Head in the clouds but feet on the ground

Bernhard Paul, Circus Roncalli, Cologne, German Entrepreneur Special Award 2018

Who doesn’t know the magical world of Circus Roncalli? Starting from nothing, Circus Roncalli founder Bernhard Paul has been making people happy for more than 40 years with always new and imaginative acts and routines, successfully combining art and commerce. The German Entrepreneur Award’s stellar panel of judges were enchanted by both the creativity and success of this business model, and have honoured the achievements of Bernard Paul with the German Entrepreneur Special Award 2018.

About the company

Year established 1976
Turnover 2017 25 mil euros
Employees 220 plus seasonal staff

A real circus from a bygone era is how Roncalli founder Bernhard Paul fulfilled a childhood dream in 1976. He was bitten by the circus bug as a boy when a travelling circus stopped off at his home village in Austria. Artistes in glittery costumes, elephants, zebras – young Bernard was fascinated. “I fell in love especially with the clowns, antiheroes who did everything wrong but were still adored.” One thing was sure: Bernhard Paul wanted to be a circus clown. After leaving school the Austrian went on to study design, had a mundane job as art director for a magazine, and collected everything that had anything to do with the world of the circus ring. “I bought an old circus wagon to put my collection in.” And before he knew it the then 28-year old had three wagons in his garden and had “founded my very own circus.”

I fell in love especially with the clowns, antiheroes who did everything wrong but were still adored.

Bernhard Paul


As often the case with a lost labour of love, as years went by the circus of Paul Bernhard’s childhood became “the most beautiful circus in the world. It was these very images in my head that were the key to success.” Roncalli is “a dream world that gives people a couple of hours of sheer happiness”. The first shows, in cooperation with André Heller, were rapturously received by the public and the critics. However, a short time later the two artists fell out. “There I was saddled with debt having to start all over again from scratch.” Paul muddled through, putting in appearances as a clown at events, but he never let go of his dream. “It wasn’t easy, but then again if it had been easy anyone could have done it.” Four years later Roncalli was reborn. Audiences were delighted with unforgettable acts like clown Pic, the legendary soap bubble artist. Since then the circus has gone from strength to strength: Roncalli continues to grow with ever new and creative acts and routines. When selecting the acts Paul relies on gut feeling. “I look for things I marvel at myself.” What’s more, even today the 71-year old performs in the ring as a clown, getting to know first hand what it is that sweeps audiences away.

Even while creative and magical dream worlds are his forte, Bernhard Paul lives in the here and now. “You have to stay up-to-date. You couldn’t really do the acts of 1980 today.” Today routines with holograms are popular, but there are no more classic animal acts. “In the old days animals used to be a part of it, but today they are an anachronism.” And despite a nostalgic appearance the circus is very much up-to-date: catering doesn’t use any plastic, the sausages are organic and food trucks offer the latest in street food. Meanwhile, the Roncalli world includes not just a circus but a variety show, markets, exhibitions and an events agency. In two years Paul wants to open the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” in Cologne, an experience museum with old and beautiful things from his collection where visitors are transported to a bygone era. Head in the clouds but feet firmly on the ground – that’s how it will be in future too. Paul’s three children are also active in the ring and will continue to manage Roncalli. 

Roncalli Unternehmensgruppe

Markus Strobl
T(0172) 829 39 80


The German Entrepreneur Award’s experts were astonished at the energy and creativity with which the 71-year old reinvents the circus time and time again and with great economic success. They also praised the artist’s social engagement: he supports a number of foundations and associations. For this truly artistic achievement the panel has honoured Bernhard Paul with the German Entrepreneur Special Award 2018. “The German Entrepreneur Award is crucial for fostering entrepreneurship”, says the Roncalli founder. “It’s a great accolade, not just for me but for the circus as a whole.”