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The Kaiser-Panorama

Some existing Kaiser-Panorama and Fotoplastikon
Web Resources
Books and Written Material

The Warsaw Fotoplastikon
Forward to "The Golden Book of the Central Institute for Kaiser-Panorama" (original German text)
August Fuhrmann's own Description of the Kaiser-Panorama (original German text)
August Fuhrmann's Kaiser-Panorama Patents
Kaiser-Panorama 50-slide Cycles


The Kaiser-Panorama ("Imperial-Panorama", also: Welt-Panorama, Panorama International, Diorama Imperial, Photoplasticum genannt, Fotoplastikon) was a late 19c invention for the public display of stereo photographs. Up to 25 patrons could sit around the 3.75 metre circumference of the machine and be presented with a sequence of 50 stereo images at an individual Holmes style stereoscope viewport. The images were moved mechanically inside the machine and changed every 15 seconds or so. Once completed the sequence would begin again.

August Fuhrmann-Kaiserpanorama, 1880
Image derived from the Wikimedia commons image, see as a red-cyan anaglyph. Conversion to 3D using Anabuilder.

The first commercial Kaiser-Panorama was opened in 1883 in the Kaiser-Passage arcade on Friedrichstraße (and Behrenstraße) in Berlin by the physicist and entrepreneur August Fuhrmann (1844-1925). The machine had previously been publicly exhibited in 1880 in Breslau and Frankfurt. Wikipedia indicates that a 25 sided stereoscopic viewing structure had been presented at fairs from about 1866 by Alois Polanecky (1826-1911), though without any indication of an internal sequencing mechanism. Generally, stereoscopic peep-shows at fairs appear to have been popular during this period.

Reports indicate that the Berlin Kaiser-Panorama was a very popular attraction and queues formed to experience the 15 minute, 50 picture, "trip" ("Eine Reise"). Soon Kaiser-Panorama salons were opening in many towns throughout Germany, Austria and Europe. Vienna, Graz, Linz and Wiener Neustadt during the 1880s and 90s, Baden in 1900, Salzburg 1901; Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Mödling in 1902; and Sankt Pölten, Krems, Villach, Steyr and Wels in 1903. In Stockholm in 1889. It is estimated that at the peak of their popularity, around 1910, some 250 Kaiser-Panorama were in use.

An Example of the 50-image Kaiser-Panorama "Trip" (more)

Fuhrmann's company both produced Kaiser-Panorama machines for sale and regularly distributed sets of stereo images showing contemporary news items, travel, military or Berlin scenes. Fuhrmann organised a contingent of photographers to cover popular events and travel to all parts of the world, producing hand-coloured cycles ("Zyklen") in sets of 50 glass plates and distributed them on a weekly basis to the chain of licensed establishments (see Promotional material by Fuhrmann). Fuhrmann referred to the hand-tinting process as "Polychromiert", which gave rise to a muted but highly effective colouration - with correction for the artificial light sources used.

Original slide-set transport box with plates

Fuhrmann established a "Kaiser-Panorama Institute", based at the Berlin site, over time accumulating some 100,000 image pairs - "masterpieces of Art Photography". He was careful to stress the educational value associated with the Kaiser-Panorama and its popularity amongst the rich and famous of the time. Ever the publicist, he arranged for copper "time-capsules" of stereo plates to be buried under foundation stones of new buildings and monuments - "for future generations" (see Forward to the Golden book for Kaiser-Panorama Institute) and Senf (2000). 

Contemporary adverts (above) for the Kaiser-Panorama indicate that the entry fee was 20 pfennigs for adults and 10 for children up to 12 (Note 1). The pricing was clearly both popular and profitable. By way of contrast, a single Holmes card stereograph would have cost between 50 pfennigs for domestic scenes and one Mark for travel images - and a simple Holmes viewer about 3-6 Marks (from the Josef Rodenstock, Munich, optical equipment catalogue of 1888). 

After some 40 years of successful trading, inevitably the popularity of the Kaiserpanorama waned, in no small part due to competition from cinemas. Fuhrmann's company closed in 1923, somewhat before his death, but the operation continued renamed the Welt Panorama (World Panorama), under the direction of Viktor Lewe. The last Kaiserpanorama in Berlin closed in 1939. A small number of independent machines continued to operate after the Second World War, though without the centralised distribution of new images. 

These machines are now important historical artifacts, precursors to cinema and at the very beginnings of the mechanisation of popular entertainment. A small number of original, reconstructed and modern replicas exist and may be found across Europe (see below). 

In Poland, Kaiser-Panorama are called Fotoplastikon (Photo + Latin plasticus or Greek plastikós 'fit for moulding' - "moulded or sculptured light").

