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The Passing of Georg Fricker
How Georg Fricker became the owner and operator of the last of Karlsruhe’s “picture palaces”

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Dr. Peter Kohl, Karlsruhe. © Date: 20.06.2008
Georg Fricker. Image supplied by Schauburg cinema, Karlsruhe, Germany

The great Karlsruhe cinema entrepreneur Georg Fricker is dead. He passed away last Saturday [07.06.2008] in a clinic near Munich. Though weakened by cancer and a stroke, he was still sometimes to be encountered, in his last years, as an almost anonymous member of the audiences in his own cinema, the Schauburg.

It has been four years since he handed over the management of this cinema to Herbert Born, who continues to run the old and much-loved Karlsruhe “picture palace“ in the style and spirit of his predecessor.

During the preceding 33 years, Georg Fricker had succeeded in making the Schauburg a Karlsruhe institution whose influence and example extended all across the country. And this despite the fact that conditions at the time of his taking over the cinema were far from auguring well.

The owner of the Schauburg, Willy Mansbacher, had just terminated the leasing arrangement with the firm “Olympic“, who had taken over the cinema in 1968 and transformed the large Schauburg auditorium into a Cinerama cinema with a screen designed for Todd-AO projection. Despite this new attraction, however, the operator had soon fallen into financial difficulties and was no longer able even to pay the rent for the building.

It was at such a critical moment, in 1971, that a young cinema enthusiast approached Mansbacher, who was already advanced in years and looking forward to complete retirement, and asked him whether it would be possible to rent an auditorium. Mansbacher, who had been struggling to keep the concern above water by showing the soft-porn features popular around 1970, replied that, though he wasn’t any longer interested in renting, “you can, if you want, buy the whole kit and caboodle from me“ – and so it was that Georg Fricker became the owner and operator of the last of Karlsruhe’s “picture palaces”.

Born in 1936 in Zsambek, near Budapest, Fricker had arrived in Germany as a refugee in 1946, when his family had settled in Bruchhausen, close to Ettlingen. Already at the age of 18, he was organizing cinema shows in an old gymnasium. A little later, he was touring through the small towns and villages of the region with a travelling cinema, while at the same time pursuing his profession as a salesman in the textiles department of Karlsruhe’s Union department store (later to become Hertie).

Cinema, however, remained his passion, leading him to take up a position as assistant to the manager at the “Pali“ in the Herrenstraße, where he learned all about the day-to-day running of a picture-house. Fricker took out loans in order to buy several smaller cinemas in the surrounding region, and also set up a workshop for the repair of film projectors. But his great period began with his buying of the Schauburg – an investment which appeared, at the time, to cinema-business “insiders”, to be a serious misjudgement. Following the principle of “learning by doing”, he set about making the cinema, which had teetered for so long on the edge of commercial collapse, once again a going concern and reorganizing its programme in such a way as to make it noticed all over Germany.

He included in this programme international “art-house“ movies and also provided a forum for the New German Cinema emerging in these years, even having the Schauburg architecturally reconstructed so as to be able to offer the greatest possible variety of cinematic fare. The gallery of the original large auditorium was separated off as the “Cinema”; and later the small “Bambi“ was built directly onto the lobby. Fricker took part in the founding of the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kino“, intended to help independent cinemas in Germany survive in the face of the giant cinema chains and film distributors. Each year the Schauburg receives honourable mention among those cinemas distinguished, since 1976, by the German Minister of the Interior for offering an annual film programme of especial excellence.

The cinema has consistently presented, and continues to present, to the public a programme that, besides the latest big releases, also includes a number of film classics and so-called “cult films“. Science-fiction fans have been able to enjoy there, in the form of all-night shows, several “Star Trek” movies shown end to end; showings of the evergreen “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are guaranteed to turn, each time, into a small “happening”; and classics in 70mm format have been showcased in the Schauburg with inimitable style.

A particularly big hit have been the Jazz Festivals, where all the auditoria, and even the foyer, play host to musical and other performances on into the wee small hours. The Schauburg has taken part in Karlsruhe‘s Kulturmarkt and Europäische Kulturtage, contributing several series of films to the latter. It has worked closely with the Badische Staatstheater, the city’s music school, and various other local cultural institutions. In the 1990’s, Georg Fricker introduced an annual series of themed film-weeks devoted to the cinema of specific countries.

In the summer of 1995 the Schauburg organized for the first time the Open Air Film Nights at Gottesaue Castle, one of the largest German open-air cinemas. Georg Fricker once again proved his infallible business sense in taking part in the bidding for the licence to operate a large-scale cinema in the immediate vicinity of the Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media (ZKM), eventually taking over the management of the project himself as equal partner with the Kieft Group. The Filmpalast am ZKM, which opened in March 2000, is currently developing, in a period where much of the cinema industry is in crisis, into one of Germany’s most successful larger cinemas.

Little, however, in the appearance or manner of Georg Fricker, who did not consider it beneath him to occasionally stand and take the tickets in his own cinema, betrayed to the uninformed that the man had indeed achieved such enormous success in business. Much more important to him than money was the respect and recognition of those around him and it was toward acquiring such respect that all his efforts were really bent. It would, indeed, be false to describe him as an easy person to get along with. He was, in fact, querulous and obstinate, a difficult and stubborn partner both in conversation and in negotiation who, when it came to his cinema, showed no willingness to compromise on any point. Those who succeeded in getting to know him better, however, got to know also a very generous and sympathetic side of Georg Fricker. It was surely this side as well which contributed to enabling him to make the Schauburg what it is today: one of Germany’s finest cinemas, and a place which, for many citizens of Karlsruhe, possesses an almost magical quality, having been associated with so many happy memories.
More in 70mm reading:

Wie Georg Fricker übernahm Karlsruhes letzten Kinopalast

Schauburg Cinerama, Karlsruhe, Germany. Home of The Todd-AO Festival

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Updated 21-01-24