Olivier Kruschinski in the stands of the Glückauf-Kampfbahn, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V

Schalk­er in mind, heart and hand

Olivi­er Krusch­in­ski - in Schalke, for Schalke

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 . “The first trip after he was born” he 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.

  • Olivier Kruschinski on a lawn with S04 logo, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V
  • Garages with S04 logo in Gelsenkirchen, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
  • S04 postcard close-up, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V
  • Quartiersbüro Schalker Meile, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
Halde Rheinelbe Gelsenkirchen Süd, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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.

Consolidation Colliery View of the winding tower from below, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

“Only someone who knows the past can understand the present and shape the future.”

The leitmotif of Olivier Kruschinksi

Consolidation Colliery winding tower, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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.

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“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.

St. Aloisius church window, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

“Because that is our DNA” the Schalker likes to say. “And we are proud of it.”

What Olivier says about the window in the St. Josef Cathedral

Olivier Kruschinski at Ernst Kuzorra's regular place in the clubhouse, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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Football Travel Guide by Olivier Kruschinski, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

All the more reason why the busy, committed local patriot, who has also written a football tour guide and and founded the label "Echte Legenden" on the side, is delighted that “the seeds are slowly putting down roots”. Since the Schalker Meile (Schalke Mile) project in 2006 began with this commitment to the city district, fan initiatives have been set up here again. Signs were replaced, façades painted. Almost the entire street – with the exception of one yellow building - is blue and white. At the headquarters of the Schalker Meile (Schalke Mile) project, there are scarves and shirts with the shaft tower and slogans like “One city, one greeting! Glückauf from Gelsen” (Glückauf is the traditional German miners' greeting).

“All hell breaks loose here before home games."

The Schalker come back to Schalke, gather at the Church of St. Joseph, where a blue and white wall of fan post, scarves and jerseys bear witness to the bond between the people, their city and the club. And they celebrate in a friendly manner with the fans of the opposing team.

Olivier Kruschinski, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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. 

Fa­vour­ite Spots & Tips from Oli4

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