Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hong Kong's Club Germania

I have been reading a short monograph by the redoubtable local historian, Rev. Carl T. Smith, on the German community in the Colony of Hong Kong, from 1841 to 1918. As I (Dave) am half German myself, I felt it was particularly interesting. Allow me to quote an excerpt from his text:
A club for Germans was started in 1859 in Wanchai in an unpretentious building. The German speaking population at the time would have been very small. There were three German firms and two stores conducted by Germans. Within two years the community almost doubled. It was small, but still large enough to provide a social centre for the community. In 1865 George Michelmore advertised the opening of a hotel in premises "which were formerly known as the German Club". It was below the Headquarters House - now Flagstaff House off the present Cotton Tree Drive. This may have been the second location of the Club as an article written in 1909 states that the first building was in "an outlying section of Wanchai", a description which does not fit a location on what is now Cotton Tree Drive.

The club moved in 1865 to a new building erected by Gustav Overbeck at the top of Whyndham Street just south of D'Aguilar Street. But the German population was increasing and the Germania Club decided to build a more commodious building. This was on the east side of Wyndham Street off Queen's Road. The new building was opened in 1872. It was a brick building in the Gothic style. The architects were Messrs Wilson and Salway. The cost was $21,000. Thirteen granite steps led to the entrance and the main hall. On the either side of the hall was a billiard room and a reading room. On the same level was a library room and a bar. The Concert Hall was approached by a flight of seven foot wide stairs. The Hall accommodated 275 persons, on either side was a drawing room and a dining room. There were accommodations for sixty in the dining room. Four bowling alleys were in the rear of the building (HK Telegraph, 27 Nov. 1909). The building served the community well until again it became too small and another building was erected on Kennedy Road. This building became enemy alien property in 1914 [on the outbreak of World War I - Ed.] and passed into the hands of St. Joseph College. The College is still located in the building.[Actually it was knocked down in the 1960s to make way for a new building. I believe this was after the author had written the article - Ed.]

It was not until 1931 that the Club was revived in rented premises on the fourth floor of No. 2 Connaught Road...

One of the highlights in the history of the old Club Germania was the visit of Prince Henry and Princess Irene of the Prussian royal family. Prince Henry was a grandson of Queen Victoria of England. Consequently the event was not confined to the German community. As a finale to the entertainment of the evening, a naval group from the British war ship "Powerful" presented three "real life Tableaux": Ready For Action, Battle Scene, and Death of Nelson, all representative of British patriotism. Included was a patter song linking the guest of honour with his grandmother:

One word before I end my song
To welcome in far Hongkong
The grandson of our Gracious Queen
The Sailor Prince, of course, I mean;
To welcome him, may he always be
Found playing on the side of the Royal Navee.
Sadly, of course, this statement of mutual friendship was not to last, with Europe's interlocking alliance system tragically pulling the continent into mindless bloodshed for four horrific years.

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