It was hot and humid that July in Beijing. Warm tea and cold beer were recommended to get through. Jasmin tea was fantastic and I was drinking it all day long. For evenings it was the turn for beer. There was the Beijing Beer, with low alcoholic concentration, you could drink it like water. There was the Wusu Beer, this was strong, like brandy or something, really strong. And there was the Tsingtao Beer, that I considered the best. And so began my relation with Tsingtao. A very special relation, while also strange, as I didn't drink any kind of Chinese beer ever since. It was about stories and recollections, each one coming at very long intervals.
Almost twenty years had passed since the journey in China. My brother-in-law Wolfgang was in Bucharest for a month, shooting a documentary (Children Underground). One evening we went out to have a beer. I mentioned the Tsingtao as the best beer ever. And Wolfgang told me an interesting story: he had been in the city of Tsingtao, for shooting a documentary about the German traces there. It had been sometime in the middle of the eighties, and the movie was made for a German TV channel. So I learned that Tsingtao was not only a beer brand, but much more: a big Chinese city that had been for a while a German colony. The brewery had been founded by the Germans, and its quality was based on the original recipe. Wolfgang told me about the streets and the houses there: the city was still keeping an amazing Middle European allure after so many years (well, not the whole city to be more exact, rather the old downtown). It was a long talk that evening in the Bucharest restaurant, as Wolfgang was proving to have a gift in telling stories. I don't know, maybe his German accent was giving to his English a particular savor, a je ne sais quoi, maybe the blue flame sparkling in his eyes as he was recollecting the trip to Tsingtao, anyway his work as cinematographer had brought him virtually in any corner of the world.
And the history of this city was very interesting in its own right, with or without the story told by Wolfgang. You see, there is a Chinatown in every big American city, and here it was somehow the reverse: a Germaniatown in a Chinese city. Between 1891 and 1914 Tsingtao had been a German colony, and during this time it was intensively developed: wide streets, impressive buildings, electricity, modern sewage, drinking water supply, railroad, plus a large school network (as for the brewery, it was founded in 1903). The German administration ended in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. British and Japanese forces attacked the city, and after a fierce battle Tsingtao passed under Japanese rule, that lasted till 1922 when it returned to Chinese authority. Well, to make a long history short, suffice is to say that the German spirit had inoculated the city's DNA and was still there.
And just a week ago I discovered on youTube a German documentary from 2008 directed by Dietmar Schulz: Tsingtau - Auf deutschen Spuren in China. Very well made, very professional, using many photos from the epoch of the German colony, even footage from then. I found also another video documenting the Siege of Tsingtao. Good stuff! Maybe I deserve now a bottle of Tsingtao Beer. It would be the case. I was in my mid thirties while in Beijing, I'm now in my very late sixties, very close to my early seventies. Time is a mischievous deceiver.