On 19 December 1909, the fourth Sunday of Advent, BVB was founded. This Sunday afternoon, on the first floor of the ''Zum Wildschutz'' inn, located at 60 Oesterholzstraße on Borsigplatz, a football club would be born, and not just any club: one that inspires millions of people today, that has fans in every corner of the globe. No other date in club history has been the subject of such fascination; no other moment would BVB fans rather be able to experience in person. Between 2012 and 2015, a full investigation into the history of the foundation of BVB was carried out for the making of a documentary film. Sources of information both old and new were included in the finished product: ''Born on Borsigplatz – Franz Jacobi and the origins of BVB.''
Dortmund journalist Gregor Schnittker led the research for the film project. It soon became clear while investigating the story that it wouldn't always be possible to to abide by the journalistic ''two-source principle.'' As such, the following text telling the story of the foundation of BVB has been informed by a mixture of both facts and speculation on the history of the city, the sport and the club. In other words: as far as we can tell, the story behind the foundation of BVB probably went a little something like this.
Beads of sweat drip from the forehead of the Chaplain Hubert Dewald as he storms up the staircase. The 28-year-old wishes he could move faster, but his untrained body is already operating at full capacity. Dewald's pulse is racing after his sprint from the parish house over to Oesterholzstraße. Just five minutes ago, as Dewald sat down to smoke a cigar by the fireplace, one of his pupils burst into the room to tell him, in an oddly fearful tone, that just up the road, in the so-called ''mirror room'' in the Wildschutz inn, a group from his congregation are planning to form a football club. The Chaplain immediately reaches for his coat and rushes out the door.
It’s 19 December 1909, the late evening of what has been an entirely normal Sunday on Borsigplatz. Apoplectic with rage, Dewald stands in the smoke-filled inn located on the corner of 60 Oesterholzstraße. He despises this place – a Protestant by the name of Trott runs a public house on the premises. The establishment is popular with young men from the local Catholic Trinity Church, who flock here instead of attending church as they're supposed to. Dewald is particularly disappointed in one of these young men – a certain Franz Jacobi. Dewald has a certain fondness for Jacobi – the 21-year-old is conscientious and responsible in caring for his mother and his younger siblings. Jacobi, who has a thing going on with the landlord Trott’s daughter Lydia – known by most as Lilli – has been frustrating the Chaplain for many years now with his and his friends' predilection for spending their Sundays playing football as opposed to observing their religious duties. The group have even started to skip the Sunday afternoon prayer session which was set up specifically to stamp out their football matches. As Dewald takes a moment to recover his breath, he ponders how we can put an end to this seemingly seemingly unquenchable thirst for the beautiful game. He prepares himself, and then knocks firmly on the massive wooden door. No-one on the other side hears him. The sound of laughter and the clinking of beer glasses prevails. Unperturbed, the Chaplain bursts in and shouts: ''What’s going on here then?!'' Just a few seconds later, he's sent right back the other way. Decades later, witnesses would report that Dewald was struck by a punch and that several of those present then left in disgust. Franz Jacobi himself would tell it as such in 1978, when a young inquisitive Dortmund native by the name of Gerd Kolbe came to his home in Salzgitter to ask him a few questions about the foundation of BVB. Today, Kolbe is an archivist at BVB. It is thanks to his tireless efforts that many of the first-hand accounts of the club’s founding story are with us today. Although gaps remain, one thing is abundantly clear: it all started with an act of rebellion.
Although 1909 is indisputably the club's official year of foundation, it can be argued that the true moment of conception occurred three years earlier in 1906. The two key figures were Franz Jacobi and Reinhold Richter, and fate would have it that their paths would cross. Richter, born 1886 in Gröden near Dresden, spent many of his formative years travelling the world. He worked as a waiter across Europe as well as in North Africa and Palastine. As he explored these places, he discovered many new things. But there was one discovery in particular that would stick with him more than most: in London, he came across a new sport known as football. According to the account Jacobi gave to Kolbe, while in England, Richter heard of a culinary establishment available for lease – the so-called ''Wildschutz'' - in the city of Dortmund, famous for its beer. Richter chose to follow the tip and travel to the Ruhr region. So it was that in 1906, Richter arrived at Borsigplatz armed with a football and high hopes of opening his own establishment.
