Despite Joinville’s challenge, BLUMENAU has succeeded in promoting itself as the “capital” of German Santa Catarina. Picturesquely located on the banks of the Rio Itajaí, Blumenau was founded in 1850 by Dr Hermann Blumenau, who served as director of the colony until his return to Germany in 1880. Blumenau always had a large Italian minority, but it was mainly settled by Germans and, as late as the 1920s, two-thirds of the population spoke German as their first language. In the surrounding rural communities an even larger proportion of the population were German speakers, many of them finding it completely unnecessary to learn Portuguese. Well into the twentieth century Blumenau was isolated, with only poor river transport connections with the rest of Brazil beyond the Itajaí valley – circumstances that meant its German character was retained for longer than in Joinville.
It’s easy to sneer, but tourists from São Paulo are impressed by Blumenau’s old-world atmosphere and visit in large numbers, especially during the annual Oktoberfest (t 47/3326-6901, w www.oktoberfestblumenau.com.br). Held, since 1984, over eighteen days in October, besides vast quantities of beer and German food, the main event attractions are the local and visiting German bands and German folk-dance troupes. Performances take place at PROEB, Blumenau’s exhibition centre, located on the city’s outskirts (frequent buses run during the festival period), as well as in the downtown streets and the central Biergarten. So successful has the Oktoberfest been in drawing visitors to Blumenau – a million people attended the festivities during its peak year in 1992 – that the city’s authorities realized that the event’s local flavour had been swamped by outsiders, and consequently they have halved attendance.