Posted by Vladimir Penaloza – MA Candidate at CLACS
When I started this research, I was interested in the incarceration and expropriation of assets of German nationals in Nicaragua during World War II. Once I arrived in Nicaragua and began going through the archives, I realized that the footprint of Germans in Nicaragua was much greater than I had previously known. Germans have been present in Nicaragua ever since the mid 19th century. The majority of them settled in the highlands of Matagalpa and Jinotega, a two-hour drive north of Managua, an area conducive to coffee harvesting.
By 1852, a few families of German descent had settled in the region of Matagalpa, the most prominent of these families was that of Ludwig “Luis” Elster and his wife Katharina Braun. Luis Elster and his wife established the first finca in the north of Nicaragua, in which they helped introduce coffee to this region. After the Elsters, the influx of Germans increased making the region a center for German migration in Nicaragua. Currently, Matagalpa is the hub of of coffee growing in Nicaragua.
In my research I encountered many manifestations of the community of Germans who inhabited the coffee growing region of Matagalpa; among these were the social clubs that existed in the region that helped Germans fraternize with other Germans while at the same time helping them assimilate to their new settings.
My research lead me to make a trip to Matagalpa, during which I was able to speak with historian and coffee grower Eddy Kühl who, along with his wife, own Selva Negra. Selva Negra is an ecolodge and coffee estate in the hills of Matagalpa. Mr. Kühl has written several books on the history of the region and its people. He was gracious enough to spend several hours talking to me about the history of Germans in the region, specifically helpful for my research were his stories of those who lived in the region during World War II. He was filled with anecdotes from his childhood, one of which was that after World War II, when he was around 6 years old, he along with his friends used to play at using the Nazi salute among other Germans despite it having been banned by the Guardia Nacional.
After returning to Managua, and with only a few days left before I was returning to the US, I decided to visit a few sites I hadn’t been to in years. My favorite location was Volcan Masaya, an active volcano only 20 minutes outside Managua. There is a walking trail up to the caldera of the volcano. The last time I visited the volcano, it was only smoking and there was no time limit on how long you could spend peering into the volcano. This time, because it’s an active volcano, there were time limits set upon people visiting the caldera. The best part was that you could see the magma bubbling up!
This field work allowed me to expand and appreciate a relatively unknown history of my birth country.