BLUMENAU – OKTOBERFEST IN BRAZIL

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Brazil – Desi Arnaz

The classic tune “Brazil”, performed in a classic style by Desi Arnaz and his Orchestra (yes, the Desi from “I Love Lucy”, he led a Band Orchestra in real life too, not just on TV).  Now imagine what might happen to this classic arrangement if it got appropriated for the Oktoberfest crowd.  Why, then it may sound something like this:

Brazil – Ray Coniff and his Orchestra

That’s what I would call the processed cheese version of “Brazil”.  And yet, as processed cheese orchestrations go, it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been.  It’s the kind of musical cheese that can still put a smile on my face, rather than make me gag or hurl.   As for it being played at Oktoberfest, well, it’s probably way too classy for Oktoberfest.  But we’ll get to that a little later, after we’ve been properly introduced to Oktoberfest in Brazil.

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Billboard along the highway to Blumenau

Oktoberfest is the beer swilling, polka grooving party for the masses that grips Germany, especially Southern Germany, in October.  The biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world is, not surprisingly, in Munich, Germany.  The second biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world is in Blumenau, Brazil.

What?  Blumenau, Brazil?

map-of-south-brazilYep, Blumenau, founded by Dr. Herrman Bruno Otto Blumenau and 17 other German immigrants 1850 in Southern Brazil and now home to about 300 000 souls, a fifth of which have German ancestry, claims the distinction of playing host to the biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world after Munich, attracting up to a million tourists to its Bavarian bacchanal.  Every other German city can just eat its Brazilian dust.

The city of Blumenau has even built a theme park specifically for Oktoberfest.  Called “Vila Germânica”, it recreates a Disneyland Main Street version of an old fashioned German town, linked with a covered bridge boasting faux German half-timber (Fachwerk) architecture and roof tiling to a stadium big enough to add hundreds of thousands of revelers to the hundreds of thousands mingling in the fake German Village streets.

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Oktoberfest revelers in Vila Germânica

For me, who grew up in Germany, and who, truth be told, never really warmed up to the Oktoberfest culture, with its beers in steins, its vaguely (or not so vaguely) sexist buxom-girls-in-dirndl and drunk-goofs-in-lederhosen humor, and especially its obnoxiously peppy and unrelentingly polka-dotty “Schunkel” music (Schunkeln is swaying back and forth side by side rhythmically, often with arms linked, always with much exaggerated frivolity), walking through Blumenau’s Vila Germânica and seeing this theme park version of Germany in tropical Brazil was disorienting, like having a dream that feels too real and yet also feels unsettlingly “off”.

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The Brazilian/Germanic hybridization of the Blumenau Oktoberfest souvenirs knocked me slightly off balance.  But my mind was perfectly blown, and not really in a good way, when I heard Brazilian versions of German Schunkel-music piped in several souvenir shops.  It’s weird enough to hear this kind of peppy Bavarian bilge sung in Portuguese, even weirder to hear phrases like “Eins Zwei Drei” (One, Two Three), “Alle mit dabei” (all together now, basically) “Prosit” (Bavarian for Drink up/Cheers) and, most alarmingly “Schunkel, Schunkel Schunkel” commanded with thick Brazilian accents.

So this is what really became of the Boys of Brazil:

Ein Prosit Blumenau – Cavalinho Branco – Oktoberfest

Ed and I visited Blumenau in August, not during Oktoberfest, so we were able to take in the town and Vila Germânica theme park during the calm before the Sturm und Drang of October.  So let’s take a closer less populated look, first at Vila Germânica:

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Above the “Fachwerk” bridge that connects the stadium (right) to the German Village.

Below, the main access point into Vila Germânica:

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And now we’re inside:

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In an actual German village, the half-timber work would be made with actual timber, and not look so flat like the facade this is.  Still, props for much of the detail work, like the many overflowing flower boxes.

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“One more drop, Fritz?” – “This effort makes me so thirsty”

Oktoberfest souvenirs dominate Blumenau’s retail market, in and out of Vila Germânica:

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The saleslady below tried to interest us in the 2016 edition of the official Blumenau Oktoberfest Stein.  Every year gets its own special design.

I asked her if she spoke German.  She didn’t, but the waitress at the Bremen Center cake shop in town did speak perfect German with us.

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“In Blumenau I spent all my money, so I could afford only half a cup.”

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Within the city of Blumenau, especially in and near the “downtown” area, Germanic houses are strewn along the more typical Brazilian apartment and office buildings and stores.

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This store was built in the 1970’s as a copy of the oldest Rathaus (City Hall) in Germany (built 1484 in Michelstadt).  It’s said to be the second most photographed thing in Brazil (after the Falls of Iguaçu).

 

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The modernistic Catholic Church bell tower looms over the main shopping strip with building facades in the traditional German Fachwerk (half-timber) style.

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Walking up to and then inside the main Catholic Church in Blumenau.

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Blumenau’s City Hall is clearly influenced by Bavarian architecture.  Only, you are not likely to find palm trees in Bavaria.

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Blumenau spreads out on both sides of the Rio Itajaí-açu, connected by the Iron Bridge:

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Below, the Mausoleum for Dr. Blumenau.  It holds his remains and those of his family, but Blumenau himself died in Germany.  He had lost his home in the flood of 1883 as well as found himself in political difficulties: he was an ardent monarchist (even named his son Pedro after Brazil’s king) and the military had just deposed the king.  So Blumenau sadly left his adopted homeland and the city he founded and returned to Germany in 1884.

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Floods would bedevil Blumenau again.  The 1980’s, hundred years after the flood that washed away Dr. Blumenau’s home, would see more devastating flooding.  By the river stand these stones carved with a poem about floods.  Memorials with complete poems are pretty common in Brazil.

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The plaque above commemorates the establishment of Blumenau’s first street.  Dr. Blumenau himself ordered the planting of the palm trees to create a median “Allee” (German for tree-lined avenue).

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The avenue leads to the Lutheran Church:

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These two palm trees were planted the day the corner stone was laid for the Lutheran church. 150 years ago.

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The grave yard has the family plots of most of the families and descendants of the original immigrants.  German names and German language are carved into a great many of the stones:

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As it got dark, Ed and I walked back through the Allee to the largest restaurant in Blumenau, overlooking the river.  Where we would order not Brazilian food, but the most quintessentially German meal possible:

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With red and white wurst!

And mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

Two kinds of mustard and horse radish in ramekins.

It was delicious!  Especially the Eisbein!

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And I couldn’t resist washing it down with good old Malzbier, a sweet dark beer with very little alcohol, which I drank instead of Coke as a kid growing up in Berlin.  Ed drank something typically Brazilian: Pineapple juice with mint.  Also refreshingly delicious.

Twilight view of Blumenau and Rio Itajaí-açu:

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Oktoberfest parade on Blumenau’s main streets

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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