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Brazilian theme, German accent

Project retrieves Brazilian literature of Germanic expression

Reproductions form the book O Brasil dos viajantes/Ana Maria de Moraes BelluzzoBrazilian Forest, 1864/Martin Johnson HeadeThe smallness of man when faced by nature: losing oneself in ParadiseReproductions form the book O Brasil dos viajantes/Ana Maria de Moraes BelluzzoBrazilian Forest, 1864/Martin Johnson Heade

When in 1821, in Wilhelm Meister, Goethe (1749-1832) released his German compatriots with his “rush to emigrate”  declaration, one of the favored destinations was precisely Brazil, which they saw as an Eldorado, a new Canaan, with its enchanted and untouched forests and its luxuriant and beautiful landscape. The country had already appeared in the dreams of the hero of the novel Simplicius Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen, in 1688, as a land of free-trade, peace, an abundance of exotic animals and plants, a type of earthly Paradise, and this imagotype, or stereotype of a nation, would persist within the German imagination for many centuries, to the point of giving rise to a German literary genre based on Brazil; or rather, Brazilian literature expressed in German, since it was written by immigrants and their descendants and continues until today. In fact, this is the title of a research project that brings together researchers from USP, under the coordination of Celeste Ribeiro de Sousa, a retired professor from USP, in association with the Martius-Staden Institute.

“It is intended to recover the collection of this literary production, both the authors and works, to retrieve this universe, translate it and place it on-line to facilitate access for researchers interested in working with them. The literary texts that were produced are spread over a great number of Kalender (almanac books that in the past were commonly published in the German community) and in a huge number of newspapers. When I began the project I thought about starting with the first generation of immigrants and then moving on to the following group and so on, but this proved to be unfeasible. How could we know who was from which generation if not all the authors and works were known?  “This is a work of information gathering and exploration that advances little by little. We are just 12 researchers, most of us PhDs, and a German researcher from the University of Vienna, but we are few for the size of the project,”  says Celeste. After locating the texts, it is necessary to center on a point of reference for the information on the subject in order to avoid repetition and facilitate the access of researchers to the on-line material. Once this has been done, the third stage will consist of piecing together a history of Brazilian literature of German expression. The project started in 2006 when the e-book on Alfred Reitz (1886-1951) was ready; now, the collections of Robert Weber (1895-1975), Hilda Siri (1918-2007) and Matthaeus Braun (1872-1954) are also ready and the works of Karl von Koseritz (1830-1890), Elly Herkenhoff (1906-2004), Georg Knoll (1861-1940), Margret Kuhlmann (1892-1984) and Wilhelm Rotermund (1843-1925) have been sent for finalizing.

“The vast majority of Brazilians are totally unaware of this literary production, silenced as it was by the language barrier and also for other reasons, like the Getulio [former president] persecution of this ethnic minority that was forbidden to use the German language. I think that by placing the original texts and some of their translations on-line it will be possible to take this almost unknown segment of culture and literature into our classrooms. It is worth remembering that this literature in the German language was not only written by German-speaking immigrants; it was also produced by their descendants, who continue cultivating the language and the culture of the fatherland of their ancestors. In fact, this issue is not so simple. By jus solis [right of birthplace] every individual born in Brazil is a Brazilian. By the jus sanguinis [right of blood, i.e., descent] every individual born of a German mother and father is German,” explains Celeste. That is why, continues the researcher, the vast majority of immigrants, although they come from different places in Europe, soon develop a feeling of belonging in their adopted country. This feeling is known as Deutschtum, which can be translated as ‘Germanness’, or the feeling of  “being German”, a feeling driven and propagated by newspapers, leaflets and literary texts of fiction. This Deutschtum even undergoes changes with the passage of time, being later characterized as Deutschbrasilianertum or ‘Teutonic Brazilianness’. “Underlying this feeling’s ideology is the idea of solidarity and equality between those who share a common ethnic identity and opposition to the person who has a nationalistic identity transformed or modified into an ethnic ideology.”  This was understandable in those times. “If today people move away from the so-called outskirts to the metropolis, where they long for involvement and inclusion, in the 19th century the people left the outskirts of the cities, the countryside, to establish themselves in untouched worlds, where it was supposedly possible to start from scratch. In this context, many Germans arrived in Brazil as from 1824, the date that is the official start of German immigration to our country,” observes Celeste. Despite the date, the presence of people of German tongue occurred almost at the same time as the discovery of Brazil and continued until 1818, with the arrival in the Court of João VI of Leopoldina, daughter of Franz I of Austria, to wed Pedro I. This made Brazil more visible in Europe and this became the reference point for German scientists and artists and a whole range of other immigrants of the same origin (one need only recall the foundation of Nova Friburgo in 1819).

Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, 1844/Eduard HildebrandtImmigrants heard about the new country as being a land of greatnessRodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, 1844/Eduard Hildebrandt

Collective imagination
In 1824, however, immigration became official and almost 350,000 Germans from various points in the country arrived. “German-speaking immigrants not only brought the idea of Deutschtum here, they also brought in their collective imagination a fanciful “arch-image” of  Brazil that they received either from tales of journeys in the German language or from German literature texts themselves, an image that was sustained by the propaganda produced by Brazil and propagated in German-speaking countries, particularly at the time of the emperors Pedro I and Pedro II,”  says the researcher. “I salute you, sacred land of the large Cross/ formerly Santa Cruz, discovered by Lusitania./ Sublime, you come into view from the sea,/ comparable with Paradise,/ imagined, so that the heart/ is not corroded by nostalgia,/ so that the other world does not become/ a delirium for us,” wrote Georg Knoll (1861-1939) in Brasilíade. It is difficult to imagine a German losing his good sense for no reason whatsoever, but this poem, one of many, shows the enthusiasm for the Brazilian landscape by a national poet expressed in German. Up to a point, one can understand this enthusiasm coming from the first generation of this literature of German expression; all one has to do is see what was happening in the German Federation, since Germany did not yet exist. Between 1815 and 1848, recalls the researcher, in the period known as Vormärz, various reforms in the German federation took place, especially the demand that it should be transformed into a unitary State based on a Parliament; there arose a feeling of solidarity between the oppressed middle classes against the monarchical forces that prevented unification and the economic development of the population. In the countryside, the wretchedness of the peasants spread. “The Industrial Revolution reached Germany late because of this political splintering, which created many customs barriers to the circulation of goods. This, along with the easy entry of foreign consumer goods, meant that there was a lot of poverty in the country. In the Brazilian empire there was a project for encouraging immigration and, as a result of the presence of Leopoldina, the entry of people speaking German was favored. With the people came typically European animals and plants to be adapted to the climate in Brazil.”  Thus, notes Celeste, in the eyes of the immigrants, the country seems like a Paradise on earth, a refuge to run to, whether to escape from the European law or from social discrimination, or whether to flee from wars.

“There are stories of immigrants that illustrate the their disappointment after this initial enthusiasm, the clear break-up of the imagotype, such as, for example, the short story of Otto Grellert, from 1954, A cada um seu paraíso [To each one his paradise], in which he, a pastor sent to provide a service to the Baptist churches in the German settlements, reveals the story of German-speaking people attracted to Brazil by astonishing offers published in newspapers. “German” Why are you working like a slave for foreign masters? Why are you still suffering from hunger on a small piece of land? Come to Brazil! The richest country in the world, with its immeasurable forests, is waiting for you. There you too can become a master of your own soil and land. The best land in Brazil is now being divided up and sold off; a place where the most modern town, with churches, hospitals, schools, banks and stores is likely to be built. Planning has already been completed. Wide and excellent roads should be shortly constructed and you can also rely on the fact that a railroad will soon be built?. Moreover, these people, who at the beginning of the 19th century were facing a precarious economic situation in Europe, really did come to Brazil and also went to other countries. If we pay particular attention to the propaganda, we see that only verbs relating to planning and to ideas on paper are in the present tense; the other verbs are in the future; they are all promises; but in the heads of people who hoped for a better life, the promises are imagined as a reality already,” analyzes Celeste. “Between the person issuing the message and the person receiving it an enormous amount of noise was created, which was translated in the short story as a huge tempering of expectations when contact with Brazil was finally made. They looked for the ultramodern town and found only a place still covered with forest; they looked for wide roads and found only trails; they looked for schools and found no sign of them, etc. They came face to face, therefore, with reality, because they had no money to return. And in this clash with the forest, they end up managing to build a small wooden house, making a garden, planting an orchard and in this process they also ended up developing a love for their property that extends to their adopted country,? says the author.

