The streets are immaculate, the inhabitants are blonde and the local beer is exceptional. Welcome to Brazil’s ‘little Germany’.
Andere Länder, andere Sitten (“other countries, other customs”) is an old German proverb that acts as a gentle reminder to Volks from the Vaterland that foreign cultures, no matter how peculiar, also deserve their respect. This Germanic “When in Rome…” must have been forgotten in the wake, however, when the 19th-century pioneers set sail from the Baltic to Brazil; the prospective émigrés were clearly intent instead on building a replica Heim vom Heim in the Tropics.
According to the cheerful roadside “Wilkommen!” on its city limits in the southern state of Santa Catarina, Pomerode is “The Most German City in Brazil”. The diaspora from Deutschland began in the 1820s, decades before other European countries (excluding Portugal of course) caught wind of the opportunities in the generous expanse of the Brazilian southlands. A handful of families from Pomerania in northernmost Germany arrived in 1861 and decided to hike a few miles north of the existing colony of Blumenau to claim the valley of the Itajaí-Açu river as their own. Here they founded Pomerode, a microcosm of German life that still holds onto its heritage with curious intensity.
Wendelin Siewert’s grandfather arrived in 1896 with his nine children and four brothers. “Just like Moses who took the Israelites from Egypt, the Germans came here looking for a new land. Pomerode was one of the last to be populated and the people here strongly embrace the old customs,” says Siewert in a mix of Portuguese and Pommersch, the Pomeranian-German dialect still spoken by 80 per cent of the city’s population of almost 25,000, where modern German is now taught in the local schools.
“My grandfather built this house in the Pomeranian style with help from his neighbours. It still operates as a farm, and we live off the corn, sugarcane and livestock just as he did. It is an old house but we will never leave.”
Such dedication to preserving the traditions of a European region that no longer exists, and one that most of the locals have never even visited, is, at times, unnerving. Pomerode feels disconnected from the rest of Brazil. Everyone is blonde or blondish. The twee bungalows with their wattle and daub pitched roofs are painstakingly tended and, unlike the rest of rural Brazil, there are few dirt roads or idle folk in faded T-shirts spitting at scrawny chickens and casually manoeuvring old car tyres across busy intersections. In fact, the entire region is well-maintained, and city hall is keeping everything wound tight in toy town – no rubbish bag uncollected, no cycle lane left unpainted or grass verge unmown.
If not for the occasional skitter of iguanas, thick palm groves and searing January sun, a wander through the ordered streets of the Stadt is like taking a pastoral stroll around a freshly unpacked Märklin train set modelled on the western provinces of the North European Plain.
Retaining the city’s character and promoting progress was central to newly elected mayor Rolf Nicolodelli’s campaign, himself of third-generation descent, who was appointed on a few key promises. “My vision is of the safest, cleanest and most pleasant place to live and to improve the quality of life of our citizens. We have already received a delegation from the Swedish town of Borås, considered the cleanest city in the world, in order to learn from them. I want to make Pomerode an example to be followed.”
Nicolodelli’s tourism secretary, Fred Ullrich, who also hosts his own German-language radio show called Hallo Freunde on local station Antena 1, is also big on tradition. “We kept a closed society here, keeping the ancient German culture alive,” he says, and he is quick to point out current ties with the homeland. “The main connection we have now with Germany is an industrial one. Because many people speak German here, companies decided to invest since communication was easier. Before, Germany was too far away; now it became closer.”
With zero unemployment and the local presence of large German companies such as home appliance manufacturer Bosch and machinist Netzsch, the region is prosperous. Last October bmw announced that it would invest €200m to open its first Brazilian production plant in Araquari, 20km to the north of Pomerode.
And there are smaller, homegrown businesses that are also profiting from the city’s heritage. No German town, at home or abroad, can be considered home without its Wurstmacher. Olho feeds Pomerode’s sausage-munching citizens with Bratwurst, Blutwurst and Weisswurst, filling the skins with local ingredients from its family-owned facility on the outskirts of town. “Our products are the priciest on the market because we put good quality ingredients in them. We do it like the Germans. We keep the standards and now our average annual growth is 35 per cent. We are planning to expand to supply São Paulo and the rest of Brazil,” says owner Luiz Antonio Bergamo.
