FROM ROSSBACH TO PUYUHUAPI
In 1985, at the 50th anniversary of Puyuhuapi, Walther Hopperdietzel, the last surviving founder, gave an interview to a Chilean magazine. Here are some excerpts from that interview.
\"We were Sudeten Germans and our hometown of Rossbach was in Czechoslovakia near the border with Germany. Within a half hour from Rossbach you could walk to the other country. My friends Carlos Ludwig, Ernesto Ludwig and Otto Uebel were also born in Rossbach. With them, I decided to emigrate.
We had received books from Germany about Chile, especially about the province of Aysen, written by Dr. Hans Steffen. He wrote about the expeditions he made here, with information about geography and climate, and we realized that they were very similar to the conditions in our town, with more rain, but the temperature and landscape very similar, and we thought it would a good place for us.
We contacted people recommended by Dr. Steffen himself, and the family of Dr. Martin of Puerto Montt wrote us and confirmed that the province of Aysen had land for colonization of unlimited proportions … so we decided to go to Chile.
Otto Uebel was our boss because he was the oldest and belonged to the family that organized the trip from Europe. It was a family of much fortune, having grand carpet factories and great idealism. They wanted to foster a new settlement here in the south of Chile, and they planned to select many people such as carpenters, mechanics, and sawmill operators, to follow us to Chile.
One after another, the four of us arrived in Aysen in 1935 to create the base that would facilitate the arrival of the rest. First came Carlos Ludwig and Otto Uebel, who embarked from Puerto Montt in a ship belonging to a cattle ranch of this zone. The ship left them 20 Km south of Puyuhuapi, at the mouth of the Jacaf Strait. Here, with some provisions of food and tools and also an outboard motor, the only one of its kind in the area at this time, they got into a boat that had been brought on board. They disembarked at a little island that they christened with the name \"Patience.\" The ship continued towards the south and they went to the north to reconnoiter the shore of the canal up to where Puyuhuapi would be founded. In those years, the fjord was completely uninhabited. There was nobody living there, not even in Puerto Cisnes. The forest crowded right down to the shore; therefore they had to clear land, and the reeds grew abundantly and served as the first building material for a shelter.
Carlos and Otto had met Augusto Grosse in Santiago, who had explored this area, and, therefore, knew the climate and how to move around using a machete in the forest, which requires much skill and forcefulness.
In this first task of establishing a base we had bad luck: the two first reed huts were washed away by the river; the third house, one of better construction, burned down. That is the reason why more colonists could not come, as we had one delay after the other. Also, the clearing of land in this country, to cut and burn the trees and brush and seed grass, meant the work of at least three years. For that we considered the arrival date for the colonists to be in 1938 or 1939.
But in Europe there was a picture of a new war coming, and no emigration permits were given. Our homeland had again changed its nationality and became part of Germany in the vote of 1938, with the Munich Pact, and we passed from being Austrians to Czechs to Germans. At this time, it was impossible to find more colonists. The mind of the politicians was on the new war, and they needed all the youth. They didn´t allow anybody to leave. So now we were alone, we four, alone with the frustration of our plans for the settlement.
Here in Aysen we had the fantastic cooperation of the then-called Office for Land and Settlement that immediately conceded 5,000 hectares to each of us, making 20,000 hectares of land that the state promised us for free. But this changed suddenly when World War II broke out and the law changed in the opposite direction. Prior to the war, the foreigner had more possibilities than the Chileans themselves. In 1939, they changed the immigration law for a law of settlement that impeded the foreigner from receiving free title from the state, and so we stayed with almost no land, with no land to settle. That is when we began to do the paperwork for residence and then citizenship. There were no problems and we received these documents that allowed us to solicit land.
At that time, there was a law that permitted any Chilean to solicit 600 hectares of free title, but public employees could receive 1,000 hectares. Therefore, the people from the land office advised us to look for work with the government, even without pay, so we could apply for at least for 1,000 hectares, as the 5,000 were no longer possible. It was not difficult. I asked for the job as weather observer for the Air Force, a position that I still hold, and Ernesto, who is now dead, was a fish and game warden.
Our first step was to clear land for raising cattle because we saw that this was going to be our main source of income in this zone, having too much rain for regular agriculture.
Later we desired to have a saw mill, but the first machinery from Germany, a bandsaw, did not suit our work well. We had to transport the logs by water with rafts, but dragging them up to the sawmill over the land they got covered with sand and dirt. Therefore, we changed to the type constructed in Chile. This was a huge circular saw with teeth that could be replaced. We bought the first mill in 1942 from a company in Osorno, as well as all the necessary equipment for producing lumber. This sawmill was in production until around 1970.
