Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Around Brazil – Oktoberfest Parade in Blumenau

Oktoberfest in Blumenau was never top of the list for Brazilian cultural events that I needed to attend. Even with Blondie’s relatives in the area, it didn’t appeal because going to a German festival while in South America just seems wrong. I’ve been to plenty of German beer festivals and always had a fantastic time there, but they had the added advantage of being in Germany, and full of Germans, and full of German beer. I didn’t imagine it could be this way in Brazil, although at least Oktoberfest in Blumenau is actually in Oktober.

Blumenau was founded in 1850 by Hermann Blumenau and his group of German immigrants. They headed up the Itajaí River in Santa Catarina past the floodplains on each side, possibly filled with flowers at that time as they are now filled with paddy fields and cattle. With a name that means Floodplain in Bloom in German, he must have felt immediately at home and decided to stop where the green hills on each side converged and their boat couldn’t travel much up into the mountains. The scenery may have reminded the fresh immigrants of home, with tree-covered hills and fertile land to grow the things that Germans love, such as hops and wheat amongst the native fruits.

They grew families too, with Blumenau having a high percentage of blond people, some who still speak German as a first language at home and have Portuguese tinged with Teutonic accents. With such a strong Germanic influence, perhaps it was no surprise that after the floodplains flooded in 1983 and Blumenau was cut off from the world for a few weeks that the locals turned to the fatherland for inspiration. With most Brazilian beers having been brewed by German immigrants with their pilsner knowledge, the idea was to start an Oktoberfest to cheer up the town. It worked quite well. Just over twenty years later and the town is famous throughout Brazil for its huge festival, the largest in South America.

Much as in Rio, there are also parades preceeding the weekend days of the seventeen day cervejaganza. The idea for us was to watch the parade and laugh at people we knew wearing lederhosen and dirndl. But our blond-haired blue-eyed Brazilian met with something of an accident as he was playing bowls on the night of his birthday a week before. While examining who was closest, the rival team hurled down their final bowl, slammed the jack into the air and straight into his conkers. The pain was so bad that he was carried home in the back of the pick-up. After arriving home, things got even worse for him but I should not go into such private details, suffice to say that he would not be leaving the house for the his club’s desfila. He’d only just bought a brand new pair of lederhosen for the occasion. We were offered their place in the line-up. Wearing the outfit. Now many gringoes can say they’ve taken part in one of Brazil’s largest cultural events wearing a Carnaval costume, but not many can say they’ve taken part in one wearing a German costume. How could we say no – it sounded like there may be some quality comedy involved as well as free beer and free entrance into the arena.

An afternoon of dressing up and giggling followed, with some dance moves learnt from youtube. Hats were to be worn, hair was to be rolled into buns and long white socks were to be bought. I never thought I could look forward to wearing leather shorts and dancing amongst large German men with moustaches, I’m not that kind of guy. But by Saturday afternoon I was already drunk with excitement and laughter, and still 12 hours away from the finish line of the night. This was really going to be a marathon not a sprint.

The reason that Oktoberfest was founded in October, the reason that those floodplains were full of flowers, and the reason that the area is so green is because the mountains behind attract the clouds. In spring it rains regularly and heavily in Blumenau and Saturday was one of those times. The clouds came down the valleys and obscured our view of the town in the afternoon. The phone call came half an hour before we were due to start. Cancelled. My Big Moment blown. I don’t want to hear that ‘Rained on Your Parade’ phrase, thanks.

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