Back to Europe? No, just in Qingdao

Skyline of Qingdao
Qingdao’s skyline, in front of the skyscrapers one of the German-built churches can be seen.

Last weekend I joined a quite international travel group for a trip to Qingdao (青岛). For those who are not familiar with its history I just want to say that this city in Shandong province has been a German “concession” (respectively “occupation by the German imperialists” as the Chinese sign told us) in the early 20th century. The Germans were not only occupants , but they also brought along quite a few things that can still be witnessed today. There are a lot of German or European style building scattered in the city and the alleys reminded us of southern European streets because in comparison to Beijing they were narrow, not only following the north-south or east-west scheme and were edged by green trees.
So together with friends from Germany, China, Japan and Korea we hit the road the railway track for a 862 km ride to the coastal city. To get to Qingdao we once again used the overnight train, which took about 9 hours, for the way back we used the Shinkansen-like high speed train – the connection was just opened in late April and reduces the travel time to about 5:30 hours.

Old European style house
An old European style house, today it serves as headquarter for the municipal traffic police.

Qingdao will be hosting the Olympic sailing competition next year – so many of the old buildings are experiencing a makeover to present the city from its best side. On the other hand some things made me think the games have already opened: Some entrance fees were Olympic-level, for example the Laoshan area that we visited on Friday. We had great views from the mountain area right next to the coast, but I think even for a sacred mountain a fee of 70 yuan (ca. 7 Euro) is too much, especially if there are no discounts for students other than students from Qingdao University.

Laoshan area
Laoshan mountain area with amazing views on small coastal islands.

Actually at some other points our Beijing University student IDs were rejected because we are not Chinese – at Ying Binguan, the opulent former residence of the German governor we even requested an explanation from the director of this site after we had to pay the full fee to see pictures and a lot of furniture that was first used by the Germans and later by Mao Zedong and other party leaders during their stay at this pleasant house in the summers during the 1950s. The person in charge told us that in the past there have been other groups have complained, she stated that the city government does not allow them to charge only the student admission for foreign students and apologized for the misleading sign that simply said that there are half prize available tickets for students.

Ying Binguan in Qingdao
Ying Binguan, the former German governor’s residence.

The next day we visited the small, but neat the Lu Xun park right at the sea and went to the quarter were a lot of European villa style houses have been preserved. According to Wikipedia “Badaguan” (八大关) area is used to house retired party officials and military generals – I could not verify this information, but at least you need a ton of money if you want to live there as a private citizen. Because of the beauty of traditional western buildings and the proximity to the water we saw plenty of couples getting their marriage picture taken. This service looked very professional, the company that we saw used a small bus to get the couples to different romantic spots. But Qingdao does not only have history sites, it also features some beaches – unfortunately most are not really suited for bathing, so we took a ferry to Huangdao (黄岛, yellow Island), where we spent a whole day at the beach – swimming, playing soccer, sun bathing…
Although at the beach it was quite hot in the sun and left some of us with rather red shoulders or face, one can generally say that the weather was most comfortable because it was not as hot as in Beijing, the wind from the see brought us some fresh air. Back in Beijing, when we got of the train, we felt like we were standing somewhere in a traffic jam in front of a traffic light – but we just happened to get a day with bad air quality at which one could smell the difference between Beijing air and Qingdao air.

Tsingtao beer factory
Tsingtao beer factory.

Another “relict” from the German period in Qingdao is the beer factory that was opened by Germans in 1903 who did not want to miss their favorite beverage. Today “Tsingtao” has become China’s most famous beer brand (in Beijing there are sometimes “fake beers” that only have the Tsingtao label on the bottle but not the original beer inside). One special feature of the city are its numerous bars that also offer beer “to go” – the draft beer it is directly filled into a plastic bag…
There is a museum where one can not only inform about the history of the factory but also visit the present factory – after the visit one can drink as much as one pleases for free. We still did not go in, because the entrance fee was already on “August 2008” level and we did not have much time left and since at the bar just opposite only charged 2 yuan (0,20 Euro, the lowest price I have ever seen for beer in China) for a big glass, the free sample drinking was not that attractive either.

Street market in Qingdao
Fruits at a street market.

Although I have not seen a lot of fishing boats, there are a lot of seafood restaurants, at one evening we went to the Meishijie (美食街, a direct translation would be “beautiful-food-street”) were the restaurants were lining up along the street. After diner we continued to walk the street but after a crossroad it turned into a street for karaoke bars, unfortunately there was not a single one that did only offer rooms for singing, everywhere “extra services” were available so we named the street 美女街 and went to a bar at some other place.

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