The Gierke family is actually the family that contributed the most to the spread of cinema in Styria. With great curiosity and passion, Oskar Gierke was able to create a true empire, ensuring that the locals could fully enjoy this new, magical invention.
Exciting novelties in Graz
One of the most important pioneers of Austrian cinema is undoubtedly the director, screenwriter and film producer Louise Kolm-Fleck. Yet, since the origins of cinema, there have been numerous prominent figures within the Austrian film scene. One of these is undoubtedly Oskar Gierke, who from the birth of the cinematograph – and even many years before – did everything he could so that people could enjoy this new, revolutionary invention. But who was, in fact, Oskar Gierke?
Born in Dresden in 1863, Oskar was the son of Friedrich Gierke, who owned a small mechanical theatre in which numerous one-metre-high puppets composed – together with a clock-like mechanism that created special effects and set changes – short, increasingly sophisticated and elaborate shows. These shows took place mainly within marquees and rented spaces. So it was that Friedrich Gierke also came to Graz, a city that would be very important for his family in the years to come.
As an adult, Oskar Gierke first began to show his famous ‘living photographs’ around the country using a machine called a bioscope. These shows were immediately very successful and even those who lived far away from the city were able to attend these events, as Gierke used to drive his machine around in a horse-drawn carriage and show these small ‘representations of reality’ during exhibitions or events. The real revolution, however, was yet to come.
A few years after the invention of the cinematograph by the Lumière brothers (specifically in 1897), Oskar Gierke decided to buy one of these new devices for showing short films (as were all films made at the time) for three thousand francs. Thus were born Austria’s first travelling cinemas, in which the most famous films made mainly in France or even short erotic films (in which, however, there was also a welcome touch of irony) were shown, for a series of shows exclusively for adults.
As travelling cinemas were gradually being replaced by permanent theatres from the early 20th century onwards, Gierke too decided to find a permanent location for his now famous film screenings. So he settled in Graz in 1905, where he initially organised the first film screenings on a building site in the Annenstraße, building the first cinema in Graz the following year in the Jakominigasse (today’s Conrad-von-Hölzendorf-Straße), which was still called “Bioskop”, with about 300 seats. The management of this cinema was entrusted to Gierke’s daughter, Wilhelmine, who ran it until the year of her death in 1977, that is, for about sixty-four years.
In 1909, however, something another very important event in the history of Graz would take place. In this year, in fact, Oskar Gierke, after various bureaucratic vicissitudes, finally opened the famous Annenhof Kino, still today the largest cinema in Graz. This cinema could initially seat around 1,000 spectators and although the seats were initially not very comfortable, it boasted elegant interiors and a large auditorium. Oskar Gierke ran the cinema until his death in 1925, and it was later managed by his son Rudolf and his wife Martha. The rest is history. From the early 1980s the Annanhof Kino was enlarged and already in 1981 it was the only cinema in Graz that could boast two theatres. Its success was constantly increasing and, to this day, the Annanhof Kino, with no less than eight theatres, is still one of the most popular cinemas in town.
The Gierke family, therefore, is effectively the family that contributed the most to the spread of cinema in Styria. With great curiosity and passion, Oskar Gierke was able to create a true empire, ensuring that the locals could fully enjoy this new, magical invention. Even today, therefore, numerous spectators spend pleasant moments every day in the comfortable Annenhof Kino. Even today, this cinema is a true landmark of the beautiful city of Graz.