German colonization of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue

From 1850 to 1875 the region around Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue in Southern Chile received some 6,000 German immigrants as part of a state-led colonization scheme. Some immigrants were leaving Europe as consequence of the aftermath of the German revolutions of 1848–49. They brought skills and assets as artisans, farmers and merchants to Chile, contributing to development. German settlement had a long-lasting influence on the society, economy, and geography of Southern Chile.

The German colonization of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue is considered the first of three waves of German settlement in Chile, the second lasting from 1882 to 1914 and the third from 1918 onward.


Early colonization

Beginning in 1842 German expatriate Bernhard Eunom Philippi sent a proposal of German colonization of Southern Chile to the Chilean government. In 1844 Philippi presented a second colonization scheme; both of these schemes were rejected by Chilean authorities. The second scheme considered the colonization of both the shores of Llanquihue Lake and the mouth of Maullín River. The mentioned river was also to be made navigable.

In 1844 Philippi formed a partnership with Ferdinand Flindt, a German merchant based in Valparaíso, who also represented Prussia there as consul. With financial backing from Flindt, in 1844 Philippi purchased land in Valdivia and along the southern bank of Bueno River to be developed by future immigrants. Philippi's brother, Rodolfo Amando Philippi, contributed to the colonization plans by recruiting nine German families to emigrate to Chile. These families arrived to Chile in 1846 aboard one of Flindt's ships. By the time the first immigrants arrived, Flindt had gone bankrupt and his properties were taken over by another German merchant, Franz Kindermann. He supported German immigration and took over Flindt's responsibilities. Land purchases of dubious legality were made by Kindermann and his father-in-law Johann Renous around Trumao with the aim re-selling these lands to German immigrants. Bankrupted Flindt had made similar purchases near Osorno. As the Chilean state nullified Kindermanns and Renous purchases the first immigrants to arrive were instead settled in Isla Teja in Valdivia, a river island then called Isla Valenzuela.

State-sponsored colonization

Worried about the potential occupation of Southern Chile by European powers, Chilean authorities approved plans for colonization of the southern territories; they also wanted to have residential development to make a claim for territorial continuity.

The Chilean legislature entered colonist recruitment with passage of the Law of Colonization and Vacant Lots (Ley de Colonización y Tierras Baldías), which was signed by president Manuel Montt in 1845. That same year Salvador Sanfuentes was appointed intendant of Valdivia and tasked with surveying the colonization potential of the Province. To carry out the survey, Sanfuentes commissioned Philippi as "provincial engineer".

The outbreak of the 1848 Revolution in the German states persuaded the previously hesitant Philippi to travel to Europe to recruit settlers. The Chilean government initially ordered Philippi to recruit 180-200 German Catholic families. Troubled by Catholic bishops in Germany who opposed the departure of their parishioners, Philippi asked for and was granted permission to recruit non-Catholic immigrants. Philippi also succeeded in having the Chilean government put fixed prices on fiscal colonization land to stimulate immigration of economically independent individuals and avoid speculation. Most of the immigrants recruited by Philippi during his 1848-1851 stay in Germany were Protestant. The few Catholic families recruited were all poor people from Württemberg. The immigrants recruited by Philippi arrived in 1850 at Valdivia, where Vicente Pérez Rosales was declared colonization agent by the Chilean government. One of the most notable early immigrants was Carl Anwandter, who settled in Valdivia in 1850 after having participated in the Revolution of 1848 in Prussia. Most immigrants had their own economic means and were therefore free to settle where they wished. They settled mainly around Valdivia. The few Catholic families from Württemberg, who needed Chilean state support, could be allocated as the government wished. By 1850, this last group was too small to establish a functional German settlement at the shores of Llanquihue Lake as Philippi had envisioned. He decided to settle the Catholic families in the interior of Valdivia Province. Upon his return to Chile in 1851, Philippi was admonished by minister Antonio Varas for sending too many Protestant settlers. As punishment Philippi was appointed governor of Magallanes instead of being appointed leader of the future Llanquihue settlement as he wished. In Magallanes, Philippi was killed by indigenous people in 1852.Pérez Rosales succeeded Philippi as government agent in Europe in 1850; he returned to Chile in 1852 with many German families to settle the shores of Llanquihue Lake.

The sponsored colonization of Valdivia and Osorno lasted until 1858. The shores of Llanquihue Lake were largely colonized between 1852 and 1875 but Puerto Montt (then called Melipulli) and Puerto Varas had already been founded by Chileans in 1850. Frutillar on the shores of Llanquihue Lake was founded in 1856. The Puerto Montt and the zone around the Llanquihue Lake developed rapidly; its status as colonization territory established in 1853 was superseded in 1861 when the Llanquihue area was constituted as regular province. The zone had a formal police force established in 1859 to deal with cattle theft –the most common crime at the time. By 1871 Puerto Montt had over 3000 inhabitants and the whole Llanquihue Province had a population of 17,538.Compared to Germans who settled in the big cities and ports of northern Chile the Germans of southern Chile retained much of their German culture or Deutschtum. Communities came with time to develop a dual Chilean and German sense of belonging. Contrary to as feared by observers from the United States and as promoted by imperial and Nazi Germany the German community did not act as an extension of the German state to any significant degree. Indeed, settlement in Chile had little to do with the German state as most migration preceded the formation of modern Germany in 1871.

Economic impact

Following independence in 1820, Valdivia entered a period of economic decline. Since colonial times the city had been isolated from Central Chile by hostile Mapuche-controlled territory, and it depended heavily upon seaborne trade with the port of Callao in Peru. With independence this intra-colonial trade ended but it was not replaced by new trade routes.

