Robi and Ernst, in their own words: “Ernst: We have been together now for 59 years. And we met when we were 26. We met at the Kreis. and Robi was performing on stage as a lady. And I thought this is a woman and it’s not a man doing this. I bet 100 franks and I lost it, and I found Robi. He was in the theatre group of the Kreis. And he was the star in the Kreis. I was working with the section of the editors of the magazine, in the three languages of the magazine in German, French and English. Since I spoke these three languages I became familiar with all three editors.
Robi: I was also very happy in the Kreis because theater was my life. In private I was always in theater, and I had a main part in a Swiss film also. So theatre and cinema is just a big part of my life and I was very pleased all the time.
Ernst: But you started when you were a boy.
Robi: Yes, when I was seven years old my mother worked in theatre, and the director came and asked her ‘You have a boy, can you bring him once?’ And from that time, I had children’s parts and so many things in the theatre.
Ernst: The Kreis, was a homosexual organization, the only one existing in Switzerland, it was founded in 1932 and it went on until 1967. It at first had a different name, but it was always the same organization. And they also had a magazine, first in German only, and it had a different name, but then it also started to get subscribers in the French speaking part of Switzerland, so it was in two languages, the Kreis and le Cercle, and then after 1943, they started with the third language, in English. And then the Kries became an international magazine, since it was the only one in the market with subscribers all over the world. And very good connections especially to America, because the Mattachine Society was founded in 1951 in Los angeles and they started with a magazine called ‘One’, because it was the first of the gay magazines in the USA. And they had connections with the Kreis, and that was going to and fro, and similar with Paris, and other organizations in the Netherlands, in Denmark, and Sweden and Norway. And in Germany. In Germany of course, very clandestine, only hidden, because they still had the Hitler paragraph of their famous paragraph 175, and it was all forbidden. (Back then being gay) was very difficult.
Robi: Yes, you had to live a double life because it was not popular and homophobia was very big at that time, also in Switzerland. So it was quite difficult for us. We couldn’t go together walking, or I never went to the school where Ernst was working. It was really impossible.
Ernst: And the most difficult thing for us was that for the first 30 years when we were a couple, we could not live together, we had no flat together, because it was two dangerous!
Robi: And they would not give an apartment for two men, two women was good, but two men, no.
How was your coming out?
Robi: For me it was very easy. I feel when I was very young, 10, 12 years, I looked always at boys, I had never the will to go with a girl.
Ernst: And you were dressing like it!
Robi: Yes, and I was dressing like it. And that was another thing, I looked androgynous when I was young.
Ernst: You tried to act a woman’s part as a child already, drag gin up, I think you were gay before you were born! (laughs)
Robi: Maybe. (laughs)
Ernst: I knew from very young that something was different, and I didn’t like to play with boys. And I knew I had to hide this. And then when I was 11 I found out that I was looking after young men and just at the same time that my comrades at school started to look after girls and I thought, ‘They’re so silly’ and I found out, ‘Well you’re looking after boys, well you’re just as silly! Actually, and you feel the same but the other way around. But you can’t tell this to anybody, not even at home. Well this is my secret.’ And it was a big secret, indeed. And I thought I was the only one. I looked up in all sorts of lexicon, and I didn’t find any hint on what I was feeling. Until I finally found the word homosexuality, but that was in medicine and medical illness and psychological illnesses and pathology. And I knew I was not ill, this is part of my nature. All these learned men writing this lexicon, they don’t know anything about it. But I know.
Robi: My family was quite normal, they accepted me like I was. It was never a problem. And when I met Ernst, my mother was very very happy for me to have a young friend. And she was always saying to me, ‘Be serious and don’t leave Ernst, he is wonderful for you.’
Ernst: My family, well for my family it was a no go. I felt this immediately so I never talked anything about it. It was a total secret. Also in schools, because they sent me to Christian schools, which was interesting, I was interested in christian religion, and just finding out that I don’t believe in all they say. But it was an interesting way of making philosophy with the hypothesis that there is a God creating everything. And I thought, ‘This is wrong, this is against nature to believe in a God.’ But then again, I was not to say this to anybody because this was a religious school and I would have left it. And so there were several secrets, on the whole, this was an interesting time because the teachers were very good and I could learn a lot. I was not a very good scholar, because I was interested in more things that were outside of what was taught in school. And I read lots and lots of books on Indian philosophy and on French modern literature, on Existentialism, and all this was no subject at the school.
What is the secret to stayng together for so long?
Robi: We respect each other, and we won’t change the personality of the partner. We accept him like he is. And we speak always openly, we never lied. And when one had an adventure we told the other, and that makes it good.
Ernst: Because also we had sort of an open relationship, we had some friends outside, but we talked to each and we introduced them to each other, and sometimes we had sex the three together and it was fun, and we thought ‘Well this is going on very well like this.’ But in the deeper part, we never wanted to separate. we knew we belonged to each other, and we would never find anybody else to whom we have the same feelings. I love Robi because he is a little androgynous and he always has new ideas and he never can decide on this or that, it’s always me that has to tell him, ‘How do you think, I think this is better for the moment, what do you feel like?’ And then he finally makes his decisions. This is a kind of game and it is every day new.”
Robi: And this is very good, I learn a lot from Ernst, and it makes our partnership so wonderful because he helps me an in a way I help him also.
Ernst: Yes sure, I would have gone lost without you.
What advice would you give to someone struggling to come out?
Ernst: First of all try and accept yourself as a gay individual. This is your nature and you can’t change it. When you start to accept this fact, as part of yourself, then you can also start talking to a close friend, girl or boy, about your difference of the majority and you then can go on opening yourself slowly. Coming out is not done at once, it ’s a long process, and it’s always going in as well, accepting yourself, and then you can go out again. This is a long process. But once you have finished really to get through, you accept yourself, and you are accepted by the others, then you are a ripe personality and you are further with lots of things than many of your colleagues who had not to do this process.
Robi: I’m very happy I am gay, it’s perfect for me.
Ernst: I couldn’t imagine myself being hetero, the whole life would have been different. And I’m sure it would have been much more dull.”
The movie, The Circle was made about Robi and Ernst lives. Robi and Ernst were the first couple to have their registered partnership legally recognized in Zurich.