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Title: German-Chilean  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Chile, Demographics of Chile, Ethnic Germans, White people, Los Lagos Region, Kuchen, Puerto Varas, Germans in Paraguay, Osorno Province, White Latin American
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


German Chilean
Total population
est. 500,000 [1] (6.1% of the Chilean population)
Regions with significant populations
Valdivia, Valparaíso, Santiago de Chile, Temuco, Talca, Concepción, Viña del Mar, Osorno, Puerto Varas, Villarrica.
Chilean Spanish, German, Lagunen-deutsch
Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant)
Related ethnic groups
German, German Americans, German-Argentinians, German-Brazilian, German Mexican, German-Paraguayan, German-Peruvians, German Uruguayans

German Chileans (Spanish germanochilenos, German Deutsch-Chilenen) are Chileans of German descent deriving their German ethnicity from one or both parents; mainly descendants of about 30,000 immigrants who arrived between 1846–1914.[2][3][4] A major criterion unifying this distinctive Chilean ethnic minority has more to do with linguistics than to the geographic location or the nationality of their ancestors. Hence, the group German Chileans also incorporates descendents of Austrians, Swiss Germans, Silesians, Alsatians and other German-speaking groups. Germans were the fifth largest immigration group to Chile, after Bolivians, Peruvians, Spaniards and Italians.[5]

From the middle of the 19th century to the present they have played a significant role in the economic, political and cultural development of the Chilean nation. Most German Chileans are descendents from German immigrants that began to settle in Chile in the middle of the 19th century, many of them after the failed liberal German Revolution of 1848. Their main settlements were and remain mostly in Chile’s Araucanía Region, Los Ríos Region and Los Lagos Region regions in the so-called Zona Sur of Chile, including the Chilean lake district.


Germans in the Spanish colony

The first German to feature in the history of what is now Chile is Bartolomé Blumenthal (Spanish alias Bartolome Flores) during the 16th century when Pedro de Valdivia ousted the indigenous population and founded the city of Santiago. Valdivia also arrested and took hostage the local Cacique (viz. tribal leaders and chiefs) to weaken the society of the local Mapuche people. Blumenthal took part in the defence of the Spanish settlement of Santiago when the indigenous people launched a counter-offensive on 11 September 1541 in attempt to free their tribal leaders held hostage by the conquistadores.

Later Blumenthal took part in the consolidation of the Spanish settlement that would became the Talagante Province and he was the first engineer in the remote colony. Blumenthal’s son in law, Pedro Lisperguer – born Peter Lisperger in Worms, Germany – became the mayor of Santiago in 1572.

Another figure of German origin, Johann von Bohon (Spanish alias Juan Bohon), is ordered by Valdivia to establish the city of La Serena in 1544.

Hamburg and Valparaíso

In 1810 Chile became independent from Spain and thus acquired the freedom to engage in trade with any nation. The port city of Valparaíso became a major center for trade with Hamburg with commercial travellers from Germany staying for lengthy periods of time to work in Valparaíso, with some settling permanently.

On 9 May 1838 the first German cultural organization was established, Club Alemán de Valparaíso, which enabled the German visitors and residents to hold cultural functions. The club began to organize literary, musical and theatre productions and became a stepping stone in the cultural life that subsequently emerged in Valparaíso. Aquinas Ried, a physician, became widely known in the city for composing operas, for writing poetry and plays. The club had its own orchestras and academic choir (singakademie) which would perform works composed by local musicians.[6]

Colonization of Southern Chile

The Chilean government encouraged German immigration in 1848, a time of revolution in Germany. Before that Bernhard Eunom Philippi recruited nine working families to emigrate from Hesse to Chile.

The origin of the German immigrants in Chile began with the Law of Selective Immigration of 1845. The objective of this law was to bring people of a medium social/high cultural level to colonize the southern regions of Chile; these were between Valdivia and Puerto Montt. The process was administered by Vicente Pérez Rosales by mandate of the then-president Manuel Montt. The German immigrants revived the domestic economy and they changed the southern zones. An example of this constructive spirit was stated by the leader of the first colonists Carlos Anwandter, who proclaimed to all the colonists:

We shall be honest and laborious Chileans as the best of them, we shall defend our adopted country joining in the ranks of our new countrymen, against any foreign oppression and with the decision and firmness of the man that defends his country, his family and his interests. Never will have the country that adopts us as its children, reason to repent of such illustrated, human and generous proceeding,...

