Anting’s “Little Germany”. Photo by Isaac Mao.
Here at Shanghaiist, our intrigue with Thames Town, the British-themed residential area in Songjiang district, goes all the way back to 2006. But we haven’t really been doing justice to the German Town located in Anting, 30 kilometres away from the city centre. Well, as it turns out, “Little Germany” isn’t doing any better than its better known sibling. Yang Xifan of Der Spiegel has made a trip to the town, where she speaks to “Yu X”, a real estate agent in the neighbourhood (who has a lot of time on her hands these days), as well as architect Johannes Dell, from Albert Speer & Partner, the firm that was hired to design the district.
The writer finds out that far from being a lousy fake, the problem with the German Town, is that it’s far too authentic. Chinese buyers also didn’t like the fact that apartments here had windows facing east and west, preferring them to face north and south for better Feng Shui. Meanwhile, few buyers have moved into the neighbourhood because of a severe lack of integrated infrastructure, and now everything seems to be falling apart:
Five years after the first residents moved in, construction materials and rubble are still piled up in front of the large shopping center, which is virtually empty. It stands next to a very German town hall square featuring a church in the Bauhaus style with a tower and a nave made of light gray concrete. Wang says the wrong priorities were made here: “Who needs a church if there’s not even a school of a hospital?”
Johannes Dell concedes that his firm was “inexperienced in business with China” when it signed the contract. The Chinese had kept on promising to provide the necessary infrastructure, but nothing happened. He openly refers to it as a “management disaster.”
Yu X explains what that means for the residents. Rubbish bags are piled up along the streets next to overflowing trash cans that aren’t emptied for days. At first there were many fish in the canal, but the water has turned green since local fast food restaurants started pouring their waste water into it. No one stopped them.
Yu and other neighbors have complained countless times to the management firm. To no avail. And the local authority won’t allow them to set up a residents’ association. A further problem is that the area designated for the second phase of construction is being used as a car park for new cars manufactured by the VW plant next door. Every day VW workers race through the streets at 100 kilometers (60 miles) and hour, says Yu. “But no one will do anything about it until someone gets run over.”
Dell, the architect, puts a brave face on it. Sooner or later, people will move to Anting German Town, he says, because real estate prices in Shanghai have become unaffordable. Anting, he says, was a misunderstanding from the start: “The Chinese didn’t want a German town. They just wanted a town that looks like a German town.”