Some existing Kaiser-Panorama and Fotoplastikon 

The Warsaw Fotoplastikon:

The Warsaw Fotoplastikon

The Warsaw Fotoplastikon was originally built in 1905 and still operates today at the same location. It is not a Fuhrmann manufactured machine and appears to have been constructed locally to a pattern. It has 24 viewports (rather than 25 in the Fuhrmann design) showing 48 images. The Warsaw Fotoplastikon regularly exhibits historical and modern photographs and is open daily.

In conversation the former owner, Thomasz Chudy, indicated that the Fotoplastikon operated during the communist era, but that new stereo photographs were very difficult to obtain. Travel was highly restricted and the owners would present individuals authorised to travel with a stereo camera and film and asked to prepare a record of their travels. Consequently the Warsaw Fotoplastikon has a substantial collection of both original Fuhrmann images, as well as images from the 1950s and 60s.

In the Warsaw Technical Museum (Muzeum Techniki, Warszawa), a static display of stereoscopic craft and industry images:

Fotoplastikon, Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science, Technical Museum

At Schindler's Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland. An original 25 seat machine on display at the Museum, in the inventory of the  City of Krakow Historical Museum (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa):

25 seat Fotoplastikon at Schindler's Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland
Photo courtesy of Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa (more images)

In the picture room, Teylers Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

In the Märkisches Museum, Berlin (photo, description).

In the Museum Kinematografi, Lodz, Poland (photo).

In Poznan, Poland.

A restored 1903 machine in Wels, Austria. Some additional information and the restoration of this machine.

The Stereoscopic Theatre at the Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill, Australia. In use daily, it is re-assembled from a machine built in Germany in 1895 and last used in 1910.

In the Deutsches Techikmuseum, Berlin, apparently a modern reconstruction.

In the Dusseldorf Film Museum, an 11 seat reconstruction.

The Kaiserpanorama Foundation, a group from Celle, Germany, has re-constructed a 12 seat Kaiserpanorama from original plans and parts.

The Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville, Leicestershire, U.K. holds a dismantled Kaiser-Panorama in its inventory, apparently "Left in store temporarily in 1969 by a Polish gentleman for about two weeks but never collected. Ownership vested in County Council under Section 41 of the Local Government (Misc. Provisions) Act 1982."

A list of addresses for original and reconstructed machines can be found here.

Web Resources

A description and history of the Kaiserpanorama can be found here, from the "in the Jungle of the Cities" by Mark Hobbs. 

The Ignomini photographica site has a description of the Kaiserpanorama and shows a collection of original German stereographs by Fuhrmann's company from WWI. Includes a plate showing the separation of a polychromiert tinted plate and its matching black and white stereo image glass plate.

Bernd Poch "Das Kaiserpanorama. Das Medium, seine Vorgänger und seine Verbreitung in Nordwestdeutschland" (in German, tr. "The Kaiser Panorama - The medium, its predecessors and its distribution in North West Germany"). A comprehensive history of August Fuhrmann, the Kaiserpanorama and its precursors. Presents a range of contemporary materials and schedules.

Pelle Snickars, Book draft on film, Kasier-Panorama and stereo photography as part of its history (in Swedish). Chapter 2 describes the development of the Kaiser-Panorama ("Panorama International") in Sweden, two in Stockholm and one in Copenhagen, as well as a "traveling" machine in the south. He places this in the context of Fuhrmann's business and of the other forms of contemporary popular entertainment in Stockholm around the turn of the last century.  

Brendan Jackson, "Some Things We Choose to Remember Some Things We Choose to Forget", Leicestershire County Council. A description of various items in the collections at Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville, including a dismantled Kaiser-Panorama, originally used in Saltzburg. Also "Unearthing Stories" by Jackson.

The Kaiserpanorama Foundation, Celle, Germany.

The Wikipedia Entries: Kaiserpanorama (German), Fotoplastykon (Polish).

Books and Written Material

Jonathan Crary's 1999 "Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture", MIT Press. Uses a Kaiser-Panorama image on the cover and provides additional descriptive material and commentary (pp. 134-139). Crary argues that the Kaiser-Panorama may be one the first machines designed that mechanically holds the observer's attention - in a way that is now commonplace with film, TV, and computers, etc. Includes an image from Fuhrmann's 1890 British patent application for a 12-seat Kaiser-Panorama (p. 137).

Benjamin Walter 2006 "Berlin Childhood around 1900", Cambridge, MQ: Belknap Press. An autobiographical description of a visit to the Berlin Kaiser-Panorama by Walter as a child. First published (in German) in 1950.

