By: Chris Frome, Phillip Katz, and Mike Rose
German immigration into Brazil has played an integral role in shaping Brazilian culture and has facilitated a cultural role that has culminated in numerous cultural exchanges between the two countries. Brazil’s German population is most concentrated in the South region of Brazil and immigration began in the 1820s. When the German immigrants first started coming over to Brazil, the South was most appealing to them due to the climate in the area. The climate is generally warm throughout most of the year without extremely hot or cold seasons. A very popular destination for the immigrants was Florianopolis:
The plurality of German immigrants (about a third) came to Brazil between the two World Wars. German immigration (and other immigrant groups) allowed Brazil to populate its Southern region, a region that was a concern for the Brazilian government because they worried that bordering countries may be able to penetrate Brazil through this region. Brazil attracted German immigrants by offering these vast swaths of land for families who wanted to live in Brazil. However, Germans had to learn to be self-sufficient. Getting a foothold in Brazil became difficult for German immigrants, and in fact, the first attempts to create what were called German “colonies” in rural Brazil were quite unsuccessful. The influence of Germans in Brazil was, at one time so prevalent that there were concerns that Germany could annex Southern Brazil because of their concentration there. The print media though, trumpeted this speculation. This created a bit of tension between German immigrants and Brazilians, however much of this was overrated. At first, there were challenges in Germans identifying themselves as both Brazilian and German but as time went on; the German immigrants became culturally integrated. As urbanization in Brazil continued, many moved into cities and began to work in high-skilled jobs in the service-sector. They also helped contributed heavily to the aviation industry. The German population in Brazil is the fifth largest of immigrant groups, and German is the second most spoken language after Portuguese. Today, that population is about 400,000.
German Cities of Brazil
The main area of settlement for Germans in Brazil was in the South. The Climate was very appealing to them due to the cooler temperatures found in this part of the country. The cities of Joinville and Blumenau in the Santa Catarina state were the two largest settled by the Germans. Pomerode was also a major town.
In 1850 Hermann Bruno Otto von Blumenau, a German pharmacist, founded the city of Blumenau located in the state of Santa Catarina. The city is best known for holding an Oktoberfest each year since 1984. The Oktoberfest in Blumenau is currently the world’s second biggest Oktoberfest. The festival features traditional dress, long dresses for the women and lederhosens for the men. Traditional dances of Germany are performed including yodeling, Oom-Pah-Pah and polka. Around 30 million people have visited the festival to date. These traditional German customs are used mostly in the festivities, such as Oktoberfest, not in everyday life.
Another town of distinct German heritage is Pomerode located in the northeast of the Santa Catarina state. around 90 percent of the city still speak German. Today you can still see the great influence German traditions have on the city.
The inhabitants of the region have had a lasting impact on architecture. The buildings of the regions have exposed brick within a frame of exposed wood. Today the older houses of the region are being carefully preserved, and developers are encouraged to build in authentic German styles.
Cultural Influence: farming, religion, food/beverage, education, and technology
Historically, Roman Catholicism has been the predominant religion of the country of Brazil. Initially, the government of Brazil requested that only Catholic Germans be sent over to Brazil, until 1889 when the republic of Brazil was established. Early in the development of the republic, many German Protestants entered the country, with a large concentration in Pomerania, despite Roman Catholicism being the state religion. Today, over half of all German-Brazilians are Protestants. When Germans came to Brazil in the 1800s, there were also many Jews who had come from Alsace-Lorraine within Germany. This led to the construction of Jewish communities and synagogues. Some pastors and teachers were sent to Brazil to work on ensuring that economic, political and German religious ideals were preserved in even in Brazil.
In Nova Petropolis, a town of about 20,000 in Rio Grande do Sul in schools, learning German is mandatory. Germans who established towns also established schools where German was taught so that their families could attend school. Portuguese would later become important as Germans assimilated a bit more with native Brazilians and other immigrant groups, they would have to learn Portuguese and teach that more in schools in order to communicate with them.
As time went on, the area also became a pioneer for the country in banking and telecom as well as transport. Despite the Brazilian shoe industry’s help by the Germans, as time went on (and even today) because the Brazilian shoe industry was a lot of small manufacturers and was fragmented. German immigrants brought with them the skills and technology to contribute to the leather shoe making industry. Immigrant groups such as the Germans coming in with new technology and skills helped boost productivity in Brazil. The advent of the rail system in Brazil allowed Vale Dos Sinos, a region heavy in German population to become a manufacturing hub for shoes. The rail brought more businesses and people into the region as it allowed the area to enjoy economic success.
German immigrants into Brazil were given land and had to develop the land and homes themselves. They also had to find a source of income which often meant they would come in as small farmers because there were very few people working the land. For many, this meant farming. This meant that especially early on, farming was the economic livelihood of the Germans. Eventually, as Germans settled in Brazil, many made it outside the low-income jobs of farming and became merchants and helped developed German villages which are discussed later.
