Blog - On the Train to Gaobeidian


A 7-member group from Germany and Austria travels to the 23rd International Passive House Conference in Gaobeidian, China, largely on the Trans-Siberian Railway in a climate-friendly way.


Here you will learn a lot about the travel impressions and discussions of the group.

Find updates from the group below! English translations are a work in progress!


Entry 15: Visit to the "Passive House Technology Center" in Qingdao



Qingdao, a large seaport southeast of Beijing: in front of the skyscrapers a quarter in "Italian Style", there are also quarters in French and German style.



Paul Simons in the "Passive House Technology Center" in the German-Chinese Eco Park in Qingdao in front of an information board. Together with other German guests Paul took part in a guided tour through the Passive House pilot project. The tour group was made up official representatives from Germany and Austria and the "Transsib travel group". The tour was led by Ludwig Rongen, architect of the Passive House Technology Centre, and Han Wie, evaluator of the building and the adjacent Passive House settlement under construction.



View into the Passive House Technology Centre. From the outside, the building is reminding of a boulder, which is often found in the area. Some of them were also found when the ground was leveled. Inside, it symbolizes the passage through a green landscape.



View from the balcony of a passive house apartment to the surrounding passive houses and the Passive House Technology Centre.


The multi-family passive houses have apartments of 100-150 m². The purchase price is 2000-3000 €/m². With the development row houses with 300 m² inclusive cellar the price lies with 4000-5000 €/m². The ground is in state property and is assigned for 70 years on hereditary lease. The purchase price of the dwellings in the up to 100 m high buildings in the energetically worse standard is bit more favorable.



Interior design of a model apartment in the passive house area



Han Fei at the presentation of the Richard Wilhelm Halle – Centre for International Exchange. Qingdao (Tsingtau) has been a German colony since the end of the 19th century. The Germans participated in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion with a total of eight colonial powers in 1899. The Boxers were a kind of freedom movement against the colonialists. During the subsequent construction of the railway by the Germans, the Germans also took violent action against the Chinese population. The Protestant missionary Richard Wilhelm successfully mediated between the locals and German occupiers, so that the Germans are regarded positively today. He also translated some texts of Confucius into German and founded German-Chinese schools. A museum has been built in his honour in the Eco district.



After the tour we were invited to eat in a restaurant in the Bavarian style.


Entry 14: Experiencing the 23. Passive House Conference

At the Passive House Conference we were able to share many experiences, including the presentation by Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, one of the authors of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) special report "Global warming of 1.5°C".



800 participants listen to the lecture of Diana Ürge-Vorsatz. She urgently warns that only 500 billion tons of CO2 may be released into the atmosphere in order not to exceed the 1.5°C limit. The quota would be reached with 50 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year in only 10 years. It calls for urgent action in all areas: Housing, workplaces, mobility and travel, food, consumption.



For Paul Simons, the lecture by Xu Wei (Chairman of the Chinese Passive House Association) gave the most hope for a reduction in CO2 emissions. He explained that China is aware of the ecological challenges and accepts the challenge to preserve the livelihoods. For example by pushing the construction of new passive houses. There are already component manufacturers who produce Passive House certified components such as windows on an almost industrial scale. Paul Simons assumes that China will soon be driving all other countries, including Germany, in the direction of new passive house construction and refurbishment with passive house components, hopefully accelerating rethinking in other countries. For him, this is the most important impression of the conference, for which the environmentally friendly journey with the Trans-Siberian Railway was definitely worthwhile.



Martin Meesenburg, head of the Meesenburg Group (window fittings), pointed out the need for sustainable trade in the current generation. He had also heard about the travel group coming by Trans-Siberian Railway and included the reference to environmentally friendly travel in his lecture.



Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Feist at the final plenary session: Here he awards the Passive House Innovation Prize for Straw Insulation to Helmut Krappmeier (member of the Trans-Siberian travel group).


For Paul Simons it was very pleasing to see how much Wolfgang Feist was honoured by the Chinese partners and also the Austrian ambassador for his many years of consistent work and promotion of construction and renovation in the passive house standard.


Entry 13: Friday, September 27th Onward journey to Ulan Batar.

