The Circle (Der Kreis) is a Swiss docudrama written and directed by Stefan Haupt. The film depicts the social scene that revolved around Der Kreis, a gay publication in Zurich in the 1940s and 1950s, which was used as a scapegoat for the murders of several gay men in the city. Der Kreis (The Circle) was a Swiss gay magazine that was published from 1932 to 1967 and distributed internationally. ★★★★
Der Kreis was founded in 1932 with the original title Schweizerisches Freundschaftsbanner (Swiss Friendship Banner), and in 1937 its name was changed to Menschenrecht (Human Rights). Although the magazine had originally focused on lesbian issues, by 1942 most of the lesbian editorial staff had left and the magazine became exclusively gay in focus. The actor, Karl Meier, took over as the Editor-in-Chief in 1942, using the pseudonym “Rolf”, and renamed the magazine Der Kreis (The Circle).
In 1942 the magazine’s bimonthly circulation was around 200 copies, and by 1957 this had increased to 1,900, including 700 subscribers throughout Europe and the United States. It was the only gay magazine that continued publication through the Third Reich and the only gay publication that was available in Europe during World War II. Der Kreis was published in multiple languages: it was originally written in German, but a French section was added in 1942 and an English section in 1954. It contained news, short stories, poems, photographs, illustrations, and reports on scientific research. The trilingual magazine also published articles about the activities of homosexual groups all over the world – and thereby contributed to the international exchange of ideas. Rolf was in contact with gay groups in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany, France and the USA. Amongst the magazine‘s subscribers there were many important personalities. Although Swiss publications were censored for much of the duration of magazine’s publication, the editors of Der Kreis were noted to have evaded censorship of “racier texts” in the English section since the censors were unable to read them.
All in all, the magazine contained very little risqué content since Meier wanted to promote a more intellectual vision of homosexuality that valued friendship over sex. Due to a law passed by the City Council in 1960 which forbid same sex dancing for men on municipal property, Der Kreis lost one of their most important sources of income, the large costume balls. In 1961 Der Kreis’ local venue had to close. The magazine’s prominent position as the leading gay magazine began to decline in the 1960s, since younger gay readers were more inclined to buy Scandinavian publications that published pornography and nude photographs, and the last issue was published in 1967 when the publication ceased. In 1968 the Zurich Globus Riots drew the public interest away from the gay community, as the police had “other worries”. And thus the organised repression in Zurich slowly decreased.
From 1948 the editors of Der Kreis ran a rented pub in Zurich in the building which is now the Theatre at the Neumarkt, a club in which “homophiles” from all over Switzerland could meet, exchange ideas and get to know one another. Der Kreis united all those who were fighting for the rights of homosexuals – not only on a legal basis, but more importantly in a scientific and cultural sense. At the same time the club was one of the few save havens for gays. At their large and regular costume balls held in the 50‘s, each party was attended by up to a number of 800 gays, who travelled from all over Europe to take part. From 1959 onwards in Zurich there was an increasing amount of social repression, largely due to several murders that took place in the so called “Stricher-Milieu” (the gay prostitute scene). The Zurich state police made a register of homosexuals, and frequent raids took place. Homosexuals were hunted, interrogated and mistreated. Unfortunately the club also disbanded in 1967 when the magazine ceased publication.
Although explaining the history of Der Kreis, The Circle, focuses in particular, on the story of Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp, a schoolteacher and a drag entertainer who enter a lifelong romantic relationship through their involvement in the group. The film intersperses a scripted dramatic depiction of the story, in which the couple are portrayed by Matthias Hungerbühler and Sven Schelker, with documentary interviews with the real Ostertag and Rapp. The film’s cast also includes Marianne Sägebrecht, Anatole Taubman, Antoine Monot, Jr., Stefan Witschi and Markus Merz. The film won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, as well as the Panorama Audience Award. It has also been selected as the Swiss entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards.
A beautifully told true story of love amidst a backdrop of lies, secrecy and fundamentally fear. It shows the hope and intellect of gay men in the 40s. It is a truly engaging film, and one to watch if you’re interested in knowing about the history of our gay culture and how much we take for granted today. The film also helps you realise that true love really does endure hardships and can overcome all.
The film is released in UK cinemas on Friday 12th December 2014.