Strolling in the well-known Central Street, or Zhong Yang Street in Harbin, the capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, people would always feel like they are in Europe.
The ongoing 39th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is attracting large numbers of tourists at home and abroad, which has broken historical records for both flight movements and passenger traffic.
The street with a profound history and exotic style is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist sites in the city, attracting over 700,000 tourists per day, according to the Information Office of Harbin Municipality.
The street was built in 1898 when the Chinese Eastern Railway was under construction. At that time, Harbin attracted more than 200,000 foreign immigrants, a large influx of capital, and the establishment of over 20 consulates, quickly making it become a cosmopolitan city with the street as its center.
The street is 1,450 meters long, with 25 side streets and more than 70 well-preserved historical buildings, including Renaissance, Baroque, Eclectic, and Art Nouveau schools of architecture. The beautiful corridor of various Western-style architecture is like a flowing symphony.
Among them, the architecture located at No. 120 which used to be the Song Pu foreign firm, stands out for its ornate exterior, vivid shape, sophisticated decorations, and typical Baroque style. Above the main entrance, a pair of graceful marble pillars of a man and a woman, the gods of ancient Greek mythology, take dominance. The Corinthian pilasters run through three or four floors, the windows are decorated with fine reliefs, the circular balcony is calyx-shaped, the ironwork scrollwork is derived from the “crown on Apollo’s head”, and the deep red attic, monsoon roof, and composite dome create a beautiful skyline.
A courtyard standing a few steps away with a beautiful eclectic style was built in 1922 and named as “Wan Guo” foreign firm because it gathered many foreign businesses. It was said that back in the old days, the latest French perfumes were always available here in less than a week.
Every time the lights come on, the sound of music is heard, and a saxophone is played on a flower-filled balcony at the corner of the street. It’s like an elaborate “flash mob”, and people always stop, watch, listen, and record the moment on their mobile phones.
Each “balcony concert” has its special and be performed all year round, even in winter. The most popular one is the “Ma Die Er Hotel balcony concert”, a luminous stage that lights up the elegant Art Nouveau-style building. Over the past 16 years, the hotel has invited renowned performers from Cuba, the Philippines, Germany, Armenia and many other countries to present their performances. Accordion, electric violin, saxophone, and other instruments suitable for outdoor performance, with cool exotic costumes, singing, and dancing, show the city’s unique romance.
Strolling through the “bread stone” paved streets makes one feel like spanning a hundred years, yet with its fashionable appeal. The street is the first commercial pedestrian street in China, where international brand flagship shops, Chinese “old brands” and cultural and creative experience centers co-exist in harmony, vividly interpreting Harbin’s open and inclusive, East-meets-West cultural heritage and urban characteristics. Old restaurants such as Ta Dao Si and Hua Mei hang bilingual plaques and stick to the original taste of Russian cuisine. The crystal clear igloo is steaming hot with a sizzling hotpot. Visitors in down jackets always enjoy with enthusiasm and wonder and cannot help saying “When Ice meets fire, what a treat!” Qiu Lin sausages and Russian-style bread inherited the taste of centuries-old craftsmanship, and there are always long queues of customers in front of the door. These specialties have recently doubled in sales year-on-year along with the tourist fever, with only Ma Die Er popsicles selling over 50,000 a day. Various events are held on this old street, such as the “Chinese New Year Tour on Central Street”, the “Happy Lantern Festival” and the “Old Street Fashion Parade”.
Over recent years, Harbin has spared no effort to boost the commercial development of the street and build it as a world-class “China’s best European style street” with market mechanisms under the municipal government.
Source: Information Office of Harbin Municipality