About 6000 Germans settlers arrived in Southern Chile between 1850 and 1875. Of these 2800 settled around Valdivia. The plurality of those Germans settled in Valdivia came from Hesse (19%), and 45% of them had worked as artisans in Germany. The next largest occupation group were farmers (28%), followed by merchants (13%). Most German settlers who reached Valdivia brought current assets, including machinery or other valuable goods. Wealthy immigrants in Valdivia provided credit to poorer ones. The nature of the German immigrants to Valdivia contributed to the city's urban and cosmopolitan outlook, specially when compared to Osorno.

At first German settlements outside Valdivia had substistence economies. As transportation developed settlers' economy shifted into one linked to national and international markets and based on the exploitation of natural resources, chiefly wood from Valdivian temperate rainforest. This was particularly notorious when in the period after 1870 when improved roads made connection from the hinterland of Llanquihue Lake to the coast easy. Germans and German-Chileans developed trade across the Andes, controlling mountain passes establishing the settlement from which Bariloche in Argentina grew out.

In Osorno German industrial activity declined in the 1920s at the same time that the city's economy turned towards cattle ranching. With land ownership heavily concentrated among a few families, many indigenous Huilliche of Osorno became peasants of large estates (latifundia) owned by Germans.

Among the achievements of the German immigrants was the deepening of division of labour, the introduction of wage labour in agriculture, and establishing Chile's first beer brewery in Valdivia in 1851 by Carl Anwandter. Some foreign observers made exaggerated accounts on the impact Germans had in local affairs, for example Isaac F. Marcosson wrote in 1925 that Valdivia "was a collection of mud houses" before the arrival of Germans.

Trade between Germans and German-Chileans with indigenous peoples was not uncommon. Indeed, some German merchants catered specifically to them. For example, in San José de la Mariquina Mapuches were the main customers of German shopkeepers. A lucrative leather industry that Germans created was supplied by indigenous traders from across the Andes until the 1880s when the Argentine Army displaced indigenous communities. The city Bariloche in today's Argentina grew out by a shop established by German-Chilean merchant Carlos Wiederhold. Beginning with him, businessmen of German heritage brought in labourers from Chiloé Archipelago to the Bariloche area. German and German-Chilean enterprises in southwestern Argentina acted as brokers for both Chile and Argentina assising both in controlling traffic across the southern Andes.

Relations with Mapuches and Chileans

Early German settlers had good relations with the indigenous Mapuche and Huilliche, in contrast to their more uneasy relation with the Spanish-descent elite of Valdivia, whom they considered lazy. A pamphlet published in Germany by Franz Kindermann to attract immigrants states that while neither Chileans (meaning those of Spanish descent) nor the Mapuche liked to work, the latter were honest.German-indigenous relations chilled over time. This had to do with the Germans becoming the new European social elite of southern Chile and their adoption of some customs of the older Spanish-descent elite. Another reason for the soured relations was that German immigrants and their descendants became involved in land claims conflicts with Huilliche, Mapuche and other Chileans.

Land ownership conflicts

As German colonization expanded into new areas beyond the designated colonization areas, such as the coastal region of Osorno and some Andean lakes and valleys, settlers began to have conflicts with indigenous peoples. The Chilean state ignored laws that protected indigenous property, in some instances purportedly because people who were Christian and literate could not be considered indigenous.

The Sociedad Stuttgart, a society established to bring German settlers to Chile, had one of the first major conflicts. In 1847 and 1848 this society purchased about 15,000 km under fraudulent conditions from Huilliche west of Osorno. The Chilean government objected to these purchases but the transactions were ratified in Chilean courts. As result of Chilean and European settlers, including Germans, settling around Bueno River, Osorno Huilliches living in the Central Valley migrated to the coastal region of Osorno.

German settlers taking lands in the south of the Mapuche territory was one of the factors that led chief Mañil in 1859 to call for an uprising to assert control over the territory. According to Mañil, the Chilean government had granted Mapuche land to the immigrants, although it was not under national control. But, the southern Mapuche communities near the German settlers did not respond to Mañil efforts to create unrest. Mañil's uprising did provoke a decision by Chilean authorities to conquer the Mapuche in Araucanía; this in turn opened more land for European and Chilean colonization, at the expense of the Mapuche.

Forest fires and volcanic eruptions

Vicente Pérez Rosales burned down huge tracts of forested lands to clear lands for the settlers. The area affected by these fires spanned a strip in the Andean foothills from Bueno River to Reloncaví Sound. One of the most famous intentional fires was the one of the Fitzroya forests between Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt in 1863. This burning was done taking advantage of a drought in 1863. The forests were burned to clear them rapidly for settlers, who had no means of subsistence other than agriculture.

In 1893 Calbuco volcano erupted disrupting the daily life of the settlers in eastern Llanquihue Lake. In this area potato fields, cattle and apiculture was negatively impacted by the eruption which lasted until 1895. Cattle was evacuated from the area and settlers lobbied the government of Jorge Montt to be relocated elsewhere.

Linguistic legacy

The impact of the immigration was such that Valdivia was for a while a Spanish-German bilingual city with "German signboards and placards alongside the Spanish". The prestige the German language made it acquire qualities of a superstratum in southern Chile. The temporary decline in the use of Spanish is exemplified by the trade the Manns family carried out in the second half of the 19th century. The family's Chilean servants spoke German with their patrons and used Mapudungun with their Mapuche customers.

The word for blackberry, an ubiquituos plant in southern Chile, is murra instead of the ordinary Spanish word mora and zarzamora from Valdivia to Chiloé Archipelago and some towns in Aysén Region. The use of rr is an adaptation of guttural sounds found in German but difficult to pronounce in Spanish. Similarly the name for marbles is different in Southern Chile compared to areas further north. From Valdivia to Aysén Region this game is called bochas contrary to the word bolitas used further north. The word bocha is likely derivative of the Germans bocciaspiel.