It was 1984 and the southern city of Blumenau had recently been sunk in 50 feet of water by heavy flooding, a repeat of the events of the year before. The city and its residents were once more in shock and grief. Meanwhile, the mayor at the time, Dalto dos Reis, had been looking to put together a Brazilian version of Germany’s popular Oktoberfest for the last two years, but the floods washed away the initial hope that the event would take place that year. He looked at how the general sadness could be turned into a celebration of life. The following excerpt is from a 2006 interview with the ex-mayor:
— I spent many nights not being able to sleep, tormented by the dilemma of having the festival or not — he recalls.
Reflecting back, Dalto says he remembered something about the natural tragedies that happened in the Ukraine, causing many deaths.
— I remembered that the Ukranians, many times victims of natural disasters, would get together and drink for several days, as a way to reinvigorate themselves. I thought we should do the same, as it wouldn’t convey a lack of respect — he says.
Every year since then, for half of the month of October, the city of Blumenau has hosted the largest German party in Latin America. In international terms, it only loses out to the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany and the second biggest in Ontario, Canada.
In 2010, an estimated 600,000 people attended the Blumenau festival, and although 22% less people showed up than in 2009, they drank 25% more alcohol. According to last year’s numbers, each person drank around one liter of beer, an average that’s on par with the event’s bigger brother in Germany.
While the alcohol is the fuel that keeps the party going, “Oktober” (as it’s known in Blumenau) is also about wearing things like lederhosen*, the parading of clubs and custom-made vehicles, displays of marksmanship, traditional dances and tasting German food.
If you are interested in the 2011 celebration, it starts on October 6th and goes until the 23rd. Here’s the official site.
* – actually indicative of Bavarian clothing, not German, though it’s a popularly believed misconception throughout the world.