Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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February 2005

Lucky Charmer

Having his head in the clouds has paid off for chimney sweep Tré Polk

Mary Poppins had her head screwed on the right way. Instead of setting her sights on some affluent city banker, she lost her heart to a chimney sweep. And having met Munich’s answer to Dick van Dyke, I think I know where she’s coming from. As if his name were not magical enough, Tré Polk is just how you might imagine a chimney sweep to be: warm, genuine and fatalistic to the point of being romantic. No sooner does he come out with the phrase, “I just go where the wind blows me,” and I’m gushing. It could have come straight out of a film. And I’m not the only one to think so. Earlier this year, Munich movie director Wolfgang Ettlich got to talking with Polk on the streets of Schwabing, where he has been cleaning chimneys for the past four years. It was not long before Ettlich, too, was so inspired by this fascinating character that he began making plans for a full-blown movie of a genuine romantic life story…

A native of Detroit, Polk has always been a dreamer. He left school, longing to be a car designer for General Motors, after having been inspired by the vehicle in the film Back to the Future. However, after an argument with his father at the age of 18, Polk’s world fell apart. He lost touch with his family, and joined the army. Yet after posts in Germany, Iraq and with the Honor Guard in the United States, Polk was still dreaming of greater things and knew he had to get out. By this point completely disillusioned with America, he decided to follow the winds of love and return to Germany to marry his girlfriend. “I shut myself off from my past,” he says. “I lost touch with all my family, forgot all about English—it was the only way I thought I’d ever learn German—and decided to look for a totally new job.”

It was as he searched in the job center that Polk came across an advert for Munich’s Chimney Sweep School. And the rest, as they say, is history. The 38-year-old is now a much-loved figure among customers, both due to his gentle nature and to the age-old super-stition that chimney sweeps bring luck to all who touch them. “It’s amazing how people have reacted to me,” says Polk. “Because I’m black, people tend to think I’ll bring double the luck.” As a result, the job has called for much more than good balance and a big brush, with Polk having been expected to provide an open ear and sympathy to the customers who pour their troubles out to him. “There have been some very touching moments,” he says. “And the job really has opened me up—I was always a real introvert before this and was never much of a communicator.”

Though he still insists that verbal communication is not his forte, Polk has found an alternative way of expressing himself—art. His paintings, produced over the past ten years, have attracted much local interest and it is his dream to have his work featured in a major gallery. “That’s probably the only real goal I have,” he says. “I stopped setting other goals, because every time I did, things went awry. The adventure is always the journey rather than the goal, and when you arrive somewhere it’s often disappointing.”

For Polk the only thing that is clear about the future is that he won’t be taking his German wife and children back to America. “It’s not that I’m ashamed to be American, it’s just that I find it a boring place,” he says. “As a child, I was used as a pawn between parents when they split up, which is why I don’t really have any roots—they didn’t have the chance to grow anywhere.” Indeed, Polk was reunited with his family only when Ettlich traced them for his film. “My parents didn’t even know about my children over here,” he says. “But when Ettlich flew us over and brought us all together for the first time in 20 years, it was a beautiful and touching moment.”

For the moment, though, he is happy in Munich. “Despite what people say about Schwabing, it has still got a bit of flair,” he says. “Everyone acts like something they’re not, and that’s cool. When I’m up on the roof I get the impression these people aren’t walking down the street, they’re floating—they’re all dreamers—which is why I fit in—I’m a bit of a dreamer myself.”


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