A Brazilian Volksfest

By Rob Packer

Oktoberfest in Blumenau

I’ve dedicated about a third of my life to the German language and lived in Germany for a year, but have never been to the country’s most famous festival, Oktoberfest in Munich (from Berlin we used to sneer at the strange ways of those Bavarians). This all means that I didn’t have much of a point of reference this weekend at the world’s second-largest Oktoberfest in Blumenau, Brazil. It was quite the disorienting experience.

Frohes Fest!

A Blumenau department store.

Brazil began encouraging migrants to settle its southern states in the second half of the 19th century, above all attracting Germans and Italians and there are dialects holding out here that are now extinct in Europe (here and herein Wikipedia). In Santa Catarina, German settlement was concentrated around Joinville and cutely named Blumenau, the valley of flowers. Today Germans and Italians make up most of Blumenau’s population, the city centre is a pastiche of Central European architecture, and it has proudly hosted the Americas’ largest “Germanic festival” since 1984—a highly successful tourism project after a serious flood.

Mitteleuropa in Brasilien.

I’ve already been to a (delicious) more-German-than-Germany restaurant in Curitiba, where I realized that my limit for non-stop Blasmusik (sometimes in Portuguese) is probably around the three-hour mark. A day tour from Florianópolis leaving at 5pm and returning at 5am really sounded like more Volksfest than I could really handle (this is a big clue about what the festival is about), so we decided to go in the afternoon and take the last scheduled bus home. Maybe I read too much into it, but the idea of 10 hours in a Ballermann-Party set to samba rock was too much to risk.

Starting as you mean to continue.

Being in Blumenau in the afternoon meant that we got to see the city’s Schützenvereine, Tanzgruppen and brass bands parade through the centre with this year’s Rainha do Oktoberfest (no, not this kind of Schützenkönigin). Once the procession was over, we followed the sea of Dirndl, Lederhosen and other Trachten to the Vila Germânica, an enormous complex of Bierzelte at the centre of the festival built to look like a town on the Romantic Road. We only had two short hours to look around before our bus left but here were three big disappointments:

  • No Franziskaner Weißbier: Supplies of the only German beer in the house were running low at the end of a two-week festival. Luckily, locally brewed Eisenbahn is excellent.
  • Schlager? I never expected to hear any recent German music or Neue Deutsche Welle—although, bizarrely, I heard a 2raumwohnung track in a shop the next day. But what about a few Schlager? A couple of tunes by Udo Jürgens or Roland Kaiser’s (actually quite relevant) Santa Maria? Nothing. I hope this at least was remedied by the wee hours.
  • Hot dogs: A Bratwurst, Bockwurst or Wiener Würstchen with a Brötchen might look like a bit like a cachorro quente (hot dog), but it’s really not the same thing. This is to say nothing of the x-alemão: a terrifying-looking concoction of slices of frankfurter and ham fried and put in a burger bun.

Oktoberfest in Brazil is a strange experience that made me think of the architects who built the wrong kindof German town in China: it certainly was German, it just wasn’t the bit of Germany that I know.

Tracht everywhere.

Drinking beer while spinning yourself like a helicopter: surely a bad idea.

The Oktoberfest parade.

Dirndl for sale in a local shop.

Really? Blumenau's main street used to be called Wurststraße?

Inside Blumenau's Vila Germânica: this looks like it was based on the Rathaus in Wernigerode.

Inside the Bierzelt.

Eisenbahn's wheat and dark beers.

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