For 15 years, Olivier Kruschinski has travelled to every match played by his team, FC Schalke 04. He has celebrated and suffered with them on the stands when they failed again to win the German Championship. He shared this passion for royal blue with his father and has passed it on to his own son (5). “The first trip after he was born” the 42-year-old says with a grin, “was to the registry office. No, it was straight to the clubhouse to register”. It must be true love. It is too. However, if anyone calls Olivier a Schalke fan, “I dispute this. I’m not a fan, I’m a Schalker!” DeinNRW (your NRW) met Olivier Kruschinski in perhaps the most famous city district in Germany.
Of course Olivier, who is also known as Oli4 in his home town, is, as always, behind his team. However, the people in Schalke are now even more important to him than the professional footballers in the stadium. In a city district that is known to every footballer in the world but where few of them have ever actually been. Kruschinski wants to change this and to make the sense of community in the home of club legends like Ernst Kuzorra, Fritz Szepan and Reinhard “Stan” Libuda strong again. For a number of years he has been taking groups of visitors around Schalke and taking them to the sites of the greatest sporting successes. At Halde Rheinelbe (Rheinelbe slagheap) and in front of the representative Jugendstil façade of shaft 8 of the former Consolidation Mine, he can provide at least as much interesting information about the history of the former mining stronghold. On other tours, whether on foot, by bicycle or by bus, he also gladly steers his fellow travellers past the other slagheaps in the city district. He likes the far-reaching view of the Ruhr area, which has been green again for quite some time, and the sites of industrial culture that are spread out across the entire landscape.
Of course, coal and football are inexorably linked to the history of Gelsenkirchen. Because the entrepreneur from Essen, Friedrich Grillo, brought tens of thousands of miners from Poland to the area 150 years ago. The tranquil town of Gelsenkirchen grew to become a sizeable city with 400,000 inhabitants. And FC Schalke 04 was essentially the first “Werkself” (works soccer team). Because 14-year-olds also worked in the mine by day in the 1930s and 1940s.
“Football then became the catalyst for them to clear their heads once a week”.
Today “only” 250,000 people still live in the city in the central Ruhr Area. Because mining disappeared and with it the miners. But the people took “their Schalke” with them, “which is why there are Schalke fan bases all over the country”, as Olivier Kruschinski knows. So when the whistle blows for a home game for the FC Schalke 04 Bundesliga team at Veltins-Arena, which to be precise is not in Schalke but rather at the geographic centre of Gelsenkirchen in the city district of Erle, this means a journey of several hundred kilometres for lots of fans.
Meanwhile, the plaster has been crumbling for years in the place where the club celebrated its greatest successes, where FC Gelsenkirchen Schalke 04 became German champions seven times. Wild grass is growing over the history of the legendary Glückauf-Kampfbahn stadium. Nevertheless, Kruschinski and his fellow campaigners in the “Schalker Meile” (Schalke Mile) project have succeeded in having a sign erected in front of the entrance with the blue paled gates saying “Ernst-Kuzorra-Platz”. Around the stadium, where young footballers kick about on artificial grass, two large-format photographs now commemorate the time when 70,000 people – after going to Sunday church, still wearing their hats, suits and ties - cheered for their heroes on the sidelines. Anyone who visits the slightly overgrown stands and closes their eyes for a moment can probably hear them and will suddenly feel that sense of unity that was felt back then. Because that is the moment when even non-footballers are hit by the magic of this forgotten place.
“In cities like Liverpool, a stadium like this would have long been a place of pilgrimage for football fans all over the world.”
The visitors that now accompany him on his “Mythos-Schalke” (Legend of Schalke) tour nod before they gather around and take photographs of Ernst=Kuzorra’s usual spot in the rustic clubhouse full of 1960s charm next door. They breath history. Club and city history. And when Olivier then tells of when, as a youth, he himself had the chance to serve a beer and a shot to his idol - the man who shot Schalke to the first German Champions despite having a hernia in 1934 - a little pride and awe also resonates with him.
At the same time, the city guide with the unusual tattoo on his leg and the relaxed, casual tone regrets that the potential of this city district and its moving history is only being recognised little by little. The much extolled Schalker Market is now a battered car park (“I never said Schalke is just beautiful”). The old railway line from Consol Mine, once the birthplace so-to-speak of the “Polacks and proletarians club” S04, is no longer in use. In places where industrial culture has long given way to nature again and been transformed into almost secret locations that invite you to explore.
The Church of St. Joseph is such a place. Because outside of Gelsenkirchen, hardly anyone knows the unique thing it has to offer. The church window opposite St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners, show St. Aloisius - with football shoes, football socks and a football. Olivier Kruschinski does not know of any other church that has anything like it. He even had the window tattooed on the calf of his left leg.
This sense of community, talking to people, is also important to Kruschinski when he goes to the stadium himself or taps his own beer at the evening market in the city of Gelsenkirchen.
“That was such a typical, crazy idea”
the 42-year-old says about the creation of GEsöff und GEbräu.
And then the fun became something serious. Because for Olivier, the idea of finally launching a Gelsenkirchen beer on the market again is “an affirmation of faith in the regional and local”, which has accompanied him his whole life. With the two cellar beers that are of course - as in the past - sold in brown “plop” flip-top bottles with the old Glückauf logo, Kruschinski and his comrades-in-arms wanted to take up the tradition of the former “Glückauf Bier”. This was brewed in the city district of Ückendorf until the 1980s, where Kruschinski now lives with his family in his grandfather’s old colliery house. Since then, there hasn’t been a single brewing kettle in Gelsenkirchen, which is why GEbräu und GEsöff are still brewed in Weserbergland. But Olivier already has (another) idea for this...
Three questions for Oli4
Schalker in heart
Olivier, you have 48 hours of free time. What would you definitely do with this time in NRW?
Olivier: Right now? A whole weekend? That’s easy. In good weather, I would spontaneously jump on my bike and cycle the Ruhrtal-Radweg (Ruhr Valley Cycle Trail). I go on a cycle tour like that once a year with my clique. It’s fantastic. Cycling is great all over NRW, especially on the many disused railway lines.
Which place in NRW did you most recently discover for the first time?
Olivier: Oh my... that's difficult. I haven't done anything other than NRW for 20 years. But I can think of one thing: I was recently at Silbersee in Haltern for the first time. A day of that Beach feeling in the Ruhr Area was quite cool. I had often passed it on my motorbike, but of course with children you experience the area in an entirely different way.
Your personal favourite place in NRW?
Olivier: Easy, Schalke. Where else? But my favourite place to bie is essentially where I live. In Ückendorf, with a view of the Hohewart and Rheinelfe slagheaps right next to the old railway line. I can go for walks and cycle here. I am at home here.