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Erla S.

Erla S.

by Rolf-Peter K.

 

 

Here you enter motherland

We are meeting in the second month of the Corona pandemic, during the generally

applicable hygiene and distance regulations in her house in Wennenden (Blaubeuren-

Seißen) for a coffee, without a protective mask and without 1.5 m distance. Erla S. is an educated, calm, thoughtful and balanced woman of 78 years of age and has lived an eventful and active life to this day.

 

R.: Dear Erla, where did you grow up?

E.: I grew up in Hessen, in Oberursel.

 

R.: How do you remember your family life?

E.: I experienced it as mostly harmonious. However, it was cramped conditions. After the war we came from near Neustrelitz to my grandmother in Oberursel and lived in a three-room apartment. My parents, my sister and I, my grandmother and my mother's brother lived there.

 

R.: Neustrelitz, where is that?

E.: Today it is in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

 

R.: Could you briefly outline your educational and professional background?

E.: I started school in Oberursel in 1947, and after the 6th grade I moved to the Gymnasium in Bad Homburg in order to take my Abitur.

 

R.: Was there a reason why you changed from middle school to high school?

E.: It was 1956 when Lufthansa took off again. I really wanted to become a stewardess. To do that, you had to have a high school diploma.

E.: But then my career aspirations changed.

 

R.: How did this change come about?

E.: In the course of time, things changed. Boys may want to become locomotive or excavator drivers. I just wanted to become a stewardess.

After the Abitur I studied medicine in Marburg with two classmates.

 

R.: Have you been encouraged in this career aspiration, supported by someone or even got promoted?

E.: Not really. No one has objected, no one promoted me. My parents naturally supported me financially. After completing the pre-physics in Marburg, I went to Frankfurt, where I completed my studies, doctorated and then became a paediatrician.

 

R.: Was this specialist training a coincidence or was there a specific reason for it?

E.: We wanted to work in a group practice after my specialist training,

because my husband was also a paediatrician and at that time already ran a paediatric practice, which I was able to join after my specialist training in Ulm. We ran this joint practice for almost ten years.

 

R.: In the course of this time there was a development in your life that eventually led to you separating from your husband - you got divorced - you left the common practice and started your own. I can remember a newspaper article in which you literally made your coming out public regarding the change of your sexual orientation. How did this come about?

E.: It was an action of the Frauentreff Ulm. The discrimination of gays and lesbians has become much less than it used to be in the past and yet homosexuals are rarely seen in public. That's why we carried out this action, that lesbians should become visible in society. I agreed to do this together with someone else.

 

R.: So you had to gather all your courage.

E.: That's right. But the greatest courage I needed was when I got divorced. I wanted to live as a lesbian.

 

R.: How did your family deal with it? You had children.

E.: I have children. It wasn't that easy. I told them that before. They were tearful conversations and it was not so easy, especially for my son. But in the course of time it got cleared up again. It was never a broken relationship because of it. Today we have a very good relationship with each other. Over time they have accepted this better than in the beginning and they have a very good relationship with my partner.

 

R.: When did you realize that you are lesbian?

E.: I noticed it very early on as a teenager. But I hoped it would pass. I also wanted to have children.

 

R.: That it would pass like a flu for example.

E.: Yes, something like that. But it wasn't like that, and that's why I wanted to change my life, especially since my children had almost finished school. It was triggered by a bicycle accident, which is why I came to the clinic with a concussion. During this time, I read a book by the lesbian doctor, Charlotte Wolf, entitled: "Moments change us more than time". It was already smouldering inside me that I wanted to live my life differently. After this reading I decided: Now I'm going to do it.

 

R.: Have you experienced any discrimination as a result?

E.: I have never experienced any discrimination.

 

R.: How long have you been together with your partner?

E.: For 31 years.

 

R.: When did you retire?

E.: Since the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006. I retired at the age of 64 because the time was right for the handover of the practice.

 

R.: So, retirement, although there is no question of rest. What does your everyday life look like today?

E.: Yes, at the moment in Corona times it has become much quieter, although I have to say that with all the digital offers and video conferences it is almost a bit annoying that so much is possible and you could always attend some ZOOM conference, but I don't do that because mainly my technique is not good here in the country and I get kicked out again and again.

 

R.: I wanted it to be easier at first. What do you do for example to keep yourself fit, you make a very fit impression on me, and to participate in social life?

E.: For a while I went to the gym, not at the moment. We go for walks a lot, ride our bikes, do Chi Gong once a week, dance, in summer we go swimming, but not regularly.

 

R.: And you meditate regularly.

E.: Yes, since I have been living here in the Beguine community we meditate in the morning. Since November, we have been doing it regularly for 20 minutes every morning.

 

R.: And in your free time, which can really be called like that, in times of leisure and muse?

E.: I read, travel, go to the theatre, the cinema, watch TV, meet friends

Erla S.

R.: Now to your spectacular project, with the Beguine Community you have already given a keyword. You should definitely explain that.

E.: Well, the Beguines were something like a "secular" women's order in the Middle Ages, although they always had to accept a male Christian leader. They were mostly descendants of wealthy middle-class families who were not allowed or did not want to enter a monastery. They joined together to form communities and lived according to rules that they themselves developed for this living together. They had committed themselves to social charity, for example by caring for the sick, distributing food to the poor, or teaching.