Being concentrated in restricted and isolated areas of  Brazilian society facilitated the retention of their customs and the daily use of the German language. The lack of public services led to the formation of a community help organization and the creation of a private school network, the “German”  school, set up to meet the needs of elementary school teaching, but which little by little assumed ethnic features, an instrument of  “Germanness”  and perpetuation of the German language and culture. In Deutschtum, language comes first, a fundamental aspect of German identity, the race, blood or ethnic origin. It is by knowing the language that the so-called annals or Kalender can be read, the Kalender that carry the wealth of  “Germanness”  or of  “Teutonic-Brazilianness”. It is in these that a love for the fatherland and for Brazil go hand-in-hand and it is these books (of up to 200 pages and with print-runs in excess of 12,000 copies), alongside the newspapers, that the short stories, histories and poems in Brazilian literature of German expression will be disclosed. The earliest date from 1870 and the last from as late as the 1970’s; they were the main disseminators of Germanic culture on Brazilian soil, until the use of the German language in any cultural or social activity was prohibited, and all German schools were closed in 1939, during the New State, when this mixed cultural heritage was dismantled after a century of flourishing, observes researcher Valburga Huber from UFRJ. “After the Getulio nationalization movement, therefore, there was a cultural gap and only slowly did people start writing again in German, but few  examples of this dissemination survived the Second World War and then this literature reappeared very much weaker, and generally in the larger towns,”  observes Valburga. Even so, the feeling of  “Germanness” was too strong to be totally eradicated. It remained, for example, notes Celeste, in German customs at Christmas, such as in the short story Imigrantes [Immigrants], by Gertrud Grimm, she herself an immigrant: “And then the first Christmas abroad arrived. Under the suffocating heat of summer, contemplating the modestly decorated pine tree, everybody missing winter in their old home and the aromatic smell of a very small German Christmas tree, holding back their tears they sadly sang the pretty German Christmas carol “Silent night, holy night”.”

Paulo Afonso waterfall, Pernambuco, 1850/E. F. SchuteThe immenseness that reminded them of the romantic landscapes of Caspar David FriedrichPaulo Afonso waterfall, Pernambuco, 1850/E. F. Schute

Although there is no direct relationship between what the immigrants produced and the view Germans had of Brazil, Celeste observed points in common between the two literature of the two countries and the way in which Brazil is seen by the foreigners and by the Brazilians of German expression, sometimes as an earthly Paradise (with bucolic elements, a political refuge, a productive telluric force), by others as an inner Paradise (an escape from the social and political pressures in the land of their birth, or the search for perfection as a human being, something close to a sacred experience) or even as a destroyed Paradise, associated with the idea of the destruction of nature and the social problems of the towns. A notable and little known example of this is the trilogy of books written by Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) between 1935 and 1937 which, as from 1963, became known as the Amazonas novel, an image of what the conquest of America might have been like, with a right to all the effects of collage and an internal revolutionary structure along the lines of his Berlin Alexanderplatz. There is the story of the rebellion of the women of an Indian nation, led by Toeza, the wife of the tribal chieftain, who decide to kill their husbands and dispense with men; there are Jesuits led by Manoel da Nóbrega, who leave São Paulo and try to create an Indian Canaan, a tale of the first Jesuit sites in the River Guairá region and of their failure with Paradise lost; there are unknown stories that take place in São Paulo; and so on and so forth.

“The intrinsic concepts in his South American trilogy are: the failure of the European civilization project, the hope that resides in a primitive project of life, consolidated in a world in which men feel they are an integral part of nature and accept it, with all its fatal attractions. In the end there is no salvation for anyone. There is no salvation for the Indians: persecuted for centuries by the Europeans, they only find the holy land of their myths in death. There is no salvation for the Europeans: forgotten by their myths, their belief in the unstoppable force of material progress dragging them towards an inglorious end, even though they try to seek refuge in the mythical world of the Indians,”  analyzes George Sperber from USP. Wherever they were, the Germans sought their Canaan where, standing beside a Christmas tree, they could sing their “O, tannenbaum!”