The train leaves at 8:13. Günter orders a taxi for us seven with luggage at the reception. Unfortunately only a small taxi comes, another one would follow. But when at 7:45 there is still none, Hilli, Bernd and Helmut have to hurry on foot through the rain. Passing an endless queue of cars, many SUVs, which hinder each other at the intersection from getting ahead. The train is just reached. Most of the stairs have already moved in and the doors are closed. The train has barely started inside. That was close. Really close.


The wagon is even older than on the last train journey. Beautiful, dignified door locks that snap into place. Cast iron bed lights with old light bulbs. Wooden coat hook. But an air conditioning system has been retrofitted and the old windows have been replaced by fixed glazing. However, the installation of this double-glazed insulating glass is anything but technically correct.


It is Hilli's birthday and he invites you to a glass of sparkling wine with snacks and sweets. The trip leads along Lake Baikal. The rain turns into snow and then again into rain. Warm enough to wear a T-shirt yesterday, today a sweater is better.
We drive along Lake Baikal until 14 o'clock. Then we leave it inland towards Ulan Ude. Slightly uphill. The landscape becomes sparser, fewer trees, no fields. In between houses in groups.


Entry 12: Thursday, September 26th, still Irkutsk

It's raining. Heavily. Therefore the city walk only starts at 11 o'clock. Past old decaying or already quite dilapidated traditional wooden houses. Maybe it is because the land belongs to the state, and the owners of the houses do not carry out any more repairs, Günter suspects. After all: Siberia has little rainfall and in winter there is ice-cold snow that cannot harm the wood.


In the pedestrian zone, tourists will find old renovated traditional wooden houses on a basement floor with restaurants, a bar, a café or souvenir shops. It's sad to look at.
All in all, Irkutsk is also a rather tidy, relatively clean city. But it is hard to believe that it is supposed to have only 600.000 inhabitants. From some places, one had a wide view all around to big high residential complexes. Also the car traffic made rather the impression of a metropolis.


The way back to the hotel leads along the promenade of the Angara River, the outflow of Lake Baikal. There is a dam, which was raised by one meter to gain even more water power. Speaking of sea levels: Paul explains that, if all the Greenland ice were melting, the sea level would raise by seven metres. Really? A look at the Internet brings sad certainty: it's true... and later generations will experience this if we continue like this or if we do nothing. That would be in about 2000 years. In the best case, at 1.5° Kelvin temperature rise, it will take considerably a bit longer, perhaps a few ten thousand years.


Entry 11: Wednesday, September 25th

Arrival in Irkutsk at about 6 o'clock in the morning. There are only two stops by tram and a short walk to the hotel. It is an IBIS with a Raiffeisen ATM! The rooms as expected by IBIS: relatively small, modern furnishings.


The day promises to be nice and warm, so we take the bus for a good hour along the bumpy road along the Angara River, which looks like a fjord, to Lake Baikal. Along a steep coast with a narrow, stony beach. The lake is huge; one can only guess the other shore. Ideal for a jump into the cool water to which Helmut encourages everyone. “No swimming suit with us!” Doesn't matter, it goes also naked, because nobody else is there. “The water is very cold”, but if Helmut really jumps into the lake, then Paul probably would. The bet is on and after the fourth jump with a small round he is also on. Günter follows and so does Bernd.


It's wonderful, and the sun warms you up right away. Bernd asks a local later about the temperatures: "Desyat gradusov tsel'siya" which means 10°C. But we do not believe that. A bit later a large sign forbids entering the national park. But there leads a nice narrow path along the steep slope, ... which unfortunately must not be entered, as the coast guard announces a little later by megaphone.

In the village there are also old traditional wooden houses, but you can mainly see newly built houses – at first sight it seems to be the traditional log house style. On closer inspection, the round logs turn out to be thin arched sheet metal. In general, sheet metal is very popular. as paneling, as roof tiles, as lattice fences. But even more often as bright blue trapezoidal sheet metal, which surrounds the house almost two metres high.


The return trip back to Irkutsk by hydrofoil costs about 500 rubles. It was a beautiful day at the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world. With a length of 600 km, a width of 60 to 80 km and a depth of 1,700 metres, it probably holds about 70,000 billion m³ of drinking water, which is probably not quite as clean as it used to be due to industrial and civil sewage.


