German Memoirs – Brazilian – Germans in Southern Brazil

Most of the German-Brazilians live in Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana, the southernmost states of Brazil. There are around 10 million Brazilians who have German ancestry by some estimates. The percentages become higher in some cities, for example, in the town of Pomerode, in Santa Catarina, 90% of the population are Brazilians of German descent, and the main local language is Pomeranian dialect. It is considered the most German city in Brazil and the Germans there are the richest people in Brazil.

The state Santa Catarina is with the lowest levels of unemployment and illiteracy found in the country and still retain a strong influence of German culture. Even after three or four generations, the Germans there still consider themselves as Germans.

Many towns in Southern Brazil, such as Sao Leopoldo, Novo Hamburgo, Nova Petropolis, Sao Bento do Sul, Blumenau, Joinville, Santa Isabel, Gramado, Canela, Santa Cruz do Sul, Estancia Velha, Ivoti, Dois Irmaos, Morro Reuter, Santa Maria do Herval, Presidente Lucena, Picada Cafe, Santo Angelo, Teutonia and Brusque have a majority of Germans descended people.

The modern German culture and way of living in Southern Brazil was well expressed by a German-Portuguese student Faith Dennis in an article at SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL in 2005.

“… Once again my judgments based on cliches proved me wrong and I was in for a surprise, when after a 12-hour bus journey, I arrived in Santa Catarina, the second most southern state of Brazil.

Although I was due to go to the University of Santa Catarina in the state capital, Florianopolis, I had arranged 2 weeks of voluntary work at a nursery school in the town of Blumenau, a town three hours away inland. I had gathered that there may be a slight Germanic feel to the place, due to the presence of descendants of German emigrants who had settled there in the 19th century, but was shocked at just how this Brazil differed from the images I had had in my mind previously.

The bus wound around cobbled streets flanked by those Fachwerk Tudor houses I had expected to see in Berlin, with immaculate gardens cordoned off by white picket fences and neatly mown lawns.

My host family was waiting at the bus station and greeted me in the usual Brazilian manner with warm hugs and lots of kisses. Their appearance, however, was far from the typical Latino image, instead of being olive skinned and petite; they were blonde, blue eyed and tall, strapping and typically German looking. Much to my surprise one of the younger children, Heinrich (pronounced ‘Einricki’ in Brazilian Portuguese), was even wearing trousers that looked suspiciously like Lederhosen, as he had just come from a dance practice in the town hall.

On the way home in the car, (a Volkswagen I note), the children chatted excitedly to me in Portuguese and upon discovering I had just arrived from Germany, were eager to show off their language skills and proceeded to talk to me in German. For a moment I thought that my six months in Berlin had not paid off; I could not understand a word of what was being said, until I realized that the German being spoken was actually Hunsruckisch.

This is a German linguistic variety that has survived in Southern Brazil due to the influx of immigrants from the Hunsruck region of Germany in the 19th century and still retains antiquated linguistic elements, along with strong influences from Brazilian Portuguese. I had read an article in a journal about this variety, however was unaware of how widespread it remains in modern Brazil, despite being repressed during the Estado Novo, 1930-1954, when President Vargas made Portuguese the national language to create his ‘homogeneous’ Brazil.

Living with the Muller-Oliveira family was a eye opening introduction to Luso-Teutonic culture, we regularly went ‘ufs Fescht’, to parties which consisted of traditional street dancing under the hot Brazilian sun, followed by the odd cheeky ‘caneca-chen’ (caneca being a large glass of beer in Portuguese, somehow made into an innocent treat by the addition of the German diminutive ending chen), and finally, huge portions of Sauerkraut accompanied by Linguica, the Brazilian version of Wurst.

The fact that I had encountered this so called German specialty 10,000 miles away from its country of origin got me thinking about cliches, and how important it is to not base our judgments of entire cultures upon them.

Several travelers I later met in Rio and the North East of Brazil, condemned the South as not being worthy of a visit, as it could not be classed as the ‘real’ Brazil – a ridiculous claim as, since its first discovery by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, Brazil has always been a melting pot of different cultures.

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