On a gray February day, Yasmim stands at her window in Berlin with a forlorn look and a deep longing for her home country. Normally, this young Brazilian feels content in Germany, but this time of year is cold and dark here, while a summery hot Rio de Janeiro is swept up in carnival fever. Yasmim is one of many Brazilians who’ve left their homes far behind to study in Germany. Brazilians – like Germans – are often motivated by academic and professional reasons to cross the Big Pond. Brazil is Germany‘s principal trading partner in Latin America, and the some 900 German-Brazilian companies based in São Paulo make Brazil’s largest city one of the world’s most important German business locations. And yet the two countries are still relative strangers – different cultures, different ways of communicating and doing business and different languages. Numerous organizations and societies have formed in Germany with the aim of making it easier for newly arrived Brazilians to settle into the unfamiliar culture here, among them the Forum Brasil in Berlin, the German-Brazilian Cultural Society in Coburg and the Casa do Brasil in Munich. They all have the common aim of facilitating communication between Germans and Brazilians, whether by referring language courses or giving quick, unbureaucratic advice on the best places to get black beans, cassava or good cachaça.
Some Brazilians are brought to Germany by the search for their own roots. Many Germans emigrated to Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially to its southern tip, founding such towns as Blumenau, Teutônia and Nova Friburgo. Today, some of their descendents speak “Riograndenser Hunsrückisch“, the Brazilian variant of the Hunsrück dialect with Portuguese and Italian influences. One famous personality with a Brazilian-German background was Julia Man, better known by her nickname Dodo, the mother of Heinrich and Thomas Mann. Dodo was born in Paraty in 1851, the daughter of a farmer who had emigrated to Brazil from Lübeck. The Martius-Staden Institute in Panamy is the first stop for Brazilians researching their German ancestors. The institute’s archive has an extensive index of family names of German origin.
Worth marking on our calendars is the “Germany Year”, taking place in Brazil from May, 2013, to May, 2014, under the heading “Germany + Brazil – Where Ideas Connect“. Projects are planned ranging from the art of glass blowing to an “architecture quartet” – a podium discussion of contemporary architecture with four guests – to a Telenovela dealing with subjects relating to Germany. Together, they’re meant to contribute to an up-to-date and multifaceted image of Germany and to help build and cement relations between the two countries.
In addition to the “Germany Year”, two major events will be taking place in Brazil in the coming years: the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The German national soccer team visited Brazil in November, 2012, to scout out conditions on site. For now, those conditions are anything but optimal. Dubious labor practices, forced resettlements and the establishment of exclusion zones around the World Cup stadiums, effectively denying local businesspeople access, have stirred resentment among ordinary Brazilians. Enormous sums are going into the development of the tourist infrastructure – some 33 billion reais (approx. 12.2 billion euros) according to official sources. But these mega-investments are doing little to improve the living conditions of the broader Brazilian population. In response, citizens’ committees have formed all across the country to oppose the demolition of the favelas and the privatization of certain symbols and logos. Their great hope is that their grievances will be heard, and Brazil’s development strategy for major events and mega-investments will not just end up intensifying social inequalities.