Michael Bienert and Erhard Senf 2000 "Berlin wird Metropole: Fotografien aus dem Kaiser-Panorama" (German edition, tr. "Berlin Metropolis: Photographs from the Kaiser-Panorama"). Be.bra publishers, 144 pp. A biography of August Fuhrmann by Erhard Senf (pp. 8-15), and a description of Berlin in Pictures. 133 images, some stereo pairs (complete with glasses), but the majority full page (mono) polychromiert images of Berlin from the remaining Fuhrmann archive. 

Bucher Gruppe "Projektor: Filmprojektor, Beamer, Laterna Magica, Episkop, Tageslichtprojektor, Eidophor, 3d-Projektor, Kaiserpanorama, Laserpod" (German Edition, tr. "Projector: film projector, video projector, Magic Lantern, episcope, overhead projector, Eidophor, 3D projector, Kaiser Panorama, Laserpod"). Books LLC, 68pp.

Cornelia Fleer 1996 "Vom Kaiser-Panorama zum Heimatfilm: Kinogeschichten aus Bielfeld und der Provinz Westfalen (Schriften der Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau-Gesellschaft)" (German Edition, tr. "From Kaiser Panorama to the home movie: cinema stories from Bielfeld and the Province of Westphalia (writings of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Society)".) Jonas, 175pp.

Karsten Halbig 1992 Das Kaiser-Panorama Celle, Filiale von Berlin: [ein Beitrag zur 700-Jahr-Feier der Stadt Celle] (Schriftenreihe des Stadtarchivs Celle und des Bomann-Museums) (German Edition, tr. "The Celle Kaiser-Panorama, subsidiary of Berlin [A contribution to the 700-year celebration of the city of Celle] (Publication Series of the City Archives and the Celle Bomann-Museum)"). Stadt Celle, 66pp.

Karin Gaa and Bernd Krueger (eds.) 1984 "Das Kaiser-Panorama. Berlin um 1900. Bilder aus dem Berlin der Jahrhundertwende. Eine Ausstellung der Berliner Festspiele GmbH." (German Edition, tr. "The Kaiser Panorama. Berlin 1900. Images from Berlin in the last century. An exhibition of the Berliner Festspiele GmbH"), 56pp. A collection of essays about the Kaiserpanorama, the Kaiser Gallery, August Fuhrmann, references in literature, with contemporary reports and materials - illustrated with photographs from Germany around the 1900s. 


On a related theme, there is a Museum of 3rd Dimension in Dinkelsbühl, Germany, including stereograms, anaglyphs, 3D art, holograms, optical illusions, 3D equipment and related material.

The idea of the Kaiser-Panorama appears to have inspired a temporary work of art by Amy Walsh and Blaine Siegel, built from old packing cases and installed for one week (during July 2007) at Feeman's Auctioneers in Philadelphia. It does not appear to have had any stereographic content.

There seems to have been a four place, eight picture version of the Kaiser-Panorama for domestic use, using an oil lamp for illumination. From the Josef Rodenstock, Munich, optical equipment catalogue of 1888.

Model Kaiser-panorama

Very approximate translation: Nr. 7204. A fine Stereorama (using the Kaiser-Panorama) in which 1-4 people may see stereographs at the same time on soft ordinary art paper or glass, and can change the images automatically. It  is provided with an oil lamp for operation during the day or night. Finely lacquered and packed in wooden box, M. 36-.

Bigger Kaiser-Panoramas specially for show built to order. Estimates on request.

Finally, a coin operated mini-Kaiser-Panorama with eight veiwports seems to have been available for enterprising types with 900 Marks to invest (date unknown, from Gaa and Krueger, 1984).

Very approximate translation: Small Automatic-Kaiser-Panorama.

This apparatus is constructed entirely of metal, has a precision spring driven movement, which is wound every two hours. There are 8 places available with achromatic glasses. Money insertion shows 24 from 32 transparent glass stereos and then closes the glasses when the last picture has been viewed. Any form of  lighting on the inside. The money falls into the iron base, which is provided with safety lock. Packing boxes charged at cost price.

This highly crafted solid machine costs M. 900 and will be manufactured to order. Delivery time 8 weeks.


1) The average weekly wage of an industrial worker in 1871 was between 10 and 15 Marks, rising to 25 Marks in 1913 (Bry and Boschan 1960, Ch. 2, p. 51), suggesting that, as a percentage of a week's earnings (about 1.3%), the 20 pfennig cost was comparable to a modern cinema ticket.

Gerhard Bry assisted by Charlotte Boschan 1960 Wages in Germany, 1871-1945, UMI, National Bureau of Economic Research.