Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales

Yang Yang
Qingdao, a coastal city on the Yellow Sea in Shandong Province is filled with historic architecture and fascinating stories of the city's checkered history.
Yang Yang
Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

Beachgoers enjoy the sunrise over the Trestle.

Qingdao, a coastal city on the Yellow Sea in Shandong Province that is at roughly the same latitude as Tokyo and San Francisco, derived its name from a small island, Xiaoqingdao, offshore of the city.

The island, with a thick profusion of yearlong greenery and surrounded by reefs and rocks, has long been popular with locals who nicknamed it Xiaoqingdao, or "little green isle." People later started to refer to the entire city as Qingdao.

An ideal place to begin a journey through Qingdao, which offers delightful views in all seasons, is better the Trestle, a military port set up during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The port, just a a strip of water away from Xiaoqingdao, stretches to a length of 440 meters and is 8-11.5 meters wide. It is made up of a stone bank in the north, a central lounge bridge, and an island breakwater in the south with a pavilion above.

The Trestle used to be the last auxiliary port of navy torpedo fleet barracks the Beiyang Fleet of the Qing Dynasty built from 1881 to 1897, and the only one that remained unfinished at that time.

Construction of the Trestle was forced to halt as the defense army of the Qing Dynasty stationed in Qingdao was dispatched to the northeast Liaodong Peninsula battlefield during the Sino-Japanese War in 1894.

After the war, the Qing government, having to pay a large amount of war reparations, lacked enough funds to sustain the construction, which had been dogged by other factors such as tidal effects, climate, and unfavorable seasons.

The government's intention to reconstruct the port was further thwarted in the morning of November 14, 1897, when the German navy landed at Qingdao through the Trestle as part of the Triple Intervention against the cession of the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan.

The German navy dismantled some barracks architecture and further strengthened the port so it could dock its ships.

"栈桥," the Chinese characters for the Trestle, first appeared after the invasion of the city by Japan to replace Germany, on November 7, 1914.

The Trestle, after multiple repair projects in the contemporary era, is a landmark tourist site for the city now.

Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

The Trestle is a landmark tourist site in Qingdao.

Vendors sell seashells and conches beside the seaside or along the deck of the Trestle for adults who still nurture childhood shell-collecting memories, and to watch a beachfront sunrise above the Trestle inspires wonder at the beauty of nature.

The Qingdao Railway Station is close to the Trestle and a convenient traffic transit with plenty of lodging choices nearby from where to commence your trip to the architectural heritage buildings of Qingdao. The station is a German renaissance-style complex combined with some Chinese elements. Visitors can transfer to Metro Line 1 and 3 through the subway station there.

Qingdao was a fishing village named Kiaochow before the occupation by Germany. On November 14, 1897, the Qing government signed the "Kiaochow Lease Treaty," in which 553 square kilometers of land and 560 square kilometers of water area were leased for 99 years to Germany.

Shortly after that, a topography team started charting the area with the aim of building Qingdao into a German-style city in the far east.

From March 1898 to November 1914, the German colonial rulers built a complete urban construction system in Qingdao, which included government and court buildings, churches, banks, hospitals, an observatory, a beer brewery, a slaughter house, docks, shipyards, railways, and marine and land defense barracks.

Among them, St. Michael's Cathedral at 26 Zhejiang Road remains an iconic attraction for the city.

The cathedral, which was completed in October 1934, is of the Neo-Romanesque style. The site was chosen at the intersection of the eastern Qufu Road and Dexian Road. Its main entrance was in the center of the southern facade, with a wide hall that is able to hold thousands of people at one time for a service, and two bell towers each bearing a cross made from copper-clad concrete.

The cathedral, a popular site as a backdrop for wedding photos among young people, was supervised during its construction by the German architect Arthur Bialucha.

Bialucha first visited Qingdao in the early 1900s to run a transportation company with some business partners. He joined the Battle of Qingdao between Japan and Germany in 1914. After Germany lost the battle, Bialucha was captured and sent to jail in Japan until 1920.

He returned to Qingdao in 1926 to become a registered architect and supervised the construction of several villas and St. Michael's Cathedral, as well as the third floor of the Former Convent of the Holy Ghost.

The German architect died in Qingdao in 1947, having remained single his entire life.

Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

St. Michael's Cathedral at 26 Zhejiang Road is an iconic attraction for the city.

The beer factory, or the Former German Brewery, at 56 Dengzhou Road, is presently occupied by the Tsingtao Beer Museum.

The group of buildings that make up the museum feature plain brick walls, with red tiles covering their sloping roofs.

At that time, a complete set of brewing equipment, including a boiler, air pressure machine, condenser, pump, and tubes, were provided to the brewery by the German Chemnitz Machinery Plant.

"Bier," the German name for beer, has been widely adopted in Qingdao since the German occupation in November 1897.

British and German merchants then founded their Germany Beer Company on Dengzhou Road in 1903. That was the first standard beer brewery in contemporary China. At that time, beer was translated as "皮酒" in Chinese.

After the Battle of Qingdao in 1914, Japan took the place of Germany and took over the brewery.

Beer was also translated as "脾酒" in Qingdao in the 1920s and 1930s, because people believed the drink had benefits for the liver and spleen.

Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

Some old facilities from the German brewery.

The Chinese characters "啤酒" made their first appearance in Qingdao in the 1920s and were widely recognized as meaning beer in the 1940s.

State-run Tsingtao Beer Co is now a competitor on the global beer market.

A common scenario in Qingdao today is that people purchase beer using plastic bags in the city, because "袋" (bag) in Chinese is pronounced the same as "代" (generation), to indicate an auspicious wish: the brand will be passed on and favored by generations of beer drinkers.

Historic architecture stretches across Qingdao, whether it is from the Trestle to the Former Office of the Governor, or from the Tin Hau Temple to the Former German Brewery, as sorted and recommended by Yuan Binjiu, a Qingdao native and researcher on the city's historic architecture.

"If we consider architecture as a kind of concrete music, then the old buildings in Qingdao are like a symphony, bearing the history of Qingdao and also reflecting an artistic tint," the researcher said.

After 1901, Germany paved the sewage pipes of Qingdao according to its urban design tradition, with solid waste, sewage, and rainwater discharged separately. The lid for the well of the channels was given a unique name in Qingdao of "Guligai" (古力盖). "Gully" is a German word for a drainage channel and "gai" is a Chinese word for a lid. Both the Germans and Chinese understand the meaning.

"Even if you don't know the splendor and suffering of Qingdao, nor the story of every building, you still can't help feeling attracted to the beauty of the architecture itself," Yuan said. "That might be the reason why we're doing our best to protect and restore the historic relics of the 20th century."

Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

Petroleum lamps and a stove used to make coffee by a German director of the brewery.

Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

South Korean tourists sample the local brew inside the Tsingtao Beer Museum.

Qingdao offers historic architecture and fascinating tales
Yang Yang

Villas line Dexian Road in Qingdao.

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