NOVO HAMBURGO, Brazil (AP) Germany’s World Cup team is popular in the rolling hills of southern Brazil, home to of one of the largest communities of German descendants outside of Europe. But the Muellers, Hoffmans and Schmidts of these parts will forget the land of their ancestors come semifinal time, if Germany and Brazil keep winning.
”We are all hoping Germany will win until then,” said Jorge Schroer, a chemical salesman who is proud of his German heritage and wants to keep hold of it. ”But after that, we are Brazilian.”
On Monday, the region will celebrate its ancestry when Germany takes on Algeria in a World Cup second-round match at Porto Alegre, the largest city in southern Brazil. Schroer and others said the German team could expect a rousing reception from locals in the stadium.
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More than 80 percent of Porto Alegre’s residents claim some European ancestry, and the city is dotted with parks, squares and wide avenues lined with grand, if sometimes tatty, colonial buildings. Combined with the ”Gaucho” or traditional cowboy culture the region shares with neighboring Uruguay and Argentina, the beaches and samba of Rio di Janeiro can seem very far away from here.
Germans began migrating to Brazil 190 years ago and most settled in the south, where they endured tough conditions and attacks from indigenous people. But they soon established farms and eventually branched into cottage industries. Now along with Italian-Brazilians, their descendants play an important role in southern Brazil’s economically important leather industries.
Some 12 million people now claim German ancestry in Brazil, part of a diverse ethnic fabric that includes indigenous peoples, Portuguese Africans, Italian, Arabs, Japanese and others. In Novo Hamburgo – or New Hamburg in English – and surrounding towns up to 90 percent of the people are of German heritage.
”We all know the contribution of the immigrants that docked here was very important,” said Beno Huemann, a tour guide in Nova Petropolis, a town where locals gathered to drink beer and dance the waltz before Germany’s match against Ghana last week. ”But they have also integrated with the local Gaucho culture.”
Initially, the German settlers were unassimilated, but when Brazil joined the Allied forces in World War II the government cracked down on the use of German, fearing that the Nazism was spreading in the south. It banned German-language newspapers and prevented the language being taught in school. After the war, several Nazi war criminals did flee to Brazil and other South American countries.
Knowledge of German is now firmly on the decline but some older people, Schroer’s mother among them, don’t speak Portuguese, the national language.
The heritage is easily spotted in the German names of the businesses in the southern towns, the steeples from the Lutheran churches that rise from well-ordered, mostly well-off towns and the settler’s black and white cottages – some preserved for passing tourists, others still lived in – that date back to the 1820s.
The local government in the Brazilian German-dominated town of Ivoti makes no secret of its heritage.
In a meeting room in its offices, the photos of almost exclusively Brazilian-German mayors bear down and a German flag flies alongside the Brazilian one. Unbidden, one employee draped both around her recently in a show of her loyalties to a visiting reporter.
”On Monday, we are German for sure,” said local government employee Ademir Rost.
Some people in the region think that the German-Brazilians have not in fact integrated as much as they should.
”Some are a lot prouder of the German side than the Brazilian side,” said local policewoman Robert da Fontoura Pinteiro Beck, whose grandfather arrived in the region from Germany when he was child.
Loyalties may be divided for now, but that’s unlikely if Brazil keeps advancing toward the final.