A German sausage is hardly worth its weight in stuffing without a swig of Pilsner to wash it down, and Schorstein, a microbrewery that popped up in the centre of Pomerode in 2006, now pumps out 30,000 litres of Bock, Weiss and Pilsner and distributes the barrels to thirsty customers throughout Santa Catarina and neighbouring states.
“If you visit the Pomeranian festival you will see how popular the product is with the German community. As a Brazilian who loves beer I recognise the superior quality of the German style, which is why people pay a premium,” says master brewer José Carlos da Silva Rosa with a salutary “Prost!”.
In a bid to further safeguard Pomeranian traditions the city celebrated its 30th annual Festa Pomerana at the end of January. Attracting 89,805 visitors who consumed 168,306 chopps (draft beer), the week-long celebrations were the boldest yet – with blasting brass instruments; dressing in Dirndl, Lederhosen and feathered felt Hüte; speed-sawing; log-stacking; and the crowning of the Pomeranian princesses. After just three weeks in office, mayor Nicolodelli was understandably optimistic about his city’s future and the preservation of its heritage. “We give incentives to our hunting and shooting societies. We also have a cultural centre that hosts music and art workshops, and our new municipal theatre will receive funding to create a theatre school.”
But this, “the most German city in Brazil”, is well aware of its position in the country. Seen as something of a closed society by Brazilians in general, Nicolodelli hopes to update the values Pomerode holds so dear by both assimilating more with his Brazilian counterparts and strengthening links with the fatherland.
“We are in touch with many Brazilian mayors and city officials and we treat them like part of the family,” says Nicolodelli. “We will also implement training schemes in co-operation with senai and senac [Brasília’s federal programmes for professional training]. We have bilateral partnerships with German sister cities such as Torgelow, Neustrelitz and Berlin and we will visit Europe this year to consolidate some of these partnerships and research global trends for renewable energy and recycling.”
So it seems that maybe that old German proverb has finally found its way across the Atlantic just in time for the sixth generation.
Forget your Wires and West Wings and Worlds at War, the best TV series of all time is Heimat. Who knew? The Germans. And the Brits, in fact; it was shown on the BBC in 1984. At 15 hours the first series of Heimat is a TV monolith that revels in a mix of black-and-white and colour and its subtitles to reach deep into the past, presenting history as a spectre to treat with care while bringing it to life in a way that allowed Michael Haneke to film The White Ribbon with such confidence (because something similar and even better had been done before).
Edgar Reitz’s drama starts in 1919 with a German soldier, Paul Simon, heading back after the Great War to the home that has become more foreign to him than the Flemish battlefields. Simon leaves his wife and sons for the US, leaving the notion of Home, the rough translation of the title, to haunt him and his family for the rest of their days. In the original series Heimat’s narrative reaches 1982, and two more series followed the fortunes of the family right up to date. The news? Heimat is back: Die Andere Heimat is soon to start shooting and weaves a story between 19th-century Hunsrück and dreams of Brazil.
Stroll down the main strip of Villa General Belgrano, with its low-rise wooden-framed houses, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Black Forest. But Villa General Belgrano is, in fact, in the province of Córdoba, central Argentina.
European immigrants established the town at the end of the 1920s but Villa General Belgrano gained notoriety at the beginning of the Second World War when crew members of the Graf Spee – a German warship that had been chased into the neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguay, by the British and promptly scuttled – moved to the town. Argentina’s neutral government welcomed the crew, technically under custody, although some returned to Germany when Argentina declared war on Hitler at the end of March 1945. Many settled, marrying local women and raising Spanish-speaking children.
Miguel Angel Roca, an architect who spends his weekends here, remembers his childhood summers in the town, when he says around 80 per cent of the population was of German descent. The numbers these days are much smaller, he says, and many are second or third generation who no longer speak German and have little connection to the past. Now, the town is a popular tourist destination. In October, its population quadruples during the Oktoberfest, one of the largest in Latin America. In the summer, the dry air and cool nights are a draw for porteños who want to escape the humidity of the capital. The cuckoo clocks, gnomes and wooden signage are largely for the visitors, who lap up the Sound of Music kitsch.