By 1939, we had already brought workers from Chiloe, and this was a great fortune for us because the Chilote is an excellent worker who knows how to clear the forest. He knows about raising cattle, construction, boat building... he knows a little about everything… and they stayed here with Don Ernesto and Don Otto making pasture. Don Carlos and I travelled to Puerto Montt to try to look for other possibilities to help our settlement grow. I worked as a representative for a German factory, selling merchandise in southern Chile - carpets, upholstery, curtains, cloth from the factory of Don Otto´s father, and Don Carlos exported wood from the sawmills around Puerto Montt to Germany. We had good income, but then came the war and cut off these sources. Our firm in Puerto Montt was put on a blacklist and we could no longer develop our commercial activity. I returned to Puyuhuapi while Don Carlos stayed in Puerto Montt to coordinate our supply depots.
All Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, but our parents and siblings were allowed to remain until 1947 because they appealed to the Chilean consul in Prague, who would help them emigrate to Chile in order to reunite the families. Finally, with their visas for Chile ready, they managed to get to Paris to wait for transport. They tried to get tickets on a ship which was much cheaper, but it was impossible because they had already been sold or reserved for years in advance. After the war, everyone wanted to leave a devastated Europe with its cities in ruin. Our families had to go by plane from Paris to Dakar to Recife to Santiago, then by train to Puerto Montt and by ship to Puyuhuapi.
With my father and my brother, who also were textile workers, we decided to form a small industry to give jobs to this community that was slowly growing. In the year 1947, we counted 15 workers from Chiloe, Puerto Montt and Melinka Islands, workers that had also brought their families, forming a small community. With the saw mill now producing lumber, we had no problems building their houses, but we had to maintain this community and create new activities. This was another reason to open the textile factory. We started with only one hand-loom. Even though in German schools this technique was no longer taught and nobody made rugs by hand anymore, but by machines, we had the knowledge from school about how to weave carpets like they do in India, China, or Persia.
Before leaving Germany, I had made drawings of looms that we had there, and later we built and customized them for making cloth. With our cabinetmaker it took us two or three months to make two looms with four boxes with seven shuttles which allowed sixty passes per minute. They were semi-mechanical looms propelled by foot-pedals, and we competed with the industry they had at this time, selling our cloth to, among others, Los Gobelinos, the best shop in Santiago. A fire in 1958 burned the looms and much of the factory.
We also saw the necessity to make carpets to give work to the women from Chiloe who traditionally knew how to make rugs, known as choapinos . So we made the first loom to learn how many threads per centimeter were necessary, and we asked in Santiago for materials to develop this type of carpet. We made the first two, sent them to Puerto Montt, and saw that we had a market. We continued to build loom after loom, and today, with ten looms, we are able to have work for more than thirty people. What we produce today is pre-ordered, so we don´t need to wait for a buyer.
In the short history of this settlement, an amusing anecdote happened in 1943. Two ships arrived in the bay, one a warship and the other for passengers. Two boats were lowered with soldiers and civilians who rowed to the beach where we were all waiting. We greeted them courteously, but there was no reply. They rounded us up and all of us who were German were taken to the ship to be interrogated. We didn´t know what was going on. It was an invasion headed by the English, authorized by the famous Departamento 50 in Santiago which was in charge of surveillance of foreigners. They came here to know what we were up to, because there were rumors that we were supplying German submarines. Before the war, we had been regularly receiving merchandise and machinery from Germany, so they thought that we could have here a base with lots of supplies of food, radio equipment, and guns. The interrogations were long and unpleasant, but eventually they let us go and left, not very convinced, thinking always that we had something to hide.
After 50 years passed in this beautiful place in Chile, what remains is a great experience of life and the satisfaction to have realized our dreams, because I believe that if we had stayed in Germany we wouldn´t have achieved what we had wanted.
Puyuhuapi is today a town of almost 600 inhabitants, and new houses are continually built. I try to maintain and repair what has been constructed and to train young people so that the industry of carpet-making continues and does not die with me. You can see the town progressing and all this gives a great satisfaction because, in the end, we are considered here as the founders of the village or community of Puyuhuapi.\"
Ernesto Ludwig was the first to die 1969, followed by Otto Uebel in 1975 and Helmuth Hopperdietzel in 1979. Carlos and Walther lived until 1996.