However, bad news awaited Reinhold Richter at 60 Oesterholzstraße – it turned out the ''Wildschutz'' wasn't up for lease. At least he soon managed to make new friends – a certain Franz Jacobi and his pal Heinrich Unger. Jacobi, 18 years of age, will one day go on to marry the landlord’s daughter Lilly, but for now, he just sits by the bar at Heinrich Trott's establishment. Richter and Jacobi hit it off right away. The two will remain friends for life, and they will always find themselves turning back to the topic of their first ever conversation: football. Jacobi, a keen track & field athlete, is delighted when Richter hands him a sports-related parting gift. After seeing his new friend to the tram, Jacobi walks home to Wambeler Straße with a spring in his step and a genuine English leather football in his arms. His mother Susanna has already laid out the folding bed for him, well aware that her eldest son, upon his return, will most likely not have the slight of hand required to do so without making a noise.
The winter of 1909 was a particularly cold one in Dortmund. Snow in the middle of November brought the rail system to a standstill. The city had reached a population of 200,000, and this number was growing all the time as newcomers flocked to the Ruhr to work in the region's flourishing industries. This was an age of migration: a census carried out in 1907 showed that three fifths of Dortmund residents were born outside of the city. By the standards of the time, the Jacobis qualified as long-term residents: the family had moved to Dortmund 27 years previously and all children were born in the city. On this particular Sunday afternoon, the kitchen on the first floor of 12 Wambeler Straße, a newly-built block of flats located just 100 metres from Borsigplatz, is full of life. The Jacobi children are awaiting a visitor. Outside, a horse-drawn carriage makes its way down the street, the sound of horseshoes clattering off the cobblestoned road merges with the shouts of a Polish neighbour imploring her children to stop playing and come for a bath. The smell of freshly-baked cookies, roasted coffee and newly-ironed shirts fills the air.
Since the passing of the family patriarch in 1902 at the age of 44, Franz, as the eldest of the Jacobi children, has been the man of the house. His mother, Susanna - of French origin - met her husband Wilhem in 1882. The two moved from the Eifel region of Germany to Dortmund, where Wilhelm found a job as a factory worker at the Borussia Brewery. These were uncertain times for the Jacobis: in their first 20 years in the city, the family was forced to move a total of seven times. The house on Wambeler Straße is the first place the family have sufficient space for all six children: the five sons Franz (born 1888), Willi (born 1890), Julius (born 1893), Peter (born 1894), Josef (born 1896) and Magdalena (born 1898). Josef, who would go on to become one of the greatest players in the early years of BVB, would spend his whole life with false identity papers. His official birth certificate read 27 November 1896, when in actual fact he was born a day earlier. When his father Wilhelm realised that he had a fifth son as opposed to the daughter he had been hoping for, he was so frustrated that he decided to just stay at home as opposed to going to the registrar’s office to record the new birth.
Later on that same evening, Willhem, his spirits lifted, promised his wife Susanna that he would go down to the registrar’s office in the morning. Two years later, he would get the daughter he had been hoping for, and this time, he made sure to register the birth in the correct manner. Magdalena was born on 19 December 1898 – exactly 11 years later, she would share a birthday with Borussia Dortmund. But now, on 18 December 1909, youngest child Magdalena is looking forward to both her birthday in one day’s time as well as the large slice of stollen cake on her plate. Little does she know that her future husband (year of marriage, 1930) is about to enter the room, and even if she did, she probably wouldn’t give it all that much thought. She’s far too occupied with the delicious piece of cake she’s about to eat to care about a future romantic entanglement with some chap called Reinhold.
