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The spirit never dies

The spirit never dies

Helmut Mauró

On the famous Pollinger panels from the 15th century you can see the Bavarian Duke Tassilo III hunting with his entourage through the surrounding woods and apparently by chance, following a hind, finding the wooden crucifix that led to the foundation of the Polling monastery. And as always, such founding legends are not about how exactly they correspond to our perception of reality, but were the core image of the narrative. In this case, the point is that the young Tassilo should not only be a courageous warrior and skilled hunter, but that he should also have abilities that go beyond the practical talents that qualify him as a human being and even more so as a ruler over other people. He should have an existential, meaningful need to search for a center of consciousness, a spiritual anchor. The free-flying thoughts do not have to be restricted or directed into old paths, but they must be grounded, tied to a fixed place, in order to work continuously. This place cannot be an arbitrary place, its reason lies in a natural religious prehistory, so to speak. It has been lost to us civilized people of consciousness, but it is still alive in pure nature.

And so Tassilo instinctively follows a hind that leads him to a buried cross. A simple story that is as unbelievable as it suggests that there is such a thing as a genius loci, the spirit of the place that is not really tangible, but at best perceptible. Polling and his surroundings have several such inspired places that have attracted people from time immemorial to settle here. Finds from the Neolithic period prove that people settled here as early as 4000 B.C., later came Kelto novels, Roman conquerors, Alemanni, Bavarians. At the latest since the stay of the Romans the mining of the Pollinger limestone was of great economic importance. The practical reasons for a settlement in the Polling area were probably also the deposits of tuff stone; they were important until the twentieth century. But as important as they were from an economic point of view, they cannot explain the special attraction of the place and its spiritual charisma. In 1830, 27 years after the dissolution of the monastery in the course of secularisation, Polling became an artists’ village. This means that the Genius Loci continued to work. First came Munich landscape painters such as Seidel, Zimmermann, Bürkel, Heinlein, Schleich, Morgenstern, Habenschaden and above all Christian Heinrich Hanson, who went down in art history as “Pollinger Landschafter”. Carl Spitzweg was also here, Friedrich Voltz, Eduard Grützner, the “Chiemsee painter” Josef Wopfner, Franz von Defregger and Heinrich von Zügel came from far away. Later, American painters such as Frank Duveneck, who created a number of important landscape paintings, also came, among them a village view in 1878, which can be seen today in the Cincinnati Art Museum under the title “Alter Stadtbach, Polling; Bayern”. Duveneck was followed by a number of American painters and art students, and Polling was suddenly called the „American Village“. Finally, the painters attracted more artists and intellectuals. So in 1899 Viktor Mann, the younger Brother of Thomas and Heinrich Mann, with his mother Julia to Polling and spent the following years at the Schweighart-Hof. Later Heinrich and Thomas joined them. Here Heinrich finished his novel “The Hunt for Love”, Thomas put a first draft of “Royal Highness” on paper and immortalized the “Frau Baronin” living on the Schweighart-Hof; in his “Doktor Faustus” the family of the estate owners Schweighart appears, there she is called “Schweigestill” and Polling becomes “Pfeiffering”.

And so the art history of Polling could have found a profane but worthy end by dissolving into world literature and living on as part of a greater history of ideas and culture. But that was not the case. What the invading Hungarians in the 10th century and the plundering and plague-bringing Swedes seven hundred years later failed to achieve, neither did secularization in the 19th century nor the two world wars: to destroy the spirit of this place. Already at the end of the 19th century Dominican sisters had repaired the dilapidated monastery buildings of the original Augustinian monastery. In 1892 the monastery St. Ursula from Donauwörth had bought the complex from the landowner Max Schweighart in order to set up a “Girls’ Education Institute” there. Beyond Polling, however, another part of the monastery became famous, embodying a new creative spirit: the library hall, which became famous in the 1970s through regular classical concerts, broadcast by Bavarian television, which found a large fan community.

Since the 1980s, art life in Polling has become a little quieter, but it has never been completely extinct. In 1984 the Planegg-born painter Bernd Zimmer moved to Polling after he had become known as the “Junge Wilden” at the Galerie am Moritzplatz in Berlin with his fellow painters Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf and Salomé. After several long journeys and a scholarship stay at the Villa Massimo in Rome, he moved to Polling, where he still has his artistic and private home, along with other creative genres. In an oversized linocut, he once portrayed Polling’s history, and one can also sense in this expressive picture sheet that this history is more than a series of historical events. These are only concretisations of a characteristic genius loci that not only lives in the monastery buildings, but also inspires the surroundings. Was it arbitrary for the art-loving King Ludwig II to stop in Polling when he drove from Linderhof to Neuschwanstein? Is it a coincidence that people feel particularly attracted to certain places in and around Polling and have the inexplicable need to set a memorial stone here or to lay out a path there that one involuntarily follows like a meditation exercise? It seems that each epoch seeks its own form in order to give the genius loci an appropriate and powerful expression beyond the prevailing zeitgeist and natural disasters. In a stone block, an alpine path or a hall at the bend of the river.