Becker made many trips, part of a personal journey in which he was searching for something more interesting and fulfilling than his studies in Business and Psychology. As semesters in stuffy seminar rooms gave way to backpacking trips across continents, the idea of The Circus was born. On his trips Andreas stayed in any number of hostels, hotels and guesthouses, and he was increasingly of the feeling that there had to be a better way to provide for travellers than the options that were out there. This conviction was all the impetus he needed to kick-start a new project.
Berlin in the ‘90s
In 1997 Andreas got together with three friends – Ansgar Meemken, Peter Löllmann and Helge Duijkers – and with approximately DM60,000 (€30,000) in their pockets they began their search for a suitable building. It was not a lot of money, but more importantly they had a conviction that something could be achieved, and a determination not to accept the apparent impossibility of what they were trying to do.
The turning point came when the partners came in contact with the WBM, one of Berlin’s municipal building associations (Wohnungsbaugesellschaft). This was a unique period in the city’s history, as during the 1990s the WBM was in control of a large number of buildings that were in the process of being transferred back to their original owners or their descendants. These were mostly Jewish individuals or families who had property confiscated during the Nazi dictatorship. Oftentimes this was a slow process, and so the WBM in managing the property offered short-term (up to two years) rental contracts to keep the buildings occupied, and as such they often became home to a variety of temporary projects.
Indeed, it is fair to say that countless creative, unconventional and sometimes even crazy projects would not have got off the ground in ’90s Berlin without the work of one single woman at the WBM: Mrs Weitz. More than anyone else she influenced the atmosphere of the neighbourhood by using the discretion her role offered to its fullest extent. The first Circus Hostel was one such project, and the partners were offered a temporary rental contract for a building on the corner of Reinhardtstraße and Am Zirkus, providing not only a home for the project but the name as well.
1997 – Opening the Doors
The four months following the signing of the contract was characterised by a lot of hard, painstaking renovation work to get the hostel ready for opening. Friends, family and university colleagues worked for free, along with the ever-patient builders. By Easter 1997 The Circus Hostel was ready, with forty beds waiting for the first guests and the opening chapter of a story that remains to this day as fascinating, unbelievable and exciting as it did back then.
The first travellers through the door were a pair of Danish girls and three days after the opening the hostel was fully booked. It was clear from the beginning that there was a demand amongst visitors to Berlin for a place run with The Circus ethos and atmosphere, and it is a demand that has remained undiminished over the past decade and a half, for which The Circus remains extremely grateful.
Over the first two years The Circus expanded to 58 beds, filling all the available space, all the while the owners and staff did battle with burst heating pipes from the 19th Century coal-fired system, the overdue bills from the building and renovations before opening, and the changes that came about when two of the original partners left the company – Peter Löllmann moving to Spain, and Helge Duijkers who left to open a hostel of his own.
1999 – Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße
In 1999 dubious real estate speculators bought the original Circus Hostel building. Thanks to rising public interest at the time about the number of questionable real estate deals being made in Berlin Mitte, the new owners were motivated to pay inconvenient renters a significant sum of money in compensation for leaving a building before the end of their contract. It was this that made it possible for The Circus to expand to a new location on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße, across the street from the Volksbühne theatre.
The move allowed The Circus to expand to 100 beds in a building that was light-years ahead of the old hostel when it came to technical and structural standards. And in the new location the experience continued as it had before, with enthusiastic guests, happy owners, and a growing team that identified with The Circus in an exceptional way. It felt more like a home than a business
2001 – The Way To RosenthalerPlatz
In the two years following the move to Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße it was clear that Berlin was developing into one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. The growth was especially marked at that time in the low budget sector, and it was clear that the demand for affordable, clean beds in a friendly atmosphere was exceeding what The Circus could supply.
At this point Wilhelm Hilpert – a real estate owner from Southern Germany – enters the story. In his own headstrong manner he was undeterred by the unconventional nature of The Circus owners and was quick to realise the potential of the idea. He offered The Circus a building on Weinbergsweg, directly over-looking Rosenthaler Platz, in which the possibility to build one of Europe’s finest hostels was immediately apparent.
It was clear that this step in 2001 was going to be an extremely important moment in the development of The Circus. As plans continued for the new location, Ansgar Meemken left the company in order to concentrate on his career in his original profession, whilst long-term employees Christian Göppert and Andreas Digel became partners alongside Andreas Becker. In December 2011 the new Circus Hostel opened, and overnight the company grew to being able to accommodate 350 guests in the two locations. With the addition in the new house of a street café and a basement bar, The Circus had brought their concept of a truly modern hostel to reality.
This step was something of a risk, but it was met with undoubted success. In the years that followed The Circus became a member of Europe’s Famous Hostels and was chosen by the Lonely Planet Bluelist and The Guardian newspaper in the UK as one of the best hostels in Europe. Most of all it was the response of the guests that was so positive and remains to this day overwhelming.
2006 – World Cup Fever
In 2006 Germany was the host of the football World Cup, and this event gave The Circus the momentum to expand the Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße location to 150 beds. A restaurant on the ground floor was integrated into the hostel, and became home for both staff and guests during those unforgettable weeks of football celebrations.
2006 also saw further changes on the ownership structure of the company, with two further employees – Tilman Hierath and Andrew “Jim” Hadfield – becoming partners. One of the first steps that was taken was a decision to sell the Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße hostel in order to invest in a new project and start the next stage of The Circus Story.