There’s a knock on the door. Franz jumps up to answer and let his friend in. The family have received many postcards from Reinhold Richter, sent from exotic locales the world over. On the kitchen cupboard hangs a picture of the Beau Sejour hotel in Geneva as well as one of the Hotel Bellevue in Menton, France. Richter’s nomadic lifestyle brought him as far as Egypt in the winter of 1907/08, where he worked for a spell in the Grand Hotel Heloun as a sommelier, offering guests his expertise on wine. The last time the Jacobi family heard from the 23-year-old he was in Paris. He shows them a glowing work reference from his recent stint at the Hotel Majestic. From the French capital, Richter hopped on the northern express train, then changed to one bound for St. Petersburg, which took him to his destination in Dortmund in a day’s time.
Everyone in the Jacobi kitchen is delighted about the arrival of the guest and marvel at the stories he has to tell. His good friends Heinrich Cleve, Johann Siebold and Heinrich and Robert Unger have come by to welcome their well-travelled companion back to Borsigplatz. However, as soon as Richter asks whether or not they still have that old leather ball he brought back from England three years ago, the mood in the room changes. The Chaplain Hubert Dewald may not be in the room, but his presence nonetheless makes itself felt. Both Heinrich Uger and Franz Jacobi struggle to contain their anger. After all, the two have been locked in dispute with the man of god, who sees them as the leaders of those within the congregation who prefer to spend their Sundays playing football instead of going to church and praying. Dewald has recently introduced an additional Sunday afternoon service to prevent football games from taking place on the grass at Kirchderner Straße. At congregation meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, he has implored all those present to attend his additional prayer session. But he doesn’t stop there: football also comes up during his services. He openly criticises those who follow this ''raw and wild game'' and condemns their behaviour as rebellious. Reinhold Richter takes it all in, has a look around the table and says: ''So form your own club then!''
It takes just a few minutes for the room to fill up. Around 50 young men sit around wooden tables on the first floor of the Wildschutz inn, in the so-called mirror room, a function space which normally plays host to weddings or birthday celebrations. Most have turned up in their Sunday best. Discussion is lively. Smoke fills the air. The beer taps are flowing. A few of the boys still have work to go to down the mine or up the steel mill – weekends off and eight-hour days have yet to come into existence. Everyone present chose to skip Dewald’s additional prayer session in order to play football and meet this famous Reinhold Richter that Franz Jacobi kept going on about. They played with a new leather ball all the way until sunset, but they knew this wouldn’t be the end of it on this fourth Sunday of Advent: Jacobi and Heinrich Unger had urgently invited everyone to come for a beer ''at Trott’s'', as they were wont to call their regular meeting place.
The clock has just struck seven as Franz Jacobi calls for silence and formally introduces Reinhold Richter to all those present. He names his close friend as club secretary and then gets straight to the point: he outlines his plan to form a club and shares his perspective on the ongoing conflict with the Chaplain. ''I have been a member of the Trinity Church since 1902. We started playing football on the grass in 1906. Since then, we’ve been systematically targeted and defamed by our own church. We can no longer accept to be treated this way. It’s about time we founded our own club,'' (this quote is drawn from the 1978 conversation between Jacobi and Kolbe). Jacobi’s speech is met with loud applause, many bang the tables in approval, some shout out ''Jawohl,'' others nod in agreement.
Others however quickly finish their drinks and leave the room in haste. In their eyes, a clean break from the church is a step too far. It’s obvious that the foundation of a club will escalate an already tense situation. Everyone must choose whether or not this is a path they wish to go down. Just a few minutes later, the full extent of this act of rebellion will make itself clear. Dewald, enraged by the first signs of dissidence, stands in the doorway. He is pushed back and then met by a stray fist. The situation is out of control; no-one had expected things to go this far. It’s no surprise really that the breakaway group shrinks even further. A total of 50 men played football on the grass earlier in the day, but now just 18 congregation members plus Reinhold Richter remain. The club secretary duly makes a list of these founding members: Franz Braun, Paul Braun, Heinrich Cleve, Hans Debest, Paul Dziendziella, Franz Jacobi, Julius Jacobi, Wilhelm Jacobi, Hans Kahn, Gustav Müller, Franz Risse, Fritz Schulte, Hans Siebold, August Tönnesmann, Heinrich Unger, Robert Unger, Fritz Weber and Franz Wendt.
