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Published: February 4th 2015
OK, I know I am far behind in my updates. And there is no excuse…. So let’s get on with it with my trip to Gramado and Nova Petropolis, two cities about two hour’s drive from Porto Alegre. And what a different place it was.
With Christmas over and done with, and for the first time in over 25 years not celebrated the event with family and friends in Australia, Carla decided that New Year’s Eve should be spend outside Porto Alegre in a small town about two hour’s drive west. So we hired a car and set of early one morning to reach our destination in time to still fit in some sightseeing. Because it was New Year’s Eve we had difficulties in booking a hotel as everything was booked out, but thanks to Carla’s investigating skills and spending hours on the internet and phone, we found a place in a hostel where it works an agricultural college in a small town called Nova Petropolis.
After driving for about two hours we arrived at our hostel and what a nice place it was. The hostel was basic, but the location was awesome. The landscape was hilly and absolutely
stunning. Everything was in a lush green and one could have thought it was Austria or Switzerland, and not Brazil, where we were. And the most amazing part was that all the locals spoke, around Portuguese, German with a Hunsrückisch dialect. So it was amazing, when we checked into the hostel, that the woman at the counter started speaking German with me, explain the history of the area and what we can do.
Now here is a bit of a history lesson regarding this area. Nova Petropolis was settled by Bohemian and until the beginning of the 19th
century the region was pretty much empty and disputed by the Portuguese and the Spaniards. There are several cities in the States of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo whose people are predominantly descendant of Bohemians, Bavarians, Pomeranians, Alsatians and other peoples from different regions of Germany, like Westphalia, Hunsruck or Wurttemberg. And as a matter of fact, Germans are the 4th
largest group of immigrants in Brazil.
I think that there is a big misconception in the world about Brazil and its German influence. Most believe that the Germans arrived here after
the Second World War and were all Nazis on the run, complete with the old uniforms and NS ingrained in their brains. Well, that is not the case at all. Most Germans immigrated in the 19th
century and set up settlements all over the south of Brazil. And since they arrived in big groups and the Brazilian government allocated to them the areas they could live in, they settled all together and formed new towns, building houses like they remembered from their place of origin. So the buildings in the towns all around Gramado look like they were from Germany. And because these settlements were pretty isolated for over a hundred years, the people kept their tradition and languages alive. So much that German linguistic experts come here to study the dialect that is not even spoken in Germany anymore. So it is no wonder that so many Nazis fled here after WW II; it was a Germany away from Germany……..
After independence from Portugal, the Empire of Brazil started, with the help of the German kingdoms, to encourage immigrants from Germany to settle in Brazil. They were mainly adventurers (like me), scientists and artists, but there were no
significant German settlements. When a treaty was signed with England, John VI of Portugal committed himself to the extinction of slavery. So without slavery, Brazil needed cheap labour for the farms and later in the modern industries. They also attracted some Prussian soldiers to protect the borders in South Brazil and settle there. This kind of immigration was attractive: for those who wished to leave behind the wars, overpopulation and general misery in Europe, Those willing to come were offered 77 hectares of land, no taxes for 10 years and other benefits. Now how attractive must that have been for the people in Germany where only 10% to 20% of the population had properties bigger than 10 hectares? And for somebody who wanted to join the Brazilian army at that time, the travel ticket was paid by the government when they committed themselves for a 4 year service. The immigration was also supported by some private German societies, but the German cities tried to minimize this as they saw that a lot of skilled people left for the far land.
Once in Brazil, many immigrants faced the terrible reality of working the farms, working more or less like the
slaves they replaced; long hours, without any rights and support of any kind. It was so bad that between 1859 and 1897, Prussia forbade the recruitment of immigrants into Brazil. The largest immigration waves happened in the 1820s, 1850s, 1880, 1890 and the last one was in the 1920s, because of the economic crisis in the Weimer Republic. So, that’s it for the lesson. Relax now…….
