Since colonial times, both countries have come together one way or another, sometimes in facetious style. From ill-fated expeditions to developments in industry and science, a Colombian student at Potsdam spills the main clues. By Cristian Bustos
Germany and Colombia have had many more historical dealings besides the FIFA 2014 World Cup affair. In the latest edition of the tournament, Colombians felt that justice had been served when Thomas Müller and his fine-tuned orchestra inflicted Brazil their most embarrassing defeat to date. The host were thrashed 7-1 after having sent our team back home during a very controversial tie in the quarterfinals, in which they constantly battered the shins of Real Madrid starlet James Rodríguez. We are still deeply grateful to the Germans for that.
And with the “Deutscher Kolonialismus” exhibition currently taking place at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, it would be very interesting to review how Germany and Colombia, besides football, have been drawn together many times since colonial days. The connection begins with a crazy story about a gold-ridden kingdom, and it ends up with Junker F 13 planes, with some Nazis and beer thrown in between.
The “El Dorado” incident
In 1535 and sponsored by the Welser family in Augsburg, a German explorer called Georg von Speyer left Venezuela with Nikolaus von Federmann, 400 men and 1,500 Indians in search of a golden empire called “El Dorado.” The chief of the Muisca tribe in Colombia used to swim in the Guatavita Lake completely glazed in gold, so upon hearing the story, Europeans, including Speyer, went absolutely bonkers.
However, their colonial endeavour dismally collapsed courtesy of hostile natives with poisonous darts, awful weather and horrible diseases. Speyer even ended up eating his own horse to survive, and he took the final blow when El Dorado legend turned out to be just aboriginal codswallop.
Still, it was Federmann who founded the northern-tip city of Riohacha and also re-founded Bogotá with Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar. Also, rumour has it that the German’s sexual escapades with various indigenous chics were responsible for the big cluster of blond, blue-eyed people that currently inhabits the Department of Boyacá and northern Cundinamarca. That, we will never know.
The Black List
Also, during World War II, Hitler put his eyes on Colombia for a short while according to El Tiempo. The Colombian newspaper claims that “the Führer” saw the country as a strategic enclave for a Nazi expansion in South America, and even sent a small contingent that triggered a diplomatic scramble involving the British and the US embassies, despite Colombia’s war neutrality.
The result was the issuing of the “Black List” with which the US encouraged the Colombian government to capture German citizens on the run, and send them to the Sabaneta Hotel in Fusagasugá. “One day they came to my house, they told my dad to hand in documents of his properties and they gave him a three-day ultimatum to turn himself in,” says Joerg Scheuerman, one of more than 100 former detainees in Sabaneta. The story is compelled in the book “Colombia Nazi” by journalist Silvia Galvis, which is based on tons of intelligence reports and diplomatic mail.
Don Leopoldo and the Junkers
And Germans have a lot to do with Colombia’s developments in industry, arts and science.
Leopold Siegfried Kopp founded the first brewery in Colombia in 1889, which went on to become Bavaria–Deutsche Brauerei Bayern – the biggest beer company in the country, the second largest in South America, and 10th in the world. Don Leopoldo was a lovable man who also used his fortune to build an entire neighbourhood in Bogotá called “La Perseverancia,” where all his workers lived for free. Bogotanos visit his grave nearly every day to “ask his soul for advice.”
Meanwhile, German and Colombian entrepreneurs created the first South American airline, in 1919. The Deutsch-Kolumbianische Luftverkehrsgesellschaft became Avianca in 1941, and today is the country’s flagship carrier with 168 aircrafts in service; its first flight was between Barranquilla–place of birth of Modern Family co-star Sofía Vergara – and Puerto Colombia, using a Junker plane and carrying 57 pieces of mail.
In the fields of arts and science, Konrad Preuss revealed to the world the existence of San Agustín, in Huila, the world’s largest megalithic necropolis, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995; also, the great Humboldt drew the first map of Colombia’s most important river, the Magdalena. And we fondly remember the artistic work of Guillermo Wiedemann, Leopoldo Richter and Edwin Graus, who were interested in the colours of the tropic and the black race.
From Thomas Müller to Don Leo Kopp, I am sure Colombians will always be deeply grateful.