The younger members of the congregation had grown up on a diet of religious education, church-going and music and theatre classes, and in 1906, sport was added to the equation in the form of gymnastics and track & field athletics. A local sports facility featuring both a running track and a sandpit for jumping, the ''Weiße Wiese'' (white meadow), was the venue for these activities. 1906 was also the year in which the Chaplain Hubert Dewald took charge at the Trinity Church, while, as previously outlined, a football first made its way to Borsigplatz. This new piece of equipment proved invaluable for the Jacobi brothers and their friends: now they could spontaneously decide to go out for a kickabout on one of the several grassy parks in the neighbourhood whenever they found the time between work and school commitments, not to mention the busy church schedule. The Chaplain rejected these football games from the very outset, and made no secret of his displeasure. This was the beginning of a conflict that would escalate over the next few years. In 1909, the Chaplain bans members of his congregation from visiting the ''Zum Wildschutz'' inn, dictating that they should go to the newly-opened Pius House instead. The youngsters choose to ignore Dewald’s instructions. One day, when they go out to play on the ''Weiße Wiese'', they find their goals have been vandalised and destroyed. Their suspicions immediately turn to the Chaplain. This is just the first chapter in a story that will define the history of Dortmund as a football city.
According to the original registration documents, BVB’s founding members all lived in the immediate vicinity of the club’s birthplace on Borsigplatz. They were all in the same age group, with the dates of birth ranging from 1888 to 1893, meaning the average member age on 19 December 1909 was approximately 18. Heinrich Unger, on Jacobi’s recommendation, was voted as Chairman, while Jacobi himself was named Treasurer and Managing Director. As he accepts his new role, Jacobi suddenly seems struck by a wave of reflection. He scratches his head and looks around almost despairingly: ''And what’s our club called? What name should we give ourselves?''
When Gerd Kolbe asked Franz Jacobi why the name ''Borussia'' was chosen, he received the following answer: ''As we were going through the ins and outs of forming a club, it suddenly occurred to us that we hadn’t thought of a name for our club. I then had a look around the function room at Trott’s place and noticed a large picture on the wall of the old Borussia Brewery, which wasn’t far from where we used to live on Steigerstraße. The beer was a favourite of ours at Trott’s back in the day. I liked the name Borussia so just there and then I decided to put it forward as a potential club name. The suggestion was met with general approval. My brothers, who were also founding members, seemed particularly keen on it. Later on, they told me that the name really resonated with them because our late father used to work at the Borussia Brewery and, in a way, the name seemed like a small family tribute to him.''
Chaplain Deward is furious about the actions of this breakaway group. Four days later, he uses his Christmas Eve service, delivered to a packed church, to criticise the founding members and publicly announce their punishment. Due to the damaging and divisive nature of their behaviour, these 18 rebels are to be thrown out of the church. For several, the social pressure and criticism from family members is too much: within days, they renounce their club membership and return to the church. Franz Jacobi would also discuss this with Kolbe in 1978: ''A few members of the group, about four or five I think, couldn’t withstand the pressure put on them by church and family and so decided to turn their backs on Borussia and rejoin the Trinity Church. It was a tough process for me too, as I had joined the congregation back in 1902 when I was 14 years old.''
