The biggest Oktoberfest in Latin America, and reportedly Brazil’s best party after Carnival happens every October in Blumenau, a town nestled in the inland valleys of the State of Catarina. While most flock to the capital Florianópolis for the parties on the beach, Josiah’s love of beer and the fact that we were missing out on the Munich event, made it a non-negotiable.
Blumenau is not the only town with German roots, the nearby towns of Joinville, Itajaí, Jaraguá do Sul and Brusque all boast significant numbers, as does Rio Grande do Sul, the state north of Santa Catarina. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo also have large German communities.
The day before arriving in Blumenau bus we took a morning bus from Paraty to Sao Paulo. Just as we were leaving a rest stop, the gentleman behind me suffered an epileptic fit. An ambulance was called. Two different types of ambulances arrived some 15 minutes later (not sure of the difference). The man refused to be taken to hospital as he was far from home. The paramedics checked his vitals and after much discussion eventually allowed him to continue the journey. A few hours later, he suffered a more serious fit (luckily there were two cardiologists on our bus!) Again an ambulance was called 15km out of San Jose dos Campos. The bus detoured there to meet the ambulance and the man was taken to hospital.
We arrived late but still had several hours to wait at Sao Paulo’s Terminal Rodoviário Tietê, the largest bus station in South America. It’s not a nice terminal, there are lots of over-priced chain restaurants and it’s dirty and there’s rubbish everywhere. If you head toward the metro and go down the escalators you can find a small shopping centre area with better food options outside. We boarded an overnight bus to Blumenau, and waking in the early light of dawn I would have sworn I had boarded a flight to Germany. Bavarian-style houses and buildings dotted the hillsides. The streets clean and orderly. We collected our backpacks from under the bus when we reached the Blumenau terminal, but asked the driver if we could be dropped off in the main street a little further on, this saved us a $R20 taxi ride or two city buses into town. We checked into our Airbnb apartment and spent the morning walking Blumenau’s main street Rua 7 de Setember. Being a weekday, the celebrations didn’t kick off until the early evening, the locals committed to their usual work routines. The people look German or a mix of German and Brazilian, there are German schools and many speak German in their homes. The connection to their heritage is still very strong.
We visited the Beer Museum before moving on to Blumenau’s first street ? where the home of Dr Hermann Blumenau, still stands. The Jewish German chemist founded the town after his namesake in 1853, five years after arriving in Brazil. Our first evening was quiet, still recovering from the overnight bus. We purchased some delicious German-style brew and relaxed in our apartment as a enormous thunderstorm rolled in.The next day we walked to the German Village, a few kms from the centre of town, where most of the Oktoberfest action happens. On the way we passed a trio of Capybara on the riverbank. Josiah’s been pretty excited to see these giant rodents in the flesh since we began our trip.
Arriving at the village before 6pm meant we were able to enter for free, sampling a variety of beers brewed in the local breweries around Blumenau and Santa Catarina. Most of them met Josiah’s approval. There was also plenty of german food for sale and we tried a yummy baked potato with german sausage. Germanic music played at different locations around the village, some songs are sung in German, others in Portuguese or a mixture of both. People were dancing in the Eisenbahn auditorium. The other auditoriums didn’t open up until 6pm, there are four in total each hosting a variety of bands in the evening. On Wednesdays and Saturdays during the festival, there is a massive parade in the main street at 7pm. Due to the weather, this was moved to the village. The perpetually cloudy day turned into another storm and heavy rain by 6pm. In our limited Portuguese we were able to figure out that the parade was happening in the village, so we stayed put.
The parade, while perhaps not as impressive as if it was held in the main street, was still colourful and festive, with all the participants moving between the various auditoriums and outside once the rain eased. This is when the real party began, with locals flooding in wearing traditional clothing and dancing, forming conga lines around the dance floor and even longer lines to the bar! People preferred to on their feet over sitting at the tables.
Having no experience of Oktoberfest in Munich, or elsewhere, I have nothing to compare it to, but it was definitely worth visiting during this time. I also think Blumenau is a picturesque town with a fascinating history worth a day or two exploring outside this time
The weather still dreary, we debated going to Florianópolis (two hours east), but decided to travel on instead to Curitiba, a city with world class planning, modern, organised in it’s layout with an efficient public transport system and lots of green space. With it’s award-winning plan, you could believe that Curitiba was also a German settlement but it was in fact designed by Alfred Agache, a French Architect. We spent the best part of two days exploring the city and the botanical garden. We also went out for dinner at O Pensador Bar which has great craft beers and decent burgers. The music was the highlight though, Saul Trumpet and his Jazz band.