So after the check in we wasted no time and drove to Gramado, about 12 km from the hostel. And what a touristy town it was; tons of people roaming the streets that looked like a German Disney Land. OK, I understand that the people have to make money and that tourism is their main income, but come on…… There is one thing in preserving the culture and identity, but another to overdo it.
During our first night at the hostel we started talking to some other people that stayed their and one of the couples was from the neighbor state Santa Catarina. And since this was our next destination we got some really good tips what to see and where to go. Of course all in German as they too were
descendants from German immigrants…. How cool is that?
Just 16 km from where we stayed was Nova Petropolis, a city founded by Bohemian settlers. And in contrast to Gramado it was not touristy at all. The German heritage was beautifully preserved without going over the top. We ate the “Café Colonial” one of the typical dishes in South Brazil. It consists of a table with many German, Italian and Gaucho dishes. It was massive……
New Year’s Eve was spend in a German restaurant in Gramado and it was a quiet affair with just Carla and me. And it was nice to welcome 2015 with her, even when the place was a bit eccentric. Carla had been in the restaurant before but it had changed a bit since then. The service was pretty slow and the champagne didn’t arrive before 12 am but about 15 minutes into the New Year. But who am I to complain; I was in Brazil to welcome the New Year……
About 15 km from Gramado lies the town of Canela which is famous for its spectacular valleys and waterfalls. And I have to say it is pretty amazing. The landscape is breathtaking, literally.
One of the walks is from the top of a ridge to the bottom of the waterfall, 747 steps to be exact. Carla decided to sit that walk out so I went on my own. Well the way down was OK and it was worth it. But the climb up was pretty breath taking and I regretted every cigarette I ever had. When I arrived back at the top Carla reminded me that I was 52 years old and looked like I was close to a heart attack…….
Close to our hostel we had the opportunity to see some amazing old German buildings in Fachwerk architecture, protected as cultural heritage by Brazil, and there was a guided tour that we took. Five different places were the people who lived in them explained the history not only of the buildings, but the families who lived in them. The first place told the story of a German immigrant family and one could say that they were hoarders. They had newspapers from the 1890s that were in German language and printed in Porto Alegre, Brazil and it was interesting to read them. The sad part was that these newspapers were just lying
there in the open and the Brazilian climate is not the best to preserve them. So I am afraid that they will not last long and a big part of the German story here in Brazil will vanish very soon.
But not only Germans immigrated to this area, but also a lot of Italians. They actually were the main immigrant group in Brazil and settled mainly in Sao Paulo and South Brazil. And, as the Germans, they build their settlements in the Italian style.
Carla and I did a day trip to Bento Goncalves and Garibaldi, the main Italian cities, the Vineyard’s Valley and the Caminho das Pedras, a route with houses in Italian style. In that area, we had arranged a guide for the whole day to show us around. The guide had Italian heritage and was pretty cool. His knowledge about the area and its history was fascinating. He told us basically that Italian immigration started later, in 1875, and that a lot of propaganda was done in the regions of Trento and Veneto to bring peasants into the area that wanted to have their own piece of land. When they came to Brazil, the situation
was not so different from the one faced in Italy, but they prospered over the years. So he showed us some small artisan wineries, some big industrialised wineries, goat yogurt production, as well as several old buildings. Interesting was the Mate production factory. Now Mate is something what you will find everywhere in the south of South America. It is like a tea, but made out of roots. The Indians used to drink it, but it was the Italians who promoted it all over the area it with their mate industries. Now you see people with Mate cups and thermos bottles walking around the streets, parks, beaches and drink that brew.
So all in all we had an amazing time in Gramado and Nova Petropolis. OK, some of the features in the towns was over the top, but that is just how the people want it. I am not there to judge these people as I have no right to do so. And it is amazing how the German traditions survived in these area and I learned a lot about this part of Brazil.
So that’s it for this update. I will work on the next one very
soon as I have to catch up because next Sunday I will have to finish my ‘holiday’ from backpacking and I am off to Buenos Aires. I am really looking forward to this.
Hope you are all having a great time and settled back into working life after the holidays. And remember to live life to the fullest; it’s the only one you have.....
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