Entry 10: Tuesday, September 24th

The landscape has turned into a hilly, autumnally landscape. The yellow birches, larches and the evergreen conifers are beautiful. The Siberian pine has a dark, almost black bark, a beautiful contrast to light birch bark.


Past a huge abandoned and accordingly looking industrial area, past settlements with small wooden houses, with probably not more than 80 m² of total living space, past the colorful forests the train honks ahead. A little slower, because it winds through the hilly landscape. Günter draws attention to the steel plates that are folded up from the road surface in addition to the usual railway barrier.

In the afternoon, Christine, Martin, Bernd, Sabine and Helmut talk about the difficulties of implementing CO2 zero-emission buildings. Often the building services equipment is efficient, the entire building is not. How are the climate targets to be achieved if an estimated 80% of planners describe the EnEV as unnecessarily strict, reject a calculation of thermal bridges as too expensive, accept the investor's order as irrevocable, the investors themselves refer to the customer's wishes and the universities still often teach not state-of-the-art but yesterday's snow.


Entry 9: Monday, September 23rd

Novosibirsk is further explored. Interesting was the tram ride with the lines 13 and 14 to the outskirts. There, where the "normal" people live. In large multi-storey residential buildings, as they also stand in Europe, and in small one-storey wooden houses. Back roads there are still many unpaved roads. Also the tram travels on rails, which are more than bumpy. Tatak Tatak Tatak Tatak, so loud that it is difficult to communicate in the tram. The tram has only one wagon, but a friendly and helpful conductor. A ride costs 20 rubles, which is about 30 euro cents – almost nothing.
At dinner we will discuss the energy quality of the buildings in Novosibirsk and the development in this area.



Stopover in Novosibirsk, the geographical centre of Russia and one of the most important industrial and scientific centers. The city, founded in 1893, today has about 1.5 million inhabitants. Average temperature maximum +5.3°C, average temperature minimum -2.6°C. In summer, however, it has to be hellishly hot at times, because we have seen many cooling warts on the facades of the houses.


At about 20:30 our train leaves for Ulan-Bator (Ulaanbaatar), Mongolia. Until Wednesday morning we continue with a Transsiberian Railway older date, there are no vacuum toilets, as a bed we put a 6 cm thick mattress on the seats. As always the bed linen is packed in plastic. In the night it is hellish hot again.

Entry 8: Sunday, September 22nd

During the first tour through Novosibirsk mainly apartment blocks from the 1950s were seen. Their balconies are almost all imaginatively rebuilt. Günther explains to the group that it is so-called anonymous architecture. Of course, the opera house, theatre, old merchants' houses, churches, monuments and parks are also on the sightseeing tour (anyone can look it up at Wikipedia).


No Russian beer was available in the pubs visited – only Belgian and German beers were offered and Italian mineral water. All this drinks has got transport distances of over 5,000 km. Finally, the "local water" "Baikal Reserve" from a distance of 1,300 km, led to a lively discussion about the careful use of transport energy – also in Europe.



Entry 6/7: Friday, September 20th and Saturday, September 21st

After about 1,500 km, the route passes the city of Perm, Europe's easternmost city with over a million inhabitants, only a short stop, but no exit for the group. We continue over the foothills of the Ural Mountains. There’s nothing to see from the Ural, but small settlements between the mixed forests. It goes on and on through the Siberian lowlands, past small railway stations. The train stops at a few large stations, which many travelers use as an opportunity to stretch their legs on the platform. After crossing the river Ob over a mighty bridge, we reach the magnificent station of Novosibirsk towards the end of the day: 46 hours and about 3,300 kilometers have passed since Moscow.


Stopover in Novosibirsk, the geographical centre of Russia and one of the most important industrial and scientific centers. The city, founded in 1893, today has about 1.5 million inhabitants. Average temperature maximum +5.3°C, average temperature minimum -2.6°C. In summer, however, it has to be hellishly hot at times, because we have seen many cooling warts on the facades of the houses.


Tomorrow we will continue towards Irkutsk ...