2008 – The Next Chapter
The next chapter was to be a new budget hotel, with only private rooms but with a philosophy born out of the hostel and the idea that The Circus philosophy of hospitality could be applied beyond the classic hostel business. The development had become something of a priority for the company, and a move that the owners had become increasingly passionate about. The reason was the increasing demand from existing Circus guests for private rooms, which the hostel could no longer accommodate, and a desire through the hotel project to make space for adapting the hostel more to the needs of backpackers.
In the autumn of 2008 The Circus Hotel opened its doors across the square from the hostel on the Rosenthaler Platz. With 64 rooms and a restaurant on the ground floor, it certainly offered a different picture from the hostel, but the ethos of hospitality remained distinctly “Circus”. Designed by Sandra Ernst the hotel immediately won plaudits, being featured and recommended since opening by the New York Times, The Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald and many more media outlets. Even more gratifying has been the response of the guests, whose Tripadvisor reviews propelled The Circus Hotel quickly to the top of the ratings in both Berlin and Germany. Indeed, in every year since opening, the hotel has won Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice awards for being in the top three hotels in Germany.
2010 – Time For A Facelift
With the hotel up and running, and The Circus making new friends as well as welcoming old ones to the two houses across the square, the owners realised it was time for the hostel to be renovated. This was on the one hand a natural step considering the building had been operating day-in, day-out for nearly nine years, but also a recognition that the hostel industry had changed beyond recognition in the first decade of the 21st Century, and that The Circus needed to continue to develop to meet the needs of the modern traveller.
Sandra Ernst and her team began work on the interior and exterior design of the building, whilst the owners and staff used the three month closure of the hostel to re-vamp and re-develop the service concept for the re-opening. By Easter 2010 the new-look Circus Hostel emerged from the scaffolding, and once more the response from the guests was beyond expectation. Since the renovation, The Circus has continually been rated one of the top hostels in Europe by customers of Hostelworld.com (the number one hostel booking engine) and with an average rating of 94-95% that is almost unprecedented for a hostel of this size.
2011 – On The Choriner Straße
By the end of 2010 the two Circus houses faced each other across The Rosenthaler Platz, both fully renovated and in top-notch condition. New faces had joined the old hands in the team, and the company could have been expected to take a well-earned break after over five years of almost continual planning, development, building and renovation.
But that is not The Circus style. In early 2011 The Circus became aware of the possibilities of a new building around the corner from Rosenthaler Platz. Located on the quiet and leafy Choriner Straße, it was the perfect location for extending The Circus concept further, to include luxurious, serviced apartments. With the opening of The Circus Hotel the number of guests who were coming to Berlin for reasons other than classic tourism was increasing. Some came for longer periods, or because of their involvement in the art and music scene. Others were here for the fashion, film and cultural festivals. Then there were the families, who had grown up with The Circus from backpackers to city-breakers but now needed a little more space. To fulfil this demand, The Circus Apartments concept was developed.
Once more Sandra put her ideas and creativity into the interior design, whilst the inclusion of a small café and lounge on the ground floor saw old Circus friend, Rani al Rajji – a Lebanese architect – come over from Beirut to design the space. The Apartments, which range in size from 60m² to the spectacular four-person top floor apartment with 160m² of floor space and a 100m² roof terrace offering breathtaking views across the city.
2013 – Keys To Our Castle
During 2013 our attention turned back to Weinbergweg 1a and The Circus Hostel. Throughout the year Sandra and her colleague Julia Stone worked on a re-design and a re-imagining of the social spaces on the ground floor and basement of the hostel. This meant a new-look lobby and lounge and with it new services for the traveller, including special staff-led tours, and technical gadgets to rent. And then towards the end of the year, a new gastronomic space over two levels on the ground floor and in the basement. The Katz & Maus Café Bar not only sported a new look, but also a new food and drink concept based on local specialties and independent purveyors from the city, and a recognition that within the hostel scene as well as anywhere else, tastes have changed.
The biggest news of the year, and arguably the most important deal ever done in the history of the company, was the purchase of the hostel building by a new company – The Circus Weinbergsweg KG – 85% owned by the Circus GbR, with the remaining share held by long-term associate Wilhelm Hilpert. What this deal achieved was to secure the company for the long run, as well as creating assets and making the hostel independent from rents. But what was clear was that this step would not change our philosophy of travel, of hospitality, and of life.
2014 – We Dream Of Circus Beer
Nearing the end of 2014, there began a lively conversation, accompanied by many a beer, thinking of ways to improve the Katz & Maus Bar. We slept on it, woke up with hangovers, and the thought never left us.
With the help of our friends at unit-berlin, we gave the downstairs bar a very large makeover, and also installed our very own microbrewery. In the capable hands of our brewmaster Heiko, we are producing seasonal beers that we proudly brew in accordance to the German Purity Law for beer.
It seemed like the next natural step for the bar to get involved in the Berlin craft beer scene and make something that was handcrafted here at The Circus.
And Here We Are!
From a backpacker’s hostel to luxury boutique apartments and owners of Weinbergsweg 1a? Surprising? Perhaps. But any company is made up of individuals, and as people’s concepts, ideas and inspiration develops, so does the company. Without the need for outside investors, by maintaining a considered approach to development and growth, The Circus has been able to remain true to its roots. It remains the achievement of the company, which the owners and the staff are extremely proud of, that The Circus philosophy of hospitality and service remains the fundamental point around which everything else circles, whether the guest chooses a bed in a dorm, a private room in the hotel, or one of the spectacular new apartments. The Circus has room for them all.
And for the people themselves, there is the fact that so many guests became friends and friends became staff and many of them – Jared, Andrew, Lotte, Katrin, Paul, Chris, Sandra and so on and so on – became members of the management team which has made it feel oftentimes more like a family than a business. What’s next in The Circus story? We’ll have to wait and see!