When opportunity knocks, open the door!
I love beer, and I first tasted some Tsingtao beer in China, about 12 years ago. I had heard that the Germans had a hand in creating this brew, but forgot about the whole story until September this year, when opportunity knocked with a trip to the birthplace of Tsingtao beer, Qingdao.
Qingdao, also spelled as Tsingtao, and known as Tsingtau during the German occupation, has been returning to its former glory as a port city in the last decade. Qingdao is looking to become the next meeting and exhibition center of the future with many key projects underway or already completed in the ‘West Coast New Area’, such as the Oriental Movie Metropolis and Sino-German ecopark.
Thanks to an opportunity to attend the first MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) World event, I had the pleasure to learn about this strategically located, second-tier Chinese port city which has a rich European past and a mild climate due to its location by the sea. It was also an opportunity for me to explore my own heritage, coming from a German-Chinese family.
I arrived in Qingdao two days before the event, which allowed me to explore the old part of the city, something not be missed for a first-timer. Qingdao can’t be understood without a visit to the old part, because the legacy of infrastructure left behind in the city by the Germans during their short 15 year stay has much to offer the current occupants.
As I arrived before the start of the event, I opted to stay at a hotel on Weihai Lu, next the Taidong Pedestrian street market and a 15 minute walk from the historical Tsingtao beer brewery. Arriving past midnight at my hotel, I was greeted by an old man wearing a ‘Mao suit’ who couldn’t speak a word of English. After some intense sign language, I managed to settle in and the next day I found my way to the beer museum with the help of Google Maps. How did I manage to use Google maps when it is usually blocked? I got lucky and found a roaming plan that allowed the use of Google applications as well as Whatsapp. What a godsend,because it would have been virtually impossible for me to navigate the city with Chinese map apps, given that I can’t speak Mandarin.
Before I made my way to the beer museum, I decided to have a wander around the Taidong pedestrian street which is popular for local delicacies. I managed to find a stall selling ‘mantou'(buns) with all sorts of fillings. Further up the road, there were live scorpions for sale, a delicacy that can also be found in Beijing, but already barbecued from what I saw at the market years ago.
The walk from the street market to the beer museum was accompanied by sunny, cool and crisp autumn weather. When I got to the museum, I decided to take a guide, which was a good decision because I was the only customer and there were few visitors at the museum at that hour. The museum is well worth a visit, to connect with the origins of the Tsingtao brand that almost everybody has heard of, but not put a face to the name, so to speak. The museum and brewery keep a lot of memorabilia from the beginnings of the making of Tsingtao; among others the oldest Siemens electric motor in the world that is still in working condition.
After spending a good hour at the museum and brewery, I decided to take a taxi to the ‘Pichai Yuan’ or poet’s courtyard which was a place for poets and storytellers to practise their craft during the German occupation. Although the poets of the past have long gone, you can still experience some modern day Chinese opera performances along the street. The main attraction of the place is the food stands selling all kinds of dead creepy-crawlies, including scorpions and roaches. I went for the safe food without any of the above.
At the end of the street, I used my Google app to find my way to the iconic St. Michael’s cathedral. The imposing towers which sit on top of a hill facing Qingdao bay are indeed striking, to say the least. Although the cathedral was badly damaged during the cultural revolution, today it stands tall and is a constant backdrop for wedding photo shoots. I went in briefly to admire the interior which is reminiscent of classical European churches.
As planned, I wandered out of the cathedral, down the breezy hill past shops selling the German Nussknacker towards Zhanqiao pier, the first pier in Qingdao built by the Germans. This pier is quite a picturesque landmark to walk along, and when I did I was blessed with blue skies together with the panoramic sea views. The two-tiered Chinese pavilion at the end has a mini exhibition which told me the story of the pier. Today it is just a popular tourist attraction, but in the past it was a commercial pier that was part of a strategic defense system in northern China.
Back at the beginning of the pier, I decided to find my way to Qingdao old observatory youth hostel. During my research on Qingdao, I had stumbled across a website about the observatory that was built during the German colonial period and taken over by the Chinese in 1924, which also mentioned that a German-made telescope from 1905 was still on display. The walk up the hill transported me to another European dimension, past the old German post office and through winding, tree-lined avenues.
Finding the hostel was relatively easy, but the staff at the reception barely spoke English so I just made my way to the cafe at the top for the views and to discover the history of the place. The telescope that I had read about was waiting for me at the top, but unfortunately the viewfinder was taped up..and there was no signage to at least introduce the precious history of this artifact. I later found out that there were other devices and items from the observatory such as a chronometer and sunspot drawing, I would love to find out where exactly they are kept if I ever visit the city again.
The sunset views I enjoyed outside the cafe at the top were worth the cold walk up. Unfortunately, I could not get a taxi on the way back to my hotel and ended up walking a good hour in night skies that started at 6 in the evening. Thankfully, Google maps did not abandon me and together with the help of some wild gesturing from local residents, I found my way back to my hotel.
To be continued…