"Opera and cycling in . . . Gelsenkirchen?!" Top 5 Page for this destination Gelsenkirchen by Nemorino

Gelsenkirchen Travel Guide: 43 reviews and 122 photos

♪ ♫ Das gibt es nur bei uns in Gelsenkirchen ♪ ♫

In 1958 the Austrian singer-songwriter Georg Kreisler (1922-2011), author of Lola Blau and the hilarious Opera Boogie, made a lot of enemies in this part of Germany with his song Gelsenkirchen, in which he portrayed this city as the home of "our unique fuel-democracy" where lovely black gases waft gracefully through the putrid air, where alcoholism abounds, the bed sheets are grey and soap advertising is pointless. People who live here a long time get cramps when they breathe, he sang, but most of them don't live very long anyway. And fulfilling the four-year plan means they see the sun once every four years. When a miner gets trapped in the mine he doesn't worry, because he knows they will dig him out when they need coal.

This clever, sarcastic song, which takes a lot of digs against Local Patriotism in general as well as Gelsenkirchen in particular, lasts 8 minutes and 29 seconds. It's on his album Everblacks, in case you want to hear it. Or you can click here to hear it on YouTube (and read the German text).

I don't know if I should admit this in public, but for many years all I knew about Gelsenkirchen was what I had learned from this song, and I was sure I would never visit such an awful place. Not being a soccer fan, I didn't even know that Schalke 04 was based there.

This state of ignorance might have persisted indefinitely except for the fact that in the year 2002 I really wanted to see Rosamund Gilmore's new staging of Puccini's opera Turandot, and it turned out she was doing it in Gelsenkirchen, of all places.

Gelsenkirchen?! I never even knew they had an opera house there. With some trepidation I booked my opera and train tickets (after checking that my health insurance was paid up) and set off.

Well, it was fine.

They really do have an opera house, the Musiktheater im Revier (MiR), which means "Music Theater in the (Ruhr) District".

Gelsenkirchen turned out to be a pleasant modern town, architecturally somewhat undistinguished, perhaps, but certainly very clean and healthy. This might have to do with the fact that the last lump of coal had been mined in Gelsenkirchen two and a half years before, and since then they have been busy manufacturing and installing solar energy panels.

By coincidence, premieres of two different versions of the same opera, Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi, were on the schedules of the opera houses in Frankfurt am Main and Gelsenkirchen for the same day, May 20, 2007.

The Frankfurt premiere took place as scheduled (a brilliant staging by Christof Loy, with baritone Zeliko Lucic in the title role), but in Gelsenkirchen the city council ordered the postponement of their opera premiere because they thought the local soccer team Schalke 04 might win the national championship. In Frankfurt the news of this got some laughs, because it seemed ludicrous that even an ex-coal-mining city would postpone an opera premiere for such a trivial reason.

Actually it turned out that Schalke 04 didn't win the championship after all, but by that time the premiere had already been postponed.

When I went to Gelsenkirchen a few days later I found out from one of the singers that the postponement of the premiere was not just a whim of a bunch of soccer-crazy ex-miners, but was necessary because whenever there is a big celebration in Gelsenkirchen it is always held in Kennedyplatz, which is the square right in front of the opera house, and if that had happened nobody could have gotten in to see the opera.

Update: In June 2010 Gelsenkirchen was one of ten cities in the Ruhr District that started Metropolradruhr (“Metropolitan Bicycle Ruhr”), which they say is “the biggest bike sharing system in Germany”. The other nine participating cities are Bochum, Bottrop, Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen, Hamm, Herne, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Oberhausen.

  • Last visit to Gelsenkirchen: May 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (11)

Comments (29)

  • blueskyjohn's Profile Photo
    Sep 5, 2015 at 6:10 AM

    Nice to see solar energy getting a foothold after the environmentally destructive nature of the coal industry.

  • Oleg_D.'s Profile Photo
    Oct 20, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    Huh, Germany also have some cities where people are working and where nothing to see! Although citizens should be lucky because they can listen opera.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    How lucky to be there when a tour of the opera house was happening. I would love to see their beautiful costumes!

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Apr 18, 2013 at 2:56 PM

      Dee, thanks for your visit to my Gelsenkirchen page. Glad you liked the opera house tour and the costumes.

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    Oct 14, 2012 at 4:57 AM

    Glad to hear the city is now called City of a Thousand Suns instead of City of a Thousand Fires.

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    Aug 12, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    I haven't heard fo Gelsenkirchen either because of the coal mines, the MiR or Schalke & World Cup, so will now know it as the, "City of a Thousand Suns." Thanks for the tour Don!

  • mikelisaanna's Profile Photo
    May 20, 2011 at 4:01 AM

    The opera house tour sounds interesting. I had heard about Gelsenkirchen due to Schalke and the World Cup, but knew very little otherwise.

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Jan 3, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    There seems to be a lot of culture and deep talent here for this town size. Great descriptions and pictures, and hope the operas pleased you.

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    Jun 10, 2009 at 6:23 PM

    The tourof the Opera House sounds really interesting. I would LOVE tosee the costume & make-up depts. Typical girl thing. So good that you are enjoying your cycling, Don. Its getting you around, for sure.

  • csordila's Profile Photo
    Jun 7, 2009 at 5:04 AM

    Once again a city, I passed many times by, but stopped sometimes only for short breaks. Laszlo

  • risse73's Profile Photo
    Mar 30, 2009 at 9:25 PM

    Love the Bauhaus style of that opera house! How lucky of you to get a tour that offers a closer look at the "ins" & "outs" of daily operatic production. Thanks for checking out my Boston page. Cheers! -Marissa-


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