We stood at the top of the hill with breathtaking views onto the blue sea.
On the left a narrow, cobbled street curled through dense tree tops towards a chunky house, one I would imagine as a child when reading the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm.
Looking at the German architecture in its full glory, for a brief moment I had the feeling I am in Central Europe only to be gently awoken by John, our local guide whose real name was Mr Ju Liu, to remind me that we are in China, in the capital city of Shandong Province, Qingdao.
“We are going to visit the guest house.” he said, pointing towards my fairytale house.
Knowing how much tourism has developed over the last few years in China and thinking that an aggressive entrepreneur had bought the house and turned it into a “guesthouse" I didn’t question Mr Liu's remark.
After being given entry tickets I guessed that it couldn’t be a hotel but maybe a museum.
The entry hall was still stylish even after all these years since the house was built, in 1934 during the German occupation of Qingdao and for German Ambassador. Straightaway from the entrance door one can see a heavy wooden staircase going up to the next floor to the private quarters.
The whole floor is covered by good quality parquet exported from Germany when the house was built. Behind the stairs there is a conservatory with a glass roof which could be opened during hot summers. The ground floor is still used as the public office even nowadays. The only difference is that among the occasional European furniture you can find heavy chairs lined up against the wall with perhaps a tea table inbetween for bowls of seeds and Chinese tea cups.
According to Mr Liu the house was used by Mao Tze Tung on the eve of the revolution when he wrote his Manifesto.
Also this is the place where he would come back to regularly after the revolution and would receive foreign dignitaries.
Upstairs I found photos of the Ambassadors family still on the wall. One room had a wardrobe, bed and piano still in very good condition, all shipped from the Germany. Each room had a spacious balcony where you could feel the breeze coming from the Yellow Sea.
I could imagine a very busy household, with happy kids running around, lots of balls, late dinners with nice food and with local beer. Not far from the “guest house” there are a catholic and a protestant church still standing in their full glory with services taking place every Sunday! It seems the Communists' slogan “religion is the opium of the people” passed by this corner of China.
The Germans wanted to feel at home in this place far from home and built a brewery as well. You can have a full day tour with a guide who will take you through the turbulent history of the factory which is a microcosm of the history of Qingdao: exhibits are from Germany, China, England and Japan! At the end of the tour you can relax and try different types of beer in the small bar built for visitors only. Instead of having nuts with your beer you can order different type of seeds: long, short, dark, brown, salted and sweet!
The beer produced hee is the best beer in China according to Mr Liu as the factory in Qingdao uses natural mineral water during production not reprocessed water. And I can’t dispute that! The only problem is that the beer is not strong enough but I am a westerner and used to my beer being at least 4% strong.
The factory has very successful marketing and they organise a beer festival every August which is “the biggest in the world” according to Mr Liu. If you take into account that China is the most populated country in the world and that Chinese people love their beer then common sense would tell you that Qingdao's Beer Festival must be the biggest one in the world.
The climate in Qingdao is very mild and the air is not polluted as much as in other fast-developed cities in China. You can get to Qingdao by flying from Beijing and the flight takes a mere 45 min or you can take the fast train from Beijing.
Qingdao was host to the sailing competition during the 2008 Olympic Games which means that the infrastructure of the city is very good – the roads are wide and new. There is not as much traffic congestion as in other provincial capitals. From Qingdao you can easily do a day trip to sacred Mt Taoshan, or a day trip to Yantai for wine tasting.
Travel tip shared by Tara