While in Brazil, I found myself in Florianopolis - a city of amazing beaches, and lots of activities to do in the sun. Unfortunately, It was raining. What to do? Being German, I decided that this was an excellent opportunity to visit Blumenau. Founded in 1850 by Dr. Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau, who humbly named the place after himself, Blumenau is the most famous of Brazil’s German cities in the Vale Europeu, renowned for it’s annual Oktoberfest, “the biggest German festival of the Americas.” Bier and Bratwurst, Dirndl and Lederhosn, half timbered houses, weird German accents preserved from the 19th century - you can find it all in Brazil.
Excited for a taste of home after 6 month on the road, and intrigued by the oddities of a German city in the tropics, I and two friends from Hamburg set off for the 2.5 hour drive announced by Google Maps. Unfortunately however, we had picked the day after Christmas and New Year’s Eve vacation, when everybody who’d come out to relax in Florianopolis decided to head home, on the one highway north that we found ourselves on. The rain had left us as soon as we exited Floripa, and the sun was out in full force. We slowly sweated our way towards the Fatherland at a snail’s pace. Five hours later, the city of Blumenau greeted us. It looked suspiciously… new. No beautiful architecture to be seen. We decided to head straight to Parque Vila Germânica, the epicentre of Oktoberfest (when it’s happening), and the location of what we were told were lovely half timbered houses.
Getting out of the car, we found ourselves in what seemed to be a Disney Land version of Germany. Half-timbered houses, yes - but they appeared inhabited only by souvenir shops and restaurants called “Beer Vila”, “Alemao Batata” and “Eisenbahn Biergarten”. Foursquare steered us towards Beer Vila, where we ordered Eisenbahn beer, a dish that we hoped would be Wurstsalat and polenta fries. The fries were excellent, the beer was good, but the Wurst, unfortunately, seems to have been sorted into the sausage-category by mistake. “Not sure what this is, but I can’t eat it,” Ingrid frowned. “I’ll stick to the beer instead”.
Not ones to be deterred and re-invigorated by Lager, we decided to explore the rest of Vila Germanica and it’s souvenir shops. We found photo opportunities with amazing cut-outs that turned you into true Bavarians, dirndl- and lederhosen look alikes, t-shirts with predictably ridiculous prints, and a multitude of strange long lanyards. These, it was explained to us, were intended for Oktoberfest visitors to be able to hang the apparently midget sized beer steins around their neck. Imagine doing that with a real 1-litre beer stein that weighs 2.3 kilos when full? We decided not to invest, and instead headed to the next stop, the historic city centre.
Unfortunately, the centre turned out to be not quite as historic as we’d hoped. Sure, there were a few houses that looked vaguely like the picturesque dwellings we’d seen in the guidebook. However, the vast majority were functional buildings who’d probably seen their best time 40 years ago. They didn’t look un-German - in fact, they looked like a lot of the architecture you might find in small cities in the North of Germany that young people are looking to move away from as soon as they can. As we were strolling through centre, passing shops for household appliances (“Half price today”, including balloons), cheap jewellery, shoes and German souvenirs, the sky turned grey and it started to rain. Ducking for cover, it dawned on me: “This looks like Hannover in Germany! Minus the souvenirs of course. There must be a Karstadt around the next corner!” “YES!” Elena laughed, excitedly. “Or no, actually it looks like Gifhorn! Including the half timbered houses!” She paused, to take in the facades of the main shopping street. “Gifhorn is probably the ugliest city I’ve ever visited, in Germany. And this looks exactly like it!”
Yup. This is what it came down to. We had driven five hours in the scorching heat to find the ugliest German city we had yet come across - it just happened to be located in Brazil. We had arrived with our very specific set of expectations, which were utterly shattered by the Disney-esque version of Germany that Blumenau cultivates - and which, probably, catered exactly to other tourists’ expectations of German-ness. Ironically though, if I am brutally honest, Blumenau is actually very German. Just not in that beautiful, postcard-style way that I had expected. Rather, it is a slightly run-down mid-size city, with discount stores and bad food at every corner. Just like the a large number of cities back in Germany. With the difference that never in your sane mind you’d give up a day on the beach to visit any of them.