Despite Joinville's challenge, BLUMENAU has succeeded in promoting itself as the "capital" of German Santa Catarina. Picturesquely located on the banks of the Rio Itajaí, Blumenau was founded in 1850 by Dr Hermann Blumenau, who served as director of the colony until his return to Germany in 1880. Blumenau always had a large Italian minority, but it was mainly settled by Germans and, as late as the 1920s, two-thirds of the population spoke German as their first language. In the surrounding rural communities an even larger proportion of the population were German speakers, many of them finding it completely unnecessary to learn Portuguese. Well into the twentieth century Blumenau was isolated, with only poor river transport connections with the rest of Brazil beyond the Itajaí valley – circumstances that meant its German character was retained for longer than in Joinville.
Today, Blumenau's municipal authority never misses an opportunity to remind the world of the city's German origins, the European links helping tourism and attracting outside investors. And, superficially at least, Blumenau certainly looks, if not feels, German. The streets are sparkling clean, parking tickets are issued by wardens dressed in a uniform that Heidi would have been comfortable in, most buildings are in German architectural styles and geranium-filled window boxes are the norm. But since German is almost never heard, and the buildings (such as the half-timbered Saxon-inspired department store and the Swiss chalet-like Prefeitura) are absurd caricatures of those found in German cities, the result is a sort of "Disneyland" interpretation of Germany.
It's easy to sneer, but tourists from São Paulo are impressed by Blumenau's old-world atmosphere and visit in large numbers, especially during the annual Oktoberfest (Tel:47/3326-6901, Web: www.oktoberfestblumenau.com.br ). Held, since 1984, over eighteen days in October, besides vast quantities of beer and German food, the main event attractions are the local and visiting German bands and German folk-dance troupes. Performances take place at PROEB, Blumenau's exhibition centre, located on the city's outskirts (frequent buses run during the festival period), as well as in the downtown streets and the central Biergarten. So successful has the Oktoberfest been in drawing visitors to Blumenau – a million people attended the festivities during its peak year in 1992 – that the city's authorities realized that the event's local flavour had been swamped by outsiders, and consequently they have halved attendance.
The rest of the year, local German bands perform every evening from 5pm in the Biergarten , the city's main meeting point, in the tree-filled Praça Hercílio Luz. In the oldest part of Blumenau, across a small bridge on the continuation of the main street, Rua XV de Novembro, the Biergarten is only a short walk from the Museu da Família Colonial , one of the city's few museums, at Alameda Duque de Caxias 78 (Tues– Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10am–4pm; R$2). The museum's buildings, constructed in 1858 and 1864 for the families of Dr Blumenau's nephew and secretary-librarian, are two of the oldest surviving enxaimel houses in Blumenau. Exhibits include nineteenth-century furniture and household equipment, documents relating to the foundation of the city, photographs of life in the settlement during its early years, and artefacts of the Kaingang and Xokleng – the indigenous populations displaced by the German settlers. But it's in the beautiful forest-like garden that you'll find the most curious feature: a cemetery, the final resting place for the much-loved cats of a former occupant of one of the houses.
A good half-hour walk from Praça Hercílio Luz, on the river at Rua Itajaí 2195, is the Museu de Ecologia Fritz Müller (Mon– Fri 8am–6pm, Sat & Sun 8–11.30am & 2–5pm; R$2), built in 1867 and the former home of the eponymous German-born naturalist. Born in 1822, Müller lived in Santa Catarina between 1852 and 1897, and was a close collaborator of British naturalist Charles Darwin; the small museum is dedicated to the work of the lesser-known scientist.