On March 27, Robert Birk woke up to discover that all 300 performers of his circus had died overnight.
Birk is the director of one of the few remaining flea circuses in Germany, whose tiny starscan pull small carts, rotate wheels and flip coins thousands of times of their own weight. According to the Associated Press, the gripping cold in the country wiped out his entire troupe.
Birk told BBC that this is the first time a whole circus has fallen victim to the cold. He said it is hard to know what temperatures are fatal for fleas and that he had a “very difficult moment” when he discovered their death.
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A university insect expert, Professor Heinz Mehlhorn, came to Birk’s rescue. According to BBC, Mehlhorn provided about 60 new fleas in time for a performance at an open-air fair in the western town of Mechernich-Kommern on Sunday, leaving Birk scrambling to train the new recruits.
A YouTube video shows that the trick lies in carefully tying thin gold wires around the fleas’ necks, which usually remain attached for life. According to the Washington Post, flea performances were very popular some 150 years ago and they could still be seen in New York in 1957. But now only a handful of such circuses remains in business.
Birk said the new performers are not as energetic, according to the BBC, but he is determined that the show must go on.
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