Velodrome

The Kerkrade-Herzogenrath Sports Arena in Nieuwstraat in the 1930s (Herzogenrath City Archives)

Cycling experienced a boom around 1900, with velodromes appearing everywhere. The velodrome on Neustrasse was very special at the time. German and Dutch cycling enthusiasts jointly founded the Wielerbaan Nieuwstraat Foundation on the Kerkrade side, with its headquarters in Hotel Germania on Nieuwstraat (number 146). In 1932, work began on drawing up plans for the velodrome. Construction started in the following year, directly opposite Hotel Germania on the German side. The concession was granted through the German Cycling Federation, so the track was built on the German side. One reason that a German licence was preferred was probably that Kerkrade mayor Habets wanted to limit opening hours, but that would have caused problems with the well-known 6-day race. However, it was these very races that brought in the most money. Financing to build the track came from private sources, mainly Dutch shareholders. In the end, the work cost around 60,000 German Marks.

The world-famous German course designer Clemens Schürmann from Münster was brought on board for the build. He designed a 200-m long, 6-m wide wooden velodrome, with a covered grandstand providing seating for around 6,000 spectators. This made it the second largest open wooden velodrome in Germany at the time, and one of the fastest and most modern tracks in Europe In total, the track covered around 6,500 m² and could also host other sporting events such as boxing matches.

The official name of the velodrome was Sport-Arena Kerkrade-Herzogenrath. The track was officially opened on Saturday, 6 May 1933. About 2,000 visitors were present when Mrs Huijnen, wife of the director of the Kerkraadse Handelsbank, fired the starting pistol for the first cycling race. Three months earlier, Hitler had seized power, and the shockwaves could already be felt in sporting activities. Participants of foreign origin in sporting events were limited to a maximum of 30%, so the Dutch locals were increasingly excluded.

The last race took place on 16 August 1939, after just 16 races and a boxing match. It was only open to invited guests. Hermann Schild set a new hour record by covering 43,298 km. The Hitler Youth then took over the grounds for their marches and exercises.

In May 1940, the velodrome was used as a gathering point for the German army, which waited there on the night of 9 May for the order to invade the Netherlands. On 10 May 1940, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands. During the war, the velodrome was hit by several shells. The velodrome could have been used again after the war: in fact, Kerkrade cycling enthusiasts already had plans for it, but the German population plundered the wood for fuel. They needed it much more than a velodrome.

The Herzogenrath administration had hired a guard to prevent further looting. But this guard was beaten down by looters at night. In the end, only the shell of the building remained.

In 1952, the rest was demolished by order of the city of Herzogenrath. During this demolition work, a worker was seriously injured and taken to the Bardenberg hospital with broken arms and legs and severe head injuries. In 1962, the metal construction company Thevis was built on the former site. Now only the street name “An der Rennbahn” on the German side reminds of the sports arena Kerkrade-Herzogenrath.

Gunfight with fatal outcome

Directly opposite the cycling track on the Dutch side was the Hotel Germania. On 12 January 1933, the Kerkrad cycling club “Ren- en Supportersvereniging Roda” was founded there. Otto Gerards was treasurer there. He was German, married to a Kerkrad woman and lived on the Kerkrad side. His wife, who was 10 years older, brought 5 children into the marriage, and together they had a daughter who was about 8 years old at the time.

Otto Gerards – first row standing, with hat in his right hand (Photo: Zomerplaag-ter Horst family, granddaughter O. Gerards)

On Thursday, 10 August 1933, the cycling club had an event at the racecourse and Otto Gerards also made his way to the cycling arena. He met the Herzogenrath policeman Joseph Mommertz there, who was there in plain clothes. They had a short chat. Some time later, when O. Gerards was under control in front of the entrance to the cycling arena, J. Mommertz wanted to handcuff him. Otto Gerards resisted this. O. Gerards was wanted on the German side because of his political views (socialist) and alleged espionage. A scuffle ensued during which J. Mommertz shot O. Gerards in the stomach with his service weapon. According to tradition, Otto Gerards was lying on the ground on Dutch territory. J. Mommertz grabbed the severely wounded O. Gerards on his shoulder and got on the tram that was coming from Aachen towards Herzogenrath at that very moment. He took him to a doctor in Herzogenrath. However, due to the severe abdominal injury, he was taken directly to the Bardenberg hospital. There Otto Gerards (33 years old) died due to the severe injury on the following Saturday, 13 August 1933. The fact that the radio music continued to play in the sports arena after the incident on 10 August 1933 and that the cycling races were not stopped caused resentment among the cycling members. Many members of the club left the cycling arena with incomprehension. J. Mommertz was not prosecuted for the shooting, but he repeatedly attracted attention because of his aggressive behaviour in the border area. Only after another incident in June 1936, when he tried to arrest an alleged smuggler across the border, did the German authorities in Herzogenrath also become active under pressure from the Kerkraders. He was demoted in rank and had to pay a fine of 100 Reichsmarks.

A few days after the incident on Neustraße, leaflets were distributed to visitors to the racecourse by socialists from Heerlen:”…in the sports arena, free Dutch people are forced to stand up when the Horst Wessel song is played …don’t go to Germany, the country where rubber truncheons and revolvers rule.”

Victory ceremony at the cycling track – The Nazis had appropriated sport and the German-Dutch sports arena for themselves. (Gemeentearchief Kerkrade)

German soldier at the fence in front of the racecourse. (Gemeentearchief Kerkrade)

De Limburger – 18-07-1936 “Aus dem Leben eines Revolverhelden“

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