Wilkommen, benvenuto, welcome …
To Itajai, to Itajai, to Itajai.
Sound like the hit song from Cabaret? Well, sing along and discover how you’ve stumbled upon a wee bit of Germany and a smidgeon of Italy right smack here in the South American centerpiece, Brazil.
First of All, Where Are We?
Itajai, in the coastal area known as Santa Catarina State, is draped along the banks of the Itajai-Acu River where it greets the Atlantic. A combination of factors has led to Itajai port being the nation’s second largest port when you count shipping containers. Not that you would necessarily ever want to do that but this is the benchmark by which “large” is judged. While many cargo ships come and go with great regularity, not so many passenger ships actually call in Itajai.
Agricultural products from the interior find their way here and are loaded aboard ships bound for the far reaches of the globe. For the record, 80% of the region is rural, the weather is humid and subtropical, and her people are busy with all sorts of agricultural endeavors.
Visitors who do find their way here, especially from abroad, discover that much of Itajai’s charm lies a bit inland unless they’re happy just to hang out on a glorious beach day after day watching the passing parade of gorgeous people. That, too, has appeal.
The German Connection
Of course, the area was populated with indigenous people long before anyone thought about recording their existence. The best estimates are that there were some 5,000,000 living in this sweeping country when the Portuguese explorers waded ashore in the 1500s. Experts identify the Tupi and Gurani as the majority of these peoples.
African slaves were imported by the overcrowded boatload very early on and right through to the official end of the evil practice of slavery in 1888. Again, without hard numbers, experts believe some 4,000,000 slaves made this terrible journey from the African continent to this fledgling nation.
Now, we’re getting to the German part of the story. Of course, it was the Portuguese who planted their flag first. Their countrymen followed in droves over several centuries and added their patina and practices to the gene pool. In their wake came citizens of other European nations with their eye on what they believed was verdant countryside offering the promise of a better life. It wasn’t only the Germans, of course, who packed up their steamer trunks with hopes and desires and sometimes family in tow. The Italians did not want to be left out of this sanctioned land grab nor did those from Spain, the Ukraine and other nations. The immigrant profile was so prevalent here that the Itajai Valley (Vale do Itajai) was also known as the European Valley (Vale Europeu).
A Gentleman named Dr. Blumenau
Dr. Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau, to be exact. He and a dozen and a half other transplanted hopefuls immigrated here from Germany. They quickly set about literally creating a little Bavaria, which he named (wait for it) Blumenau, in their new homeland at the convergence of several rivers. Officially founded in 1850, the early settlers staked their success on the fine soils lining the valley floor. They built half-timbered houses in keeping with the architecture of their mother country, established breweries, and kept their values and traditions alive. Many businesses to this day are operated by German-speaking merchants, with literature printed in the German text, and the language is heard everywhere. This is especially true each October, late in the month, when the town of more than 250,000 people throws an Oktoberfest that’s celebrated with equal enthusiasm to that of their countrymen back “across the pond.”
For the record, Dr. Blumenau served as the colony’s director until he packed up his satchel and sailed back to Germany in 1880. Also note that a short 100 years ago, two-thirds of the town’s population still claimed German was their first language.
Now let’s not discount the impact of others who settled here. The Italians brought their cuisine and crafts. The Spaniards mirrored much of the same lifestyle and traditions as the Portuguese. And it all blended to create the mélange that appears before you today.
It’s best to take all this in with a plate mounded high with grilled bratwurst, boiled potatoes, a helping of sauerkraut, a monster dill pickle and an ice-cold beer from a local brewery. You’ll fit right in with the locals who will be every so happy to greet you and introduce you to their very unique corner of the world.