Got to get out again and again

Polly's Band Pollyester
Polly's Band Pollyester | Photo: Markus Burke

Polly, a Minsk-born Munich musician and artist, is partial to things open-ended, not circumscribed.

A fine mist descends on us as we get out of the car. Before us lies a vast, nearly deserted stretch of land, bordered on the left by new buildings, behind which the Olympic Park TV tower juts up high into the misty sky. I can make out a belt of trees on the right side of this expanse, on which a shepherd grazing his small flock looks almost lost. I follow Polly over a mound of loose soil and across the soft moss and brown grass to a loose cluster of pines. She likes to linger here. It’s an in-between spot, neither forest nor clearing.

Polly likes this wide expanse of fallow land in the north of Munich precisely because it’s so unplanned. It was a training ground for tanks forty years ago, hence the name it bears to this day: Panzerwiese. Here where wargames once were played out, a greenfield housing development was planned in the mid-1990s. But according to an expert report, this was the habitat for 23 endangered species of plants and 35 endangered animal species. So only the south side of the land was developed. The north side was declared a nature reserve in 2002.

In the early days, people used to cross the field in cars and motorcycles. There was and still is plenty of space here, an “extremely large surface allowed to remain free and unkempt, untreated and undeveloped,” says Polly. The Panzerwiese is neither park nor wood, it’s a piece of nature, and yet urban. She calls it an “urban wilderness” with “no discernible logic”. Why are there trees over there and not over here? Where on earth did this flock of sheep come from?

Polly likes the fact that it’s still called Panzerwiese even though the context has changed. She used to come here often to shoot videos, too. Later on she forgot about it . . . and then rediscovered it as a space in which “things can evolve and one can move about freely.”

This freedom and open-endedness is echoed in Polly’s artistic work. It starts with her career choice: rather than taking on a steady job and tying herself down, she freelances, waiting for creative ideas – which she then absolutely has to act on. Creative ideas, which form the basis of Polly’s complex artistic concepts, need to be discovered, just like the Panzerwiese.

After studying jazz (standup bass) for two years, Polly dropped out. She has her own band, Pollyester, with which she tours a lot. She calls her style of music “Munich disco”. She also plays in other ensembles, which is typical of the small Munich scene, in which musicians are closely networked and engage in all sorts of different projects with one another. She likes this collective local approach, in which a great deal evolves through interchange with other artists.

In recent years Polly has been writing music for a number of theatrical productions. At Munich’s Residenztheater, for instance, she composed the music for Katrin Röggla’s Kinderkriegen (“Having Children”). At the Maximiliansforum she staged a musical “happening” called Polly’s Parking Lot. For years she held a monthly party called “Zombocombo”: a strident, even hysterical bash often featuring roleplaying and even destruction. “I was 20 at the start and wanted to party. But we couldn’t find much that interested us in our city.” So Polly and her friends held their own parties.

She was recently in Mexico shooting a film about the Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead fiesta, and its relation to Catholic Halloween. The film is due out in 2016 and might be transposed into an interdisciplinary project for the stage.

Polly is deeply moved by the many refugees coming to Munich. She had to leave her own country at the age of 11, when she and her mother left Minsk, by night, for Munich. It’s important for everyone to do something now to ease the situation, she says. “I have donated everything that’s expendable to me.” She has also given benefit concerts, including one for those who are helping refugees in Passau. But she doesn’t want to make a big deal out of her engagement. “Help,” says Polly, “is something you do in silence.”

She can’t understand that some people are hardly moved by the plight of the refugees. “It’s not that hard to imagine what it would be like to lose your own home and suddenly find yourself standing there with a suitcase or maybe nothing at all.” Permanently traumatized by her own deracination, Polly doesn’t want to really make herself at home anywhere anymore. She does have feelings for the place she lives in, but doesn’t want to see it as a guaranteed quantity in her life. Like the vast expanse of the Panzerwiese, she needs to leave plenty of room in her life for surprises, and leave out things predetermined or prefabricated. “Much as I love Munich,” Polly says in closing, “I’ve just got to get out again and again.”