Although the club loses almost a third of its members within the space of a week, it manages to stay alive. Whenever the weather permits it, the group led by Jacobi and Unger can be found kicking a ball around the ''Weiße Wiese''. The players are particularly fond of their makeshift pitch on a bumpy meadow surrounded by the farmer Wübbeke's potato and corn fields. A special publication released to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the club details how these early Borussia members would make portable goals "from squared timber and crossbars". They took part in hastily arranged tournaments and played matches against neighbouring clubs such as Rhenania, Deutsche Flag and Britannia. BVB used the cellar in the Wildschütz both as a dressing room and a place to serve the referee with coffee and cake. The pitch was located just a couple of hundred metres up the road, and the short journey served as an effective means of warming up for matches. The players also enjoyed exercising without the ball: right from its foundation, the club competed in athletics meetings as well as football tournaments.
The August 1910 issue of the magazine ''Körper und Geist'' (Body and Mind) references Franz Jacobi and the BVB sprinting team’s participation in the Sedan Games and the ''Castroper Olympics''. This Borussia 4x100 metre line-up gained particular renown for their sporting exploits across the country. As Franz Jacobi would later tell a young Gerd Kolbe: ''Heinz Unger was up first, then his brother Robert. After him came Wienke, and then I went down the final straight. Before entering a race, we would always look up the prizes on offer before deciding to enter.''
Borussia, in both athletics and football, compete in blue and white jerseys which they still have from their time at the church. They ''refine'' their appearance with black trousers and a red sash. It has been speculated that this narrow strip of red fabric, popular with various sports teams at the time, may have been worn as a symbol of both solidarity with the workers’ movement as well as resistance to the church. Modern day research has neither been able to prove nor disprove this theory. In any case, it was highly probable that the Chaplain took issue with the fact that these ''apostates'' played football in shirts given to them by the church. According to the account given by Maria Risse, wife of co-founder Willi Jacobi, the original kit caused a lot of issues. Maria, who passed away in 1983 at the age of 91, used to tell the story at family gatherings of how it was impossible to clean the first Borussia jerseys. Whenever she tried to do so, the Blue & White colours would fade away in the wash. What is more, the loosely hanging sashes would often cause fights during matches as they would get tangled up or fly over players’ heads as they ran. It seems there was a good reason why the club would later decide to opt for a complete change of kit.
Franz Jacobi walks home one evening feeling somewhat depressed. He wonders how long Borussia can last with just 13 members. It’s late. He’s just left the club’s office, a side room in the Wildschütz inn, where he’s been busy filing documents and sorting match reports. In the first few months of 1910, it’s proved difficult to put together a regular team with so few players. BVB seems destined to disappear before it ever really got going. As Jacobi walks past the ''Haus Herzog'' pub on Borsigplatz, the favoured drinking spot of local club Britannia, he suddenly has an idea: ''Maybe a merger would allow us to keep going.’ 68 years later, Jacobi would tell the full story to Gerd Kolbe: ''Borussia only had 13 members in 1910. Through banding together with Rhenania and Britannia, we managed to get this up to 40. 'Deutsche Flagge' (German flag), another team we used to play against, almost came to join us too, but we ultimately decided against merging with them too.''
The arrival of all these new members means BVB’s ranks swell to 40. The club now boasts some excellent footballers such as August Busse. Busse and Jacobi know each other from early childhood. Their families lived just across the road, but more than just the width of a street separated them; the two came from different denominations. Busse, born in 1890, is a Protestant. He trained as a locksmith in Hoesch before taking on work at the Kaiserstuhl coal mine, playing football for Britannia in his spare time. Busses’ son Gerhard would later recount how his father and Franz Jacobi, although not particularly close friends, always shared a relationship of deep mutual respect, both on the pitch and in club affairs off it.
Gerhard Busse recalled how his father had hoped in vain that the club might be admitted to the WSV (West German Football Championship) in 1910. However, Franz Jacobi’s job as a civil servant meant he had good contacts, and soon enough, a new opportunity to join the league opened up. This wasn’t the only change at the club: in 1910, Heinrich Unger moved away from Dortmund and stepped away from his position as chairman of the board. Franz Risse took temporary charge for six weeks before Franz Jacobi was elected as Unger’s replacement. While it is true that Unger left Dortmund, his decision to step down may also have been informed by his wife Hedwig, who made no secret of her distaste for football. It was around this time that another friendship of Jacobi’s would prove very beneficial for the club.
