From The German Doctor Hollywood blockbuster we learnt that Argentina was a popular destination for Nazis escaping from justice. But few know that already in the second half of the 19th century, South America was an immigration hot spot for Europeans. When learning about Blumenau Oktoberfest in Brazil or a German-Austrian community living many years in forced isolation in Peru, we were very much surprised. In this post you’ll read what we found out about the influence of the European descendent in South America.

Population of South America: European immigration

The population of South America is very colourful. The biggest groups arrived from Italy, Germany (even before the 2nd world war), Poland but interestingly, a lot of other, smaller communities were formed by Brits, Irish, French, Belgians, Dutch, Russians, Ukrainians and even Hungarians!

One reason for this phenomenon is that after the Latin American independence wars the young countries were left with vast, unpopulated territories that needed furnishing. Leaving these areas sparsely inhabited had posed the danger of being occupied by a neighbour (which happened in Bolivia during the pacific war with Chile). The other reason is that “whitening” the population seemed to be desirable by the governments in order to catch up with development to a European level.

So the Latin American countries implemented policies favouring European settlers, such as giving land. Argentina and Brazil were especially successful with their objective: they received 6.4 and 5.5 million of European immigrants respectively.

Bariloche, the city the Nazis escaped to

Bariloche main square looks like having been transported from a Bavarian town with its wooden houses and cuckoo clock style town hall. At Easter time the population gathers at this square to eat the giant, 8.5 m Easter egg, made locally. (This egg is the Guinness record holder of handmade chocolate eggs!)

Giant Easter egg at Bariloche main square (Francisco Ramos Mejia/AFP/Getty Images)

Talking to locals in this beautiful, Lake District town of Argentina, they tell us that Nazi war criminals found refuge here and many of the town’s German descendants are children and grandchildren of Nazis. After many years of silence, more and more details (such as houses of Nazi fugitives) come to light about this period of the history.

Bariloche is not the only Argentine town with significant amount of descendants of German-speakers. Read more stories from the Telegraph in English.

Read more: Bariloche and the Lake District of Argentina

German-Austrian community in Peru surviving isolation after avalanche catastrophe

Oxapampa and Pozuzo mountain towns are perfect tourist destinations for Peruvians who can’t travel to Europe, but still want to experience European culture. These little towns are located 10 hrs bus drive from Lima and were founded by Austrian and German settlers in the end of the 19th century. They travelled to Peru from poverty in their country and the Peruvian government promised them financial help for settling in the lush, forest area.

However, upon arriving the promised help was nowhere, still the group decided to settle and create a village. Shortly after that, another catastrophe took place: an avalanche cut the village off from the rest of the country and the community lived in isolation for decades. Luckily they had crops and were self-sufficient enough to be able to survive.

Visitors to these places feel like they just arrived to a small town somewhere in Germany. All the houses were built in the Alpine style, restaurants cook sauerkraut and wurst, and at festivities locals are dressed in Bavarian-style costume and dance German folklore dances.

Pozuzo locals in German-style clothes (MiPeru/Flickr)

European marks on Curitiba 

The population of South America is a big pot, that we noticed several times. People in Curitiba, Brazil, possessing an Italian passport is not a rare thing at all. In fact, in the south of Brazil the majority of the population has European origins, and this does not only mean they are descendants of Portuguese and Spanish conquerors.

Curitiba’s population is a real rainbow regarding origins: German settlers arrived in the 1830’s; Italians, Poles and Ukrainians in the second half of the 19th century. Curitiba has the biggest Slavic (Polish and Ukrainian) community in Brazil, and probably in the whole of South America. There are several local landmarks that carry the marks of European architecture – such as Bosque Alemão (‘German woods’) with references to the German culture, or the Pope’s woods which is a memorial to Polish immigrants, and many buildings in downtown.

Curitiba is dubbed “the most European city in Brazil”, which doesn’t only refer to the variety of its origins. The city life is quite orderly in a European sense: there are dedicated bus lanes on the road, wide enough pavements to encourage walking in downtown, many parks to chill at.

Read more: Curitiba, the most European city in Brazil

Curitiba downtown with European-style buildings (Alamy/The Guardian)

(Part of) the population of South America at a German party: Oktoberfest in Blumenau

There’s a little town in the south of Brazil, in the relative vicinity of Florianopolis, which name doesn’t sound Portuguese at all. Blumenau was founded by a German doctor (called Hermann Blumenau) in the middle of the 19th century.

Nowadays the town is famous for its German-style Oktoberfest, which is the only Oktoberfest in Brazil and the second biggest in the world! At that time of the year the streets fill up with beer-drinking, pretzel-eating, folk-dancing crowd of locals and travellers.

This doesn’t look strange at all in front of the setting brought by Bavarian-style buildings – provided we forget for a moment that we are in tropical Brazil. The festival welcomes 600,000 visitors every year, so if you really miss some jodeling (or just some European experience, or just getting pissed on cheap beer) during a long travel in Brazil, make sure to add Blumenau to your travel itinerary for October.

Read also: The beaches of Florianópolis

Oktoberfest Blumenau in 2018 (Credit: Oktoberfest.labbo.com.br)

Would you expect such a big community of European origins in South America?
Let us know in the comment section.


Don’t miss any of our travel stories!

Not sure whether you want us in your mailbox? Read here what it means to subscribe.

By joining, you agree to share your email address with us (and Mailchimp) to receive emails from Green Mochila. You can unsubscribe at any time from any of our emails.

Who am I?

Anna is a world citizen, an avid traveller, a passionate environmentalist. Writing about her year backpacking through South America, she tries to encourage everyone to discover this beautiful continent and pass on her love for responsible travel.

You could also like this:

6 Comments

  1. This is so interesting. Looking at the picture, I would have guess it was somewhere in Europe for sure. I haven’t been to South America yet but it’s on my list!

    1. Thank you! South America is a great place to travel to, there are so many different landscapes and experiences. Hope your travel comes soon and will have a good time 😊

  2. This is one of those fascinating posts which will have me thinking about migration of people around the world all day (especially as an American who has spent a lot of time in Asia and now Europe). I think I’d be a little freaked out, however, if traveling in South America and especially Argentina and saw towns like Bariloche 🙂 Although, I think, after a couple of beers there I’d be pretty relaxed.

    1. Hi Dalo,
      Thank you for your nice comment! It’s not the whole town German-looking, but it was indeed strange to see those buildings on the main square 😀
      You’re right, it’s an interesting part of history to know, especially in reflection of some opinions nowadays around immigration.
      Happy to have you around, hope we’ll hear from you soon again!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.