Food & Beverage
German immigrants made a big impact initially on the food industry in Brazil. Before the Germans came to Brazil, wheat was not much of a commodity. The German immigrants introduced wheat to the indigenous people of Brazil. Another food that was brought to Brazil by the German Immigrants were various types of sausages. Lastly, the obvious impact that German immigrants had on Brazil in the food and beverage industry was beer and it is now the most popular beverage in Brazil to this day. Brazil even now hosts an Oktoberfest celebration which is the second largest one worldwide to Germany.
Dr. Leyser, a German traveling in Brazil, had this to say, “Nowhere are our colonies, those loyal offshoots from the mother root, so promising as here. Today in these provinces, over thirty per cent of the inhabitants are Germans, or of German descent, and the ratio of their natural increase far exceeds that of the Portuguese. Surely to us belongs this part of the world, and the key to it all is Santa Catharina, stretching from the harbor of San Francisco far into the interior with its hitherto undeveloped, hardly suspected wealth. Here indeed, in southern Brazil, is a rich and healthy land, where the German emigrant may retain his nationality, where for all that is comprised in the word ‘Germanismus’ a glorious future miles.”
Germans, Brazil, and World War I and II
World War I
Some of the tension between Brazilians and Germans was exacerbated during World War I where Germany’s use of submarine warfare distance Brazilian policies from those of the Germans. German led newspapers within Brazil, agreed with their German homeland. Germans led campaigns for German Red Cross in Brazil and received news from German wires that spoke out against the British and French. Interestingly, the German elites living in Brazil did not want to get caught in political conflict and had established themselves and wealthy and influential and did not want to engage in conflict with Brazilian natives as this could threaten their position. There was propaganda spread among German settlements in Brazil that shifted the opinion of Germans in Brazil. It all broke out when Germany torpedoed a Brazilian submarine in 1917 and Brazil ended diplomatic relations with Germany. Riots broke out against Germans and there was actually homes burnt in German settlements in Brazil. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment so some German businesses operating in Brazil with German names had to change their names in order to continue receiving business. Finally, in 1917, after Brazil broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, Brazil began restricting some institutions in Brazil. In 1917, Brazil, almost unanimously declared war on Germany after the submarine and ship seizing incident.
World War II
During the time of WWII President Vargas instituted strict assimilation programs into the Brazilian culture. This new law had an affect on German in a number of ways. The first was that German based schools were shut down. Second homes of German architecture were destroyed. Lastly German language use was prohibited. This policy was enforced do discourage any display of the German culture in Brazil. These polices caused low numbers of German immigrants. In 1942, Nazi Germany attacked Brazilian ships, and Brazil broke relations with the Axis at the Rio conference, and entered the war officially in August the same year. Brazil sent its navy to sink German U-Boats. During this time Brazil was seen by many as pro-Nazi. Brazil also sent an Expeditionary Force over to fight in Europe. This force enlisted many German-Brazilians to fight along with Allied forces. This was tragic because many of the German-Brazilians in the force were forced to fight against Germany and the people of the land that they came from.
German Impact on Aviation Industry
Transport was a major accomplishment of German development in Brazil. Blumenau, for a long time dedicated 63 percent of its total revenues to roads and bridges. By 1926, German colonies in the South had the finest natural surface roads in Brazil. Even where Germans were few or their colonies nonexistent, they pioneered road construction.
The creation of a Brazilian airline came in 1927 by Otto Ernet Meyer. Otto Meyer made a deal with Condor Syndikat, a German airline: the airline agreed to provide a plane and staff to operate the plane in exchange for 21% of the future Brazilian airline. Condor Syndikat received authorization to fly in Brazil in January of 1927 and on February 3 they launched Brazil’s first commercial airline flight. The flight was took place at low altitude and was over Lagoa dos Patos (Ducks Lagoon). The flight lasted a little over two hours, which was faster than taking the train, and the ticket price was comparable to that of a train. VARIG built a ramp and some workshops on Ilha Grande dos Marinheiros island in Jacuí river, in front of Porto Alegre city, to serve as operations base.
By the end of 1927 VARIG had carried a total of 668 passengers and had received its second aircraft. The company also acquired two Klemm L-25 aircraft, that were used to transport mailbag and also advertisement of commercial aviation in the inner cities of Rio Grande do Sul State. this was the beginning of the aviation industry in Brazil. In 2006, Varig officially split into two companies. One became known as “old” VARIG and the other was “new” VARIG which was integrated into Gol Airlines. Gol now encompasses most of the progress VARIG has made since their creation.
Through the years, Germans have left a major impact on the ecconomy of Southern Brazil in which they settled. They brought advances in agriculture, religions, foods and beverages, industrial manufacturing, and architecture. German architecture can still be seen in the towns of southern Brazil. Even today, Germans are important in Brazil. Most immigrants from Germany married immigrants from other groups or from there own groups. It was not very common for a German immigrant to marry an indigenous person. Many German Brazilian models are well known including Gisele Bündchen.
The German city of Florianopolis is considered one of the best cities in Brazil to live due to its low crime rates, and good standards of living, due to lower amounts of poor as compared to other Brazilian cities. The world’s second-largest Oktoberfest is in Brazil, proof that German culture is still relevant today. German immigrants in the 1800s also were the first to bring over beer to Brazil, today the most popular alcoholic beverage in Brazil.