I came to this like the virgin to the child. Ursa, our roommate in the old house, with whom we bought the large premises together, had been looking with a partner for

some time for a project on how she wanted to live her life in old age and how she wanted to live in a women's community with self-sufficiency etc. After a long and unsuccessful search, they decided to realize the project here on our large premises. We here in the old house were initially only neighbours of the project. Then we joined in. The project visibly consists of four houses, in each of which a woman lives. In the old house there are three of us, which means that we are now a community of seven women who live here together. We have no fixed structure except this meditation and that we meet at irregular times to discuss organisational matters. But then we also do things together, so we often eat together, we cook together, we make trips together.

 

R.: For me it is especially impressive that the four houses are newly built and that you have a great terrain, which is also really beautifully laid out.

E.: Yes, but it was not always like that.

 

R.: That is an incredible financial burden. How could you pull this off?

E.: We were only able to do it because one of the initiators was wealthy and made a large loan available, mostly interest-free, which we will pay off over the next 20 - 30 years. By the way, each woman has to contribute 50000 €. One woman, however, is sponsored and did not have to bring it in. This 50000 € will be returned when you move out or, if you die, the heirs will get it. And everything else is financed by the rents that the residents have to pay.

 

R.: Can you tell me how much they are?

E.: It is currently 600 €. Probably we can still press it.

 

R.: How big are the houses?

E.: Two houses have a living space of 45 square meters and the two outer ones have a small annex and therefore about 55 square meters.

 

R.: Erla, what do you wish for the future of the project and for yourself personally?

E.: I hope that things will perhaps continue in this way, that the Community will get along

well, which has been the case so far, so there have been no crises and we just look, like now when a woman has died and we are looking for a new resident, that the chemistry between all of them is right. That is actually the only criterion, and that she has the necessary finances to pay the deposit.

 

R.: The Beguines were known for their charity. Does that also apply to you? If so, what does it consist of?

E.: In the sense of the medieval beguines, nursing, feeding the poor, etc. we are not charitable at the moment. But in our immediate environment we also respect needy people. For example, a fellow woman was given the deposit of 50000 € because otherwise she could not have moved in.

 

R.: As you say, you are not a community that would take over nursing care in old age. If that were the case with a resident, then she would have to go to a nursing home?

E.: Or you would have to organize outpatient care. So of course we are ready to do that if someone falls ill at short notice, is in need of care, but if it is foreseeable that it will take longer, we need professional help.

 

R.: Personally, what do you wish for yourself?

E.: That my life remains interesting. Through the women there are always ideas. We talk about interesting films we have seen or books we have read. And then inspiring conversations arise. I wish that this would continue. Being very different and having different interests, very different impulses come into the group. And that's a lot of fun together.

 

R.: So this means that your life remains exciting and exciting and that you stay healthy. Is there something like a life motto for you, a red line that looking back on your life, has developed from your basic convictions?

E.: I have to say that I grew up in a non-Christian home, both my parents were not in church. Later I volunteered for religious education, then I went to church temporarily,

but left again. At that time, I did this out of conviction. But in the meantime that has changed again. So, in this respect I am an agnostic. I have never had anything like visions that I wanted to realize at all costs. I always seized the opportunities that presented themselves and realized them.

 

R.: And kept the golden rule?

E.: That too, yes, I hope so.

 

R.: Your project is basically also a voluntary project; you organize everything together on a voluntary basis. Are there any other volunteer activities of yours?

E.: I am still active in the Association of Women Doctors (Ärztinnenbund). There we have a subgroup called 60+. Twice a year we have a conference, which has a scientific and a cultural part. We also have a preliminary program for physical training. Once we meet in Berlin. And once again in another city. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we often travelled to East German cities in order to win East German female colleagues for the Association of Women Doctors. But we did not succeed.

 

R.: What do you think was the reason for this?

E.: I think it was such a big change, the whole system has been changed and the colleagues had so much to do with it to adapt to the new circumstances, and I also think that they were not prepared to be partisan and association-based, they simply wanted to be free.

 

R.: Your voluntary activities are not exhausted by this.

E.: I am still involved in the women's meeting in Ulm. I have been there since my divorce and for many years. I wanted to get to know women who love women there. Today it is all about feminist aspects, e.g. equal rights for women and the anti-discrimination of homosexuals. At ViLE I am treasurer and responsible for the participation project. At ZAWiW I am a member of Assist and of working group women history (Frauengeschichte). Since 2015, my partner and I have been giving German lessons for refugees on a voluntary basis. Since the official courses, we continue to give 1 ½ hours twice a week to other foreign women.

 

R.: If you wanted to give advice to young people today on how to shape their own and their common life, what would it look like?

E.: That they should do what they want to do, so that they do it with heart and soul and that they enjoy it.

 

R.: You have a sign at the door to the common area, it says: "Here you enter motherland".

E.: That's right. That is a statement that came from America. That was called "Her Land" and that has to do with the new women's movement in the 70s.

 

R.: So you are declared feminists?

E.: Yes, in the sense that we stand up for gender justice.

 

R.: Dear Erla. I thank you for the conversation, your openness and your

trust.