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Villa Baviera, Chile

Villa Baviera

Formerly a brutal Nazi colony, this Chilean village was remade as a (controversial) German-themed tourist trap. 

Miles away from civilization and accessible only by a gravel road is Villa Baviera, a quaint tourist town in Chile that appears to be typical of other European-themed villages throughout the world… that is, until you look closer.

Past the Bavarian facades and German sausages lies a deeper backstory that reveals a sinister past of censorship, torture, and white nationalism.

In 1959, former Nazi sergeant Paul Schäfer was charged by the West German government with two counts of sexually abusing young children and was forced to flee European land as a fugitive. By 1961, Schäfer and a few hundred of his closest followers had successfully escaped to form Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony), an isolated, rural town in the Andean foothills of eastern Chile.

While the Nazi immigrants painted their Chilean colony as a communal agricultural utopia to the rest of the world, their propaganda couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Colonia Dignidad claimed to be a Christian charity providing free healthcare to Chileans affected by a recent earthquake, but in reality it was an authoritarian Nazi police state with guardhouses, lookout towers, and a complete restriction of emigration.

Under Schäfer’s rule, connection to the outside world was strictly limited, with a ban on calendars, computers, and TVs. The Nazi leader employed a cult of personality; eventually, all of his followers thought of him as God, referring to him as “Der Permanente Onkel,” or The Permanent Uncle.

Every aspect of human life was controlled at Colonia Dignidad. Sex wasn’t allowed unless approved by Schäfer, and families were separated from birth into gender-segregated groups of 6 to 15. Laborers worked without pay and those who broke the colony’s strict laws were tortured with electrocution and beatings. Schäfer even collaborated with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who used the colony as a detention camp to torture and execute his political prisoners.

But by the 1990s, things at Colonia Dignidad began to change. Democracy was brought to Chile and by 1997 Schäfer fled Chile under charges of torture, amassing weapons, and committing pedophilia against the children of the colony.

Nowadays, the colony is no longer under Schäfer’s Nazi rule and has been renamed “Villa Baviera,” a controversial tourist town that has purportedly moved on from its Nazi-dominated past. Featuring a manmade pond, Hotel Baviera, and the Zippelhaus Restaurant, located in renovated versions of Schäfer’s original architecture, Villa Baviera is the former Nazi colony’s best attempt to move forward from its rough past with a positive, German-themed tourist appeal minutes away from the Andes. The sheds and slave workshops of the old Colonia Dignidad remain standing to this day, forcing the waiters and innkeepers, who are the descendents of the original Nazis, to try to explain to tourists that their ideologies have evolved from those of their parents.

Hidden far away from urban life and offering music, Oktoberfest celebrations, painted Bavarian cottages, and traditional European meals, Villa Baviera is the home to a few dozen tourists each week, all of which ponder on whether the controversial tourist town shows a positive outlook for the future or if it profits off of its brutal Nazi history.