Bow Bridge, 11 August, 1936.
Therese Renz of the famous Renz circus dynasty, c. 1895. I’ve seen wonderful pictures of her in action (have you see the one where she and her horse are jumping rope?) but didn’t realise that she was a Berliner, and is buried just up the road from me in St Hedwig’s cemetery in Weissensee. She died in 1938. More essential to know, she used to tame elephants and was known as “the lady in white” when she performed at the Wintergarten variety theatre, which was destroyed by bombs just six years after Therese left this mortal sawdust ring.
Horse Nation have a brief biography, which makes her sound like a tough old bird, despite a difficult life:
Just as Therese was getting back to business, World War I would disrupt her comeback and leave her penniless, begging on the streets not for her own food, but anything people could spare to keep her two beloved elephants alive. After one died of starvation, she sold the second, her prized elephant “Dicky”, to another circus just to prevent him from suffering the same fate. Therese would yet again be starting over.
When the war ended in 1918, Therese was 60 years old, but that wasn’t going to stop her. She joined a troupe in Vienna in 1923, and continued performing well into her seventies on a mare named “Last Rose”, a fitting final partner.
The Thames at Lambeth, 1934. A barge is unloaded and the goods taken away by cart.Embed from Getty Images
Merry Christmas to you all! Here’s my If Wishes Were Horses festive quiz: count the health and safety horrors committed by “Little Miss Fearless” in this short Pathé video from
I’ve spent most of 2015 slogging away to finish book two, The Age of the Horse, which will be out at the end of August. More exciting news to follow on this severely neglected blog.
All best wishes
*Thanks to YouTube commenter Antarch for pointing this out.
The German tabloid Bild just broke a story about the huge statues of horses made for Hitler by the sculptor Josef Thorak. I’d just come across Thorak’s work while looking into the symbolic role of horses under the Nazis, and seen images of his workshop, and the hefty Aryan steeds he turned out. Thorak was the sculptor chosen by Albert Speer and Hitler to decorate their gross new capital city of “Germania” with its colossal domed hall and endless triumphal avenues.
I didn’t know that two bronze “Pacing Horses” by Thorak used to stand in front of the Hitler’s chancellery in the centre of Berlin, in a place now given over to DDR-era housing and a brand new shopping mall. Bild found an image of one of the statues in place, here, with the original piece in German. Getty has a shot of the Austrian sculptor in 1942, sketching a horse from life.
According to Bild, after the fall of Berlin and the destruction of the chancellery, the horses were taken to the small town of Eberswalde, just up the road from me. At least, this is where they were next seen, in 1950, on the playing field of the local Russian barracks. Over the years they were climbed on by kids, painted gold, shot at with guns, lost their tails and had them fixed again.
They were officially re-identified by the art historian Magdalena Busshart in 1988, but weeks after she published her findings in early 1989, they disappeared. Bild speculates that the sculptures were sold by either the Russian Army or the DDR authorities (or both, working together) in order to raise some desperately needed hard Western currency. Nobody heard anything of them until two years ago, when Busshart was told that if she paid a large amount of money, she would be told their whereabouts.
This week police busting an art-theft ring found the pacing horses in a warehouse in Bad Dürkheim in western Germany – a long way from Eberswalde. They were accompanied by two Klimsch sculptures from the Reichs Chancellery gardens and a four-story high granite relief by Arno Breker. Apparently the horses have been on offer on the blackmarket for between 1.5 and 4 million euros in recent years. Now a decision has to be made as to whether they belong to the federal government or to Thorak’s estate.
The last British pit pony retired astonishingly recently in 1999. Between the mid-eighteenth century and the very start of the twenty-first century, stout “pitters” (short-legged Shire crosses), Welsh cobs and British native ponies of all stripes hauled coal underground and above ground and worked pumps to keep mines from flooding. They were often stabled in the mines themselves. Conditions were grim in some (but not all mines) until the 1920s, when the Pit Ponies Protection Society was founded and began to make some legislative headway to improve welfare standards. Have a look at this section of Hansard, where pit pony health is discussed in detail in the House of Lords, including the problem of “roofing”, where horses and ponies suffered injuries to their withers and backs because the ceilings in some tunnels were simply too low.
Here are three Pathé shorts on pit ponies. This one shows pit pony races in Yorkshire, with twenty local pits racing their lads and ponies against one another. Doesn’t look like all that much fun for the ponies given some of the riding, but their lads seem proud of them. I love the bells on some of the ponies’ bridles, too.
And here is “Horses’ Bank Holiday” from 1952. It’s a reel of unedited, silent footage showing Tondu Veterinary stables in Wales, where some working “pitters” or cobs are being treated and turned out to gambol with rather stiff legs about the hills. I hope to have more info soon, but alas the British Pathé site is down.
This one is just a fragment: Welsh miners and their pitters come to the international horse show at Olympia in London. Some of the horses have been in work for twenty years, and they look pretty splendid scrubbed up.
My friend Robby runs the wonderful Retrokombinat, an Etsy shop full of finds from the flotsam and jetsam of twentieth-century Berlin. For my birthday he made me a card featuring one of a series of collectable science flyers dished out by the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper in 1931. It’s all about brain size, and as you can see, man is most definitely coming out on top here as far as the Berliners of the 1930s were concerned. I was reminded of it when I saw that Epona TV have just dug up an earlier series about the equine brain, which is not so tiny as you may have been led to believe. While on the subject of horse brains, you might also be fascinated by this blogpost from Equisearch, which explains why concussion is a lot rarer in horses than it is in us mega-brain, short-skulled humans. And why horses don’t wear helmets.