On the evening before my flight to Sao Paulo, I had mixed feelings regarding my research trip – a certain adventurous spirit mixed with curiosity and tension as well as slight unease and fear of flying. I did not know what to expect of the unstable political situation, and the high levels of poverty and crime. Back then, I did not speak Portuguese at all, and the issue of communication was another concern – I hoped for adequate improvisation skills and the goodwill of the local people. Now, about ten weeks later and already at the end of my research stay, I have learned a lot and look back at Sao Paulo with positive feelings, mainly good impressions and memories. Not only could I develop a solid “Spantuguese” for everyday communication, but also were many new experiences and encounters as well as challenges and struggles an enrichment of my personal and academic life. My research secondment in Sao Paulo, as part of the Spectress programme, has been a rewarding experience. Above all, Brazilian hospitality made me feel home and welcome right from the beginning. Already on the day of my arrival, Professor Laura Izarra and her kind team of PhD students gave me a warm welcome at Sao Paulo University, introducing me to colleagues and showing me around.
Generally, I was impressed by the city of Sao Paulo. I have never lived in such a huge city with so many people, so much traffic and so many new things to discover. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at my apartment in Pinheiros, a cute and picturesque neighbourhood, which is the opposite of the urban jungle I expected. Little coffee bars and restaurants as well as various food and handcraft markets characterise Pinheiros as a place where people feel at ease – and so did I. One of my best experiences was my first Sunday on Sao Paulo’s Avenida Paulista, which is closing on Sundays. The street was filled with people using all kinds of non-car transportation, musicians, artists, dancers, and excited pedestrians. It was a great experience to see one of the busiest streets in the city taking a break for its people, and sending a signal against pollution, noise, and traffic.
In my research, I investigate in the topic of “imagined” German imperialism, especially how certain places were depicted and propagated as ideal, even mythical screen to project imperial and “colonial fantasies” onto and how these representations have been changing in the second half of the 20th Century. In October, I delivered a paper on my early-stage doctoral research, entitled ‘Continuities and ruptures of imperial imaginations in post-1945 Germany, at the interdisciplinary conference at FFLCH, Portuguese Encontro de Pós-Graduandos em Estudos Linguísticos e Literários em Inglês – EPOGELLI. It was a fruitful experience to discuss my findings as well as the theoretical and methodological issues in such an international and interdisciplinary plenum. I also participated in the monthly student meetings, which gave me the chance to experience local academic life and to learn about Brazilian ways of teaching, exchanging and discussing.
„Between German Fachwerk and palm trees“ – Tracing German-Brazilian communities in Santa Catarina
Brazil has never been a German protectorate, but from the 1820s to the 1930s, around 200.000 Germans immigrated to Southern Brazil, making it the second largest recipient of Germans, behind only the United States. In the 19th and early 20th Century, German-speaking peasants settled as farmers and middle-class merchants and industrialists came from urban areas and founded German-speaking societies, schools and newspapers. Accordingly, the large number of Germans abroad, or Germans overseas, made Brazil an object of German emigration discourse. My plan was to visit some of these communities and to learn more about how their experiences are being remembered in nowadays cultural and communicative memory. Accordingly, I did an exciting field trip to the southern states, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. I visited different museums, memorials and sights in those cities that were particularly shaped by German migration (e.g. Blumenau, Pomerode, Joinville and Brusque). I also spoke to different people about their daily lives, their traditions and customs as well as their memory of the history of the German migration to Brazil.
My first destination was a rather touristic city, the self-declared flagship of German culture in South Brazil, called Blumenau. Besides attractions as the Bavarian-style Oktoberfest and the traditional German Weihnachtsmarkt, both created in an artificial space called “Vila Germanica”, the city advertises with various German bakeries, restaurants and breweries. I visited two local museums to find out about the official, institutionalised memory culture and its narratives. Both the “Colonial Family Museum” and the “Habits and Customs Museum” tells quite the success story of their Germans overseas, representing early settlers as “bringers” of culture, traditions and achievements. The museums have not only well preserved, but perfectly staged the prevailing housings, possessions and heritage. The focus lies on exhibiting solely culture; neither are possible conflicts and struggles discussed, nor are ruptures and fragmentations. Apparently, the official construction of a German-Brazilian identity, presented to the outside world, bases rather on a purely culturalist dimension of being German.
However, what do the people think? To what extent do they remember their ancestors as “bringers of culture”? What was the impact of local experiences and interchanges with Brazilian culture and people? To find out more about these questions, I visited a small city called Pomerode, which welcomes visitors with the slogan “nossa pequena Alemanha.” The place inhabits a great number of German-speaking families who put great effort in maintaining and perpetuating German language and culture. For instance, the “Rota do Enxaimel”, a 16-kilometer route showing the most beautiful and “traditional” German housings, has become a tourist attraction. Local residents, most of them still German-speaking, open their houses to visitors, tell their stories and sell meat, cake, jam and preserves. I was lucky to be accompanied by a local couple who did not only show me around by car, but also introduced me to friends and neighbours. All of them were quite excited to meet the “German”, sharing their family histories, lives and customs. “Tell me, does it look like real Germany here?”, was probably the question asked most frequently. I had the impression they expected an affirming answer. At the same time, people were rather reluctant when it came to the question of visiting Germany, even the younger ones. It was fascinating to see how a very specific, quite traditionalist idea of Germanness has been preserved for more than a hundred years, apparently still serving as main identification point of a community so far away.
I am more than grateful for the opportunity provided by the Spectress programme to live and research in Brazil. I want to thank everyone who supported me during my stay, especially Professor Laura Izarra and José Simões from the University of Sao Paulo as well as Birgit Fouquet from the Centro de Memória no Colégio Visconde de Porto Segur