What is the SS Marching Band doing in Bolivia?

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.

On average, you are awoken by marching bands in Bolivia twice per week and at least once per week you will be prevented from falling asleep at night by a marching band and fireworks. I generally like this, and it’s much better than the songs of the 7th Day Adventists every Friday night or the music that my housemates play.

This Wednesday, I didn’t expect anything extraordinary for lack of any national, religious or international celebration, but as coincidence wanted it, a high school in Potosí was just celebrating its anniversary. Students and teachers had been contemplating for weeks how to celebrate this year and finally came up with a creative idea: a marching band and fireworks.

One school doesn’t like to go to the party alone, so they invited all other schools in Potosí to provide a marching band as well. All together, they wanted to march through the city for at least 12 hours, leaving no street unvisited. No wonder that people were hiding in the mines of Cerro Rico.

As soon as I heard the first drum roll, I quickly finished my dinner and stormed outside in order to film the spectacle for you. Watch for yourself and pay attention to the school uniform, the overly brisk body movements, the insignia on the banners and the name of the school.

Ok, and now honestly: Who, at least among my readers with an interest in German history, was not reminded at least a little bit of an SS march?

guardias de honor

Everything in fitting black. Black banners with Germanic eagles. (Bolivia doesn’t have an eagle, but a condor as its national bird.) With the slogan “Honor – Discipline – Work”. The name of the school: Marshal Otto Braun College. That sounded very German, and in a small city at 4,000 meters altitude in the Cordilleras, it aroused my curiosity.

Otto_Philipp_BraunBecause I knew from experience that such festivities would go on for hours, I walked to the local library and discovered that my knowledge of history is very much limited, both in temporal and in geographical terms. Otto Philipp Braun, or Otto Felipe Braun as he is called in Bolivia, did come from Germany, but he really had no connection with the SS. Rather, he came as a 20-year old immigrant first to the USA in 1818, then to the Caribbean and finally to South America. From a job as a horse trader, he somehow advanced to become a cavalry officer in the army of Simón Bolívar (by far not the only German or European to do so). During the liberation wars against the Spanish, he proved himself more from battle to battle, was promoted and after the wars became governor of La Paz, supreme commander of the military and ultimately Bolivia’s defense minister.

This shows that swift careers by immigrants are not only possible in North America. But why do we never learn of these stories in Germany?

Marshal Braun died in 1869, so he didn’t have anything to do with the German Reich either, which was not yet in existence by then. So why the German eagle and the black SS uniforms? It’s easy to imagine how this came about. “Hey, in a way, we are a German school. What do we want to wear?” “Leather pants!” “Too cold for that in Potosí.” “Mmhh, I will go to the video store and get some films about Germany.” Well, those films were Schindler’s List and Valkyrie and thus the image of Germany remained frozen in 1945.

The bandmaster was slightly more modern than the costume designer, creating an odd dissonance between repertoire and dress code. A marching band in SS uniforms is playing “They don’t care about us” by Michael Jackson.

It got more bizarre. A smoke grenade was lit, the lead dancer gyrated with his fancy stick in a cloud of green smoke, and then the whole show degenerated into a completely kitschy Las-Vegas-style revue.

That’s when I realized what had been the inspiration: “Springtime for Hitler” from the film The Producers, although I am uncertain if the parody was intended. Searching for more photos of this school band, it turned out that the SS uniforms are relatively new. Three years ago, the musicians in the marching band of Marshal Otto Braun College in Bolivia were still wearing German-Reich-style spiked helmets. (After minute 4:40, you even get some simulated machine-gun fire thrown in.)

If you ever receive Bolivian exchange students in Germany, please take the time to inform them of the progress made since 1945. And maybe advise them carefully that they shouldn’t wear these kind of uniforms when arriving at the airport.


  • There are many more connections between Germany and Bolivia, from refugees to presidents.
  • This article was also published by Medium.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Bolivia, Germany, History, Music, Travel, Video Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to What is the SS Marching Band doing in Bolivia?

  1. Pingback: Was macht die SS-Marschkapelle in Bolivien? | Der reisende Reporter

  2. Dino Bragoli says:

    My eye brows cramped as they were raised throughout the article… amazing.

    • I also couldn’t believe half of what I saw. But when the guy with the stick was dancing in the green smoke, I had to laugh so much.

  3. I think all history and war buffs can all agree, the military sartorial award goes to Nazi Germany. No dispute.

  4. ed says:

    por favor no seamos controversistas del uniforme todos respetamos la historia pero generar una polémica por solo usar este tipo de uniforme ???? me parece algo de niños y algo estúpido este articulo, al contrario respetemos las festividades de aniversario y respetemos mas que todo a Potosí que dio tanto a todo el mundo, también respetemos al colegio tan prestigioso que hasta la fecha saco a muchos profesionales de bien, por favor si es amable no se meta con mi querido Potosí y con mi amado colegio

    • No tengo falta de respeto a Potosí, ni al colegio Otto Braun.
      Pero como estudiante de historia, tengo que decir que la persona en el colegio que ha hecho la decision del uniforme probablemente no es un experto en la historia alemán o, que sería peor, tiene fascinación con el fascismo.
      Además, siempre es gracioso decir que alguien no tiene respeto o escribe una polémica y llamarlo “estúpido” y “de niños” en la misma frase.

  5. ed says:

    meterse con un colegio por solo el uniforme …..?????? ridiculos

  6. Once I saw a woman selling Nazis swastikas at the handicraft stand….In Santa Cruz. I asked her if she knew what the swastika meant and she had no clue….

  7. Pingback: Why I will return to Europe | The Happy Hermit

  8. Anonymous says:

    I feel sorry for you, did you write this only to criticize and make fun of a school? As I read the article I realized that you do not know what respect is …

    • I wrote it, like most of my blog, to educate readers all over the world about things going on in parts of the world rarely visited.

      I think it was the school band that picked the uniforms, the songs and the performance. I merely filmed and described it. If they don’t want anybody to observe it, maybe they should do it in the classroom, not in the streets of Potosí.
      But, as the school put such an effort into the show, I think it would have been disrespectful of me to keep this event from the eyes and ears of my readers.

  9. Is a military school… And in south america many countries had german military instruction influence just as some had american military instruction influence. Most notably Chile and Argentina… But Bolivia and Ecuador also. Look for military parades in Chile and you will be amazed how Whermacht everything looks.

  10. Neil price says:

    Wonderful review of a peculiar topic

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