The expansion and economic development of Valdivia were limited in the early 19th century. To stimulate economic development, the Chilean government initiated a highly-focused immigration program under Vicente Pérez Rosales as government representative. Through this program, thousands of Germans settled in the area, incorporating then-modern technology and know-how to develop agriculture and industry. Some of the new immigrants stayed in Valdivia but others were given forested land, which they cleared for farms.[7]

Valdivia, situated at some distance from the coast, on the Calle-calle river, is a German town. Everywhere you meet German faces, German signboards and placards alongside the Spanish. There is a large German school, a church and various Vereine, large shoe-factories, and, of course, breweries...

For ten years after the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, immigrants came from Germany. They established themselves principally in the Llanquihue in the towns of Frutillar, Puerto Octay, Puerto Varas, Osorno and Puerto Montt.

Around 1900 Valdivia prospered with industries, including the Hoffmann Gristmill and the Rudloff shoe factory.

The Prussian Army had great influence on the Chilean Army. At the end of the 19th century, Chile adopted the Prussian military tradition, especially after the 1891 Chilean Civil War. A German military instructor, Emil Körner, reached the rank of commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army in 1900. Even today, the Chilean Army uses the Stahlhelm for ceremonial purposes, while the Chilean Military School still uses the Pickelhaube as part of the ceremonial uniform.

Chilean medicine was influenced by Dr. Max Westenhöfer (1871-1957), a German scientist, physician and pathologist from the University of Berlin who is considered the founder of anatomic pathology in Chile. Prof. Westenhöfer established permanently in Chile as faculty member of the University of Chile, becoming an important figure in the intellectual Chilean environment.[8]

Subsequently, a new wave of German immigrants arrived in Chile, with many settling in Temuco, and Santiago. Many founded businesses; for example, Horst Paulmann's small store in the capital of the Araucanía Region grew into Cencosud, one of the largest businesses in the region.

German-Chilean relations

German values have influenced Chilean culture and economic development and vice versa. For example,

  • The establishment of commercial houses and German shipping businesses in Valparaíso
  • The foundation of the German Club in 1838
  • The exploration of the Patagonia by the German Bernardo Phillipi, and his participation in the Chilean possession of the Strait of Magallanes
  • The German immigration to the south of Chile after World War II
  • Colonization and development of the city of Valdivia and the outskirts
  • The exploitation of the nitrate fields
  • The close relations between the ports of Valparaíso and Hamburg
  • The establishment of a number of Chilean-German fire companies. (Nearly 20)
  • Migration of ethnic Germans into Chile from Argentina in the early 20th century.

In Germany is also possible to find testimonies of the links between Chile and Germany. The building Chilehaus (The House of Chile) in the port of Hamburg symbolizes the past trade relations between the countries. The building was constructed in the 20th century, designed with the form of a bow of ship.

20th century

During World War II, many German Jews fled to Chile before and during the Holocaust. For example, the families of Mario Kreutzberger and Tomás Hirsch came to Chile during this time.

Shortly after World War II, former members of Nazi Germany also tried to take refuge in South America, including Chile, fleeing trials against them in Europe and elsewhere; one such successful escapee was SS Standartenführer and war criminal Walter Rauff. Paul Schäfer, a former army medic, founded Colonia Dignidad, a German enclave in the Maule Region, in which abuses against human rights were allegedly carried out. The precise number of Nazi refugees hidden in Chile after WWII remain unknown and it represents an eventual topic of historic research.

German Chileans today

The exact number German-Chileans is unknown, because many of the early arrivals' descendants have intermarried and assimilated over the past 150 years. According to the last census, there were 5,906 German-citizens living in Chile.

An independent estimate calculates that about 500,000 Chileans could be descendants of German immigrants.[9]

An estimated 20,000 Chileans speak the German language.[10] There are also German schools[11] and German-language newspapers and periodicals in Chile (e.g., Cóndor – a weekly German-language newspaper).

Notable German Chileans

The following is a list of notable German-Chileans who have made remarkable contributions to the history of Chile:

Religious affiliations

Many Germans who migrated to Chile practice Roman Catholicism, but there are others with Protestant affiliations. Germans introduced the first Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran churches to Chile.

See also


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