''Shit. What a nightmare!'' - ''Why are you swearing?" - "I forgot my running shoes!" Just as Walter Sanß is ready to give up on this race in Castrop, someone holds a pair of shoes out to him. "Here, take mine," says Franz Jacobi, who Sanß only knows as a rival sprinter. "Thanks, that's really nice of you." ''No problem.'' This simple gesture of fair play is the foundation for the deep friendship between Franz Jacobi and Walter Sanß. The latter, an accountant by profession, is hard on himself when he makes mistakes, but apart from that he is exceedingly polite. Sanß is chairman of DFC 95, works as a managing director at the DFB (German Football Association) and is also internationally renowned as a referee. Sanß led the German football delegation at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. He is a footballing pioneer, involved in all levels of the game, and yet, like Franz Jacobi, his passion is divided between two sports: football and athletics.
In 1910, things are hectic in the West German Football Championship (WSV). Too hectic. An act of law passed in 1908 made forming clubs far simpler than it had ever been before. Clubs started popping up all over the place, and more and more wanted to join the league. The WSV could only take in so many, and thus, in 1910, the league put an end to all new admissions. The door seemed to have slammed shut on BVB’s aspirations.
Just as he had done earlier in the year, Franz Jacobi walks home in a melancholy mood. The longed-for hosting of official games, the status of a "real club" - all this now seems hopelessly far away. He hears the cries of a baby coming from an open window. The infant mortality rate around Borsigplatz is significantly higher than in other large cities. Due to malnutrition and bad air, many children do not survive their first year. Franz Jacobi fears that the same might be true of BVB. His mind turns to his friend Walter Sanß. He decides to contact him for some advice. Sanß is overjoyed to see his friend come by with a few other BVB members to visit him in the DFB office. He gives them an invaluable piece of advice: to apply first for membership in the athletics association and then follow that up with the football one. Franz Jacobi told Gerd Kolbe exactly what happened: "I would say the athletes were our Trojan horse. We were already known back in church as good sprinters and relay runners. In fact, I was the fastest in our group at that time. Even Karl Wienke, who worked at the Kaiserstuhl coal mine, wasn’t able to beat me. At the end of 1910, we also managed to get into the West German Football Championship. I have fond memories of the 3rd December 1910: Karl Wienke and I were invited by the association to come down to a bar at the old market. We knew that Walter Sanß must have pulled a few strings for us. Then, at around half past nine at night, the moment we’d all been waiting for arrived. Sanß came up to us, a beaming grin on his face, and said: ''My friends, you’ve made it!''
On 15 January 1911, the first official match takes place on the Weiße Wiese. On 15 January 1911. Borussia run out 9-3 winners against VfB. The club hire a photographer to ensure the historic occasion is fully documented. After the photos have been printed, the players walk down to the church hall and pin them to the door. They make no secret of their joy in getting the better of the Chaplain. They read and re-read the newspaper report until they’ve memorised every word of the short text. In the weeks and months to come, they contest various friendly matches against local teams. BVB are officially admitted to the West German Championship for the start of the 1911/12 season, starting out all the way down in the third tier. Their first match takes place on 10 September 1911, with BVB overcoming Turnerbund Rauxel 1-0. Borussia finish the season as league winners and move up to the second tier, where they come up against various local rivals such as Lütgendortmund, Merkur and Sportvereinigung 95. A year in this division is followed by promotion to the first tier in the 1913/14 season.
BVB still played with the black shorts of old, but in the mean time, they’d added new yellow jerseys to the mix. Since then, there’s been no doubt as to what the most beautiful colour combination in the world is.
Author: Gregor Schnittker