When we think about Brazil, the images that most spring to mind are of the Rio carnival, Copacabana beach, caipirinha cocktails or samba dancers. These stereotypes have imprinted themselves in our minds at the latest since the FIFA World Cup in 2014. But Brazil is much more than that. São Paulo, the business and cultural centre of Brazil, is an example of the country’s diversity. It may be less favoured by foreign tourists and often underappreciated, but the world-class metropolis has considerable attractions to offer, even if it takes a closer look for them to be evident.
Thanks to its unique ethnic diversity, eclectic cultural offerings and never-ending night life, São Paulo has long been the undisputed cultural capital of Brazil. With 20 million inhabitants, it is the largest city in South America and the biggest conurbation in the Southern Hemisphere. There is no doubt that the cityscape is dominated by high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see and that the permanent traffic chaos is a huge problem. The residents of this huge city, who are known as “Paulistanos”, spend three hours a day on average in rush-hour traffic. In 2013 a new record was broken in just one evening, when the traffic jam stretched for 309 kilometres, roughly equivalent to the distance between Nuremberg and Dresden. Those who are able, therefore, switch to travelling by helicopter. With 500 registered helicopters, São Paulo has the largest helicopter fleet in the world.
Although São Paulo is a byword for hustle and bustle and chaos, it is simultaneously a model of organisation and efficiency. As a place to do business, São Paulo is a beacon of excellence over and beyond state borders; this is where 30 per cent of Brazil’s GDP is earned. Home to more than 1,000 German companies, São Paulo is also the largest German industrial base outside the Federal Republic. There is a very dense network of German companies and institutions and the largest German Chamber of Commerce Abroad (AHK) has its head office in the city. São Paulo has five large exhibition centres, making it a commercial hub and the most important trade fair city in South America.
“The role of São Paulo is to connect Brazil with the rest of the world.”
“The role of São Paulo is to connect Brazil with the rest of the world.” This statement by Brazilian film producer Ugo Giorgetti applies to more than just the city’s economic sector. São Paulo is Brazil’s most ethnically diverse city, making it a melting pot of various nationalities. The different ethnic communities have left their mark on the city and endowed each of the respective districts with a distinctive character. The largest minorities are the Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese and Lebanese. São Paulo is actually home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.
Ethnic diversity and a cosmopolitan outlook are also reflected in the city’s culinary variety: there is something for every taste in the more than 12,500 restaurants. No Brazilian meal is complete without “feijão com arroz”, beans and rice. Brazil’s national dish feijoada is a hearty stew consisting of black beans and various meat cuts like pig’s ears, pig’s trotters and belly pork as well as white rice and “farofa”, which is toasted cassava flour. The Brazilians are also famed for their “Churrasco”, grilled meat cooked on skewers on a barbecue. Traditionally, Brazilian cuisine has been characterised by a blend of African and Portuguese influences. In São Paulo, it also reflects European and Japanese culinary tastes, so you can be sure of finding fantastic pizzas as well as delicious sushi. Nowhere else outside of Japan are there so many Japanese restaurants as in São Paulo. The city is also home to booming street markets. One of the best known is the “Mercado Municipal”, which showcases a vast selection of various fruits, spices and regional and national delicacies.
When it comes to architecture and design, art and museums, shopping and sub-cultures, restaurants and night life, today the city can hold its own against the Big Apple, which is why it’s often described as the “New York of the South”. The cradle of Brazilian culture, the city boasts more than 110 museums and 140 theatres, as well as 280 cinema screens, 75 libraries and 40 cultural centres. The probably best known museum, the “Museu de Arte de São Paulo” (MASP), houses an impressive collection of European art and is located in a modern cuboid building in the “Avenida Paulista”, one of the city’s most important thoroughfares. A busy commercial centre on weekdays, on weekends it reveals itself as a platform for various cultures. When it is closed to traffic on Sundays, it becomes a promenade for pedestrians and cyclists and a playground for street sellers and artists as well as singers of every genre.
It takes a while to come to appreciate this city. But if you do take a closer look behind the grey facade, the many skyscrapers and the traffic chaos, the real heart of São Paulo is revealed:
São Paulo is vibrant. São Paulo is multi-faceted. São Paulo is bright and colourful.