Although the northeast of Santa Catarina is populated by people of many ethnic origins, it’s an area most associated with Germans, who so obviously dominate both culturally and economically. Joinville and Blumenau vie with each other to be not only the economic powerhouse of the region, but also the cultural capital. However, both cities lose out in terms of tourist interest to the small towns and villages of the interior, where old dialects are still spoken. One such community is Pomerode, which is set in a picturesque area and does much to promote its German heritage.
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Thirty kilometres to the north of Blumenau, POMERODE is probably the most German “city” in Brazil. Not only are ninety percent of its 25,000 widely dispersed inhabitants descended from German immigrants, but eighty percent of the município’s population continue to speak the language. Unlike in Blumenau, in Pomerode German continues to thrive and is spoken just about everywhere, although in schools it takes second place to Portuguese. There are several reasons for this: almost all the immigrants – who arrived in the 1860s – came from Pomerania, and therefore did not face the problem of mixing with other immigrants speaking often mutually unintelligible dialects; as ninety percent of the population are Lutheran, German was retained for the act of worship; and, until recently, Pomerode was isolated by poor roads and communication links. This isolation has all but ended, though. The road to Blumenau is now excellent, buses are frequent, car ownership is common and televisions are universal. However, despite the changes, German looks more entrenched than ever. The language has been reintroduced into the local school curriculum, cultural groups thrive and, where the government has exerted pressure, it has been to encourage the language’s survival.
Pomerode is renowned for its festivals, the chief of which is the Festa Pomerana, a celebration of local industry and culture held annually for ten days, usually from around January 7. Most of the events take place on the outskirts of town, on Rua XV de Novembro, about 1km from the tourist office, and during the day thousands of people from neighbouring cities descend on Pomerode to sample the local food, attend the song and dance performances and visit the commercial fair. By late afternoon, though, the day-trippers leave and the Festa Pomerana comes alive as the colonos from the surrounding areas transform the festivities into a truly popular event. Local and visiting bands play German and Brazilian music, and dancing continues long into the night. In July, Pomerode organizes the smaller, though similar, Winterfest.
There are more regular festivities too, as every Saturday the local hunting clubs take turns to host dances. Visitors are always made to feel welcome, and details of the week’s venue are displayed on posters around town, or ask at the tourist office. As many of the clubs are located in the município’s outlying reaches, a bus is laid on, leaving from outside the post office on Rua XV de Novembro.
The main activity for visitors, other than attending the town’s famous festivals and dances, is walking. Pomerode has Santa Catarina’s greatest concentration of proudly preserved nineteenth- and early twentieth-century enxaimel farm buildings, the largest number found in the município’s Wunderwald district. To reach them, cross the bridge near the Lutheran church, turn left and continue walking along the road for about twenty minutes, then turn right just before a bridge across a small stream. If you’re feeling energetic, return to the main road and cross the bridge, walk on another hundred metres or so and turn left along the Testo Alto road; about 3km up the steep valley, you’ll arrive at the Cascata Cristalina, where you’ll be able to cool off under the tiny waterfall or use the swimming pool.
An hour from São Francisco, the land on which JOINVILLE was settled was originally given as a dowry by Emperor Dom Pedro to his sister, who had married the Prince of Joinville, the son of Louis-Philippe of France. A deal with Hamburg timber merchants meant that, in 1851, 191 Germans, Swiss and Norwegians arrived in Santa Catarina, to exploit the fifty square kilometres of virgin forest, stake out homesteads and establish the “Colônia Dona Francisca” – later known as Joinville. As more Germans were dispatched from Hamburg, Joinville grew and prospered, developing from an agricultural backwater into the state’s foremost industrial city. This economic success has diluted much of Joinville’s once solidly German character, but evidence of its ethnic origins remains: the largely Germanic architecture and the impeccably clean streets produce the atmosphere of a rather dull, small town in Germany.
German Santa Catarina
German Santa Catarina
In the nineteenth century, as it became more difficult to enter the United States, land-hungry European immigrants sought new destinations, many choosing Brazil as their alternative America. Thousands made their way into the forested wilderness of Santa Catarina, attempting to become independent farmers, and of all of them, it was the Germans who most successfully fended off assimilationist pressures. Concentrated in areas where few non-Germans lived, there was little reason for them to learn Portuguese, and, as merchants, teachers, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors arrived with the immigrants, complete communities evolved, with flourishing German cultural organizations and a varied German-language press. After Brazil’s entry into World War II, restrictions on the use of German were introduced and many German organizations were proscribed, accused of being Nazi fronts. Certainly, “National Socialism” found some of its most enthusiastic followers among overseas Germans and, though the extent of Nazi activity in Santa Catarina is a matter of debate, for years after the collapse of the Third Reich ex-Nazis attracted sympathy in even the most isolated forest homesteads.
Later, due to the compulsory use of Portuguese in schools, the influence of radio and television and an influx of migrants from other parts of the state to work in the region’s rapidly expanding industries, the German language appeared to be dying in Santa Catarina. As a result, in Joinville and Blumenau – the region’s largest cities – German is now rarely heard. However, in outlying villages and farming communities such as Pomerode, near Blumenau, German remains very much alive, spoken everywhere but in government offices. Recently, too, the German language and Teuto-Brazilian culture have undergone a renaissance for which the German government has provided financial support. Property developers are encouraged to heed supposedly traditional German architectural styles, resulting in a plethora of buildings that may be appropriate for alpine conditions, but look plain silly in the Brazilian subtropics. A more positive development has been the move to protect and restore the houses of the early settlers, especially those built in the most characteristic local building style, that of enxaimel (“Fachwerk” in German) – exposed bricks within an exposed timber frame. These houses are seen throughout the region, concentrated most heavily in the area around Pomerode. Keen to reap benefits from the new ethnic awareness, local authorities have also initiated pseudo-German festivals, such as Blumenau’s Munich-inspired “Oktoberfest” and Pomerode’s more authentic “Festa Pomerana”, both of which have rapidly become major tourist draws.