The second largest Oktoberfest in the world outside Germany is exactly where you’d least expect it: Brazil.
Born in Bavaria, Oktoberfest is now a global phenomenon. The local German population dusts off their lederhosen annually for this thigh slapping, beer swilling festival of revelry, food and dance. Nestled away in the hills of Southern Brazil, this gargantuan Oktoberfest party claims the mantle of second-largest in the world.
Yes, the country of football, Carnaval and bountiful beaches hosts the biggest Oktoberfest in the world outside of Germany, and they do so with aplomb. Blumenau attracts around a million visitors to the city every October for a three-week party that is a unique blend of German traditions and the insatiable Brazilian appetite to party.
Blumenau hosted its first Oktoberfest party in 1984 as a way to raise funds to repair the town after a devastating flood took its toll. Since then its popularity has ballooned, with visitors coming from all over Brazil, and increasingly overseas, to attend.
But Blumenau’s German history runs far deeper than the ‘80s. Indeed, the town was first established by only 17 German settlers in 1850, spearheaded by the delightfully named Dr Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau. Since then the town has grown into a thriving metropolis, and German is still taught in schools as a second language.
This is a town so in touch with its German roots that when Brazil suffered its historically crushing 1-7 loss in the 2014 semi-final against Germany, locals were happy to celebrate Germany’s win. While this writer personally saw rivers of tears shed over that loss in other parts of the country, Blumenau natives were happy to drown their sorrows in the win of a kindred culture.
The Brazilian flag may fly high all over the city, but the township, particularly downtown, feels very German. White-walled houses with typical dark lumber cross beams would look more appropriate adorning the illustrated pages of a fairy tale, but here they are in all their kitsch glory in Southern Brazil.
And with that mention of kitsch, we’re straight back into the party. Brazilians don’t shy from kitsch. They embrace it. The same spirit of anachronism and creative revelry that morphs into Carnaval annually is awakened in Blumenau every October. Parades wind through the city on a daily basis with German descendants and lederhosen-wearing locals yukking it up over steins on enormous floats and hilarious pedal-powered, beer dispensing contraptions. The socks are as high as the spirits here.
Once the parade winds down and the sun sets, it’s time for the real party. A huge purpose-built hall just outside the city centre hosts night-long concerts for festival attendees. Walking into these halls, one is struck by the size and scale of the party at hand. There are the traditional long beer hall style tables one expects, but beyond this one finds grand stages, lighting arrays and huge dance areas akin to those found at arena rock concerts.
The music exemplifies this blending of Brazilian and German culture, too. Performances range from the typical Bavarian knee-slapping dance numbers all performed in German, to dance-along songs that alternate between German and Portuguese, and finally contemporary rock and DJ sets to get the beer fizzing.
While some might worry that the beer at a Brazilian Oktoberfest would be below par, fear not, for Blumenau’s beer Kaisers save the day. Local brewery Eisenbahn is a standout sponsor of the event, and thankfully so, as their beers outpace all of the mass-produced lagers Brazil has to offer. Picking up awards for their dark Dunkel and delicious Kolsch beers, Eisenbahn’s brews are to be trusted to the bottom of the stein.
When it comes to the food, attendees can expect a range of traditional German fare, too. Sausages and pretzels are de rigueur of course and the spätzle is delicious, but there is also a large focus on blended Brazilian cuisine, with duck making a strong appearance in many dishes and a wide selection of traditional sweet cakes on offer.
Another distinctly Brazilian aspect of Blumenau’s Oktoberfest is the inclusion of a beauty pageant and crowning of the Oktoberfest ‘royalty’ in a ‘Princess’ and ‘Queen’ of the event to stand alongside Miss Blumenau. While it might be outmoded in much of the world, the pageant is just as kitsch as the suspenders, feathered caps and lederhosen adorning just about every Oktoberfest attendee in Blumenau.