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.