While much is known of Britain and France's colonial exploits throughout the Far East, relatively little is remembered of Germany's short-lived colonial era, which spanned from the end of the 19th century to the end of the First World War. Late to the game in China, Africa, and elsewhere, Imperial Germany, under the leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm II — cousin to Britain's King George V and Russia's Tsar Nicholas II — sought to claim its fair share of colonial outposts, seizing the small Far Eastern port town of Tsingtao (today known as Qingdao), from the crumbling Qing Dynasty in 1898. Under direct German control and influence until the outbreak of war in 1914, when Japan seized the colony during the Siege of Tsingtao, much of modern day Qingdao's unique architectural charm and distinctively European urban character hails to its brief 16-year stint as a German colony. This edition of Cityscape will explore the sights and sounds of Qingdao's German Old Town, which is home to a fine collection of preserved colonial-era architecture, including the German-built Tsingtao Brewery, which to this day is responsible for producing one of China's most popular beers.
Although Tsingtao was a remote port city in the late 19th century, Germany's discovery that it was rich in coal along with the harbour's strategic position upon the Yellow Sea were more than enough reason for the German Empire to claim the territory as its own. Leased from the Qing Dynasty for a 99-year term, as was the case with British Hong Kong, Tsingtao came under German control for 16 years. During that time the small Chinese port city was transformed into a modern European colonial outpost, complete with a train station, post office, churches, schools, and a brewery.
Within a matter of years, German colonial officials and civil engineers saw to the creation of a network of wide, European-style streets and boulevards. The city was soon defined by impressive colonial offices and other structures, including a grandiose Governor's House, along with the aforementioned Tsingtao Station, schools, churches, and several other key buildings and numerous homes and apartment blocks. Pictured below, the Governor's House was home to two of Tsingtao's German Governors, as its construction in 1903 was so costly that the Kaiser is reported to have fired the first Governor out of spite.
Next to the Governor's House in central Tsingtao, the Colonial Headquarters Building was built to house state officials during work hours and was used for the reception of diplomats and other important visitors to the colony. Today decorated with Chinese characters, the building, like many others from the German colonial period, has survived in extraordinary condition. The German Baroque Revivalist structure looks just as good today as it did upon completion more than a century ago.
Originally constructed in 1901, Tsingtao Station was created in the tradition of Bavarian architecture replicated throughout the colony. A symbol of modernization, Tsingtao Station brought reliable transportation to the city, allowing for the efficient movement of people and raw materials within the colony.
Reconstructed and expanded during modern times by the Chinese Communist Government for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games (Qingdao was the site of various events and venues), the new station was designed to blend with the city's colonial era architecture which is a rarity within China, as much of the country's colonial past was erased during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
Moving into the centre of German Old Town, it is evident that through the German, Japanese, and Communist eras, has passage of time has somewhat altered the look and feel of the former colony, though much remains just as it would have appeared during its early 20th century heyday. A good example of the changing attitudes towards colonial architecture is St. Michael's Cathedral, which was built upon the site of a colonial-era German church from 1902. The current structure dates to 1934, 20 years after the end of the German Colonial Era, as the cathedral remained under the purview of German bishops until 1964. The cathedral was ransacked and badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution, its twin spires removed and buried, then restored in the early 2000s, its spires located and restored to their original position following a national softening to Qingdao's historic colonial legacy and architectural heritage.
Into the commercial district of German Old Town, many colonial-era buildings survive in a somewhat less idealized, historical form. Their continued use over the years has incorporate many of the district's heritage structures into the daily lives of modern-day Qingdao's more than six million inhabitants. Below, a typical street scene depicts a Bavarian-style commercial structure converted into a series of Chinese businesses, complete with Chinese characters which are juxtaposed with the overtly European aesthetic of it and the rest of the street.
Last but not least, no visit to Qingdao is complete without a tour of the world-famous Tsingtao Brewery, which has been in constant operation since its founding in 1903. Created under the auspices of the Anglo-German Brewing Company, Ltd., the Tsingtao Brewery has survived two world wars and the arrival of the Communist Revolution, to today become the second largest brewery in China with a full 15% of the national market share.
The brewery is central to Qingdao's annual Beer Festival, which in many ways mimics the German Oktoberfest, complete with beer halls, music, dancing, and lots and lots of drinking. Below, a main feature of the Tsingtao Brewery's Beer Festival grounds is the massive oversized display case, which exhibits their complete product line.
A popular summertime tourist destination for both local Chinese and foreigners, and renowned for its historic architecture, Beer Festival, beaches, and temperate climate, the former German colony is a unique place, not only within China, but around the world. As one of the only places where one can relax with a pint of German beer and a plate of chicken chow mein, and then jump in the warm waters of the Yellow Sea, all against the backdrop of a Bavarian colonial seaside port town, Qingdao is truly a special place, one which has been more than a century in the making.
Cityscape will return soon with a new installment, and in the meantime, SkyriseCities welcomes new suggestions for additional cities and styles to cover in the weeks to come. Got an idea for the next issue? Let us know!