Entry 5: Thursday, September 19th

All Trans-Siberian travelers – now seven in all – meet at Yaroslavskaya Railway Station on Track 1, where the ten wagons of the Trans-Siberian Railway are ready for the "madmen" who blow three tons of CO2 per person less into the air as if they traveled by plane at the Passive House Conference in Gaobeidian near Beijing. On average, every German emits ten tons of CO2 per year.


The group is accommodated in two wagons: No. 3 and No. 7. They are all amazed: the wagons are not brand new, but they are not old and certainly not ramshackle. The four-bed compartments are equipped with TV, power socket, Wi-Fi and contactless card keys. A samovar always filled with boiling hot water stands at the end of the car.



Dinner in the dining car, of course. It is equipped with thick upholstered seats, heavy curtains, an extensive bar and an equally extensive menu. The selection for vegetarians is sparse, for vegans even sparser. But we are in Russia and our expectations are fully fulfilled in this point. With about 120 to 140 km/h the Trans-Siberian thunders through the landscape. It actually has many birches.


Entry 4: Wednesday, September 18th

The five travelers from Germany meet at the central railway station in Warsaw. The buildings around the station are a conglomerate of very individual architectural dreams! The massive cultural palace donated by Stalin, which apparently had already been planed to be demolished, now stands next to partly impressive modern glass architecture. Glass arches, overhangs, sloping ridges, inclined lift shafts, filigree pillars ... an illustrious glitter world that can be seen as "beautiful", but also makes us wonder how sustainable it is to live and work in it.


A visit to the ghetto district of Warsaw, the place where Jews were humiliated, tortured and finally expelled and killed in an unimaginable way by Germans many decades ago, is hard to bear. Buildings from that time no longer stand. But a documentation with large-format photos on the main square gives an impression of the oppressive living conditions of the Jewish inhabitants at that time.



To get to know each other better, we have started a climate discussion ...


Entry 3: Tuesday, September 17th

Arrival at the so-called "Belarusian Railway Station" in Moscow for a stopover and sightseeing tour. The Hotel Budapest is a large turn-of-the-century house with lots of plush and garlands in front of the windows, but only 20 minutes walk from the Red Square. On the way there you pass well-known international shops: Rolex, Gucci, Apple, and so on. Also all fast-food chains (Mac Donalds, KFC, Burger King and Subway) are present and of course H&M & Co should not be missing.


Opposite the Lenin Mausoleum is the entrance to the GUM, which is now once again a large department store for the wealthy and rich – communism and capitalism face each other here. The Tretyakov Gallery shows the Russian painters’ romanticizing, but also critical view of their Russian homeland during the Tsar's era.


Entry 2: Sunday, September 15th

The two Austrian passengers travel by Railjet train from Bregenz via Vienna (700 km in seven hours) and from Vienna without changing in a Russian wagon-lit to Moscow: almost 2,000 km in 28 hours. It's a quiet driving experience, the interior is pleasing, toilet and shower are at the end of the car, and the dining car offers fresh, excellent food!



Entry 1: Passive-Trans-Siberian-Mission to China

Finally, the count-down is running: The 7 passengers of the Passive House-Trans-Siberian-Mission are about to leave for China - starting in different trains from Germany and Austria to unite in Moscow for the rest of the long journey. All of them are engaged in different areas of the important topic of “Passive Houses”. This promises an exciting undertaking with inspiring discussions, interesting encounters in Poland, Russia, Mongolia and China, where finally we will get in touch with many thousand years of old history and last, but not least with the latest findings on modern most energy-efficient buildings at the 23rd international Passive House Conference!   


Our 5 German participants start in Paderborn, Hannover and Ulm respectively, already joining in Warsaw on Tuesday and Wednesday the 17th and 18th of September. Our 2 Austrian fellows start in Vienna and Bregenz (at Lake Constance) joining us on Thursday the 19th in Moscow at the Transsib-Railway Station Yaroslavskaja, where -hopefully – we’ll find the booked compartments quickly in the incredibly long Transsib-train. From then on, we’ll regularly report on our experiences and discussions in this blog.


Here is a brief overview of our itinerary:











On the way to Beijing, stops are made in Novosibirsk (Siberia), Irkutsk (Siberia) and Ulan-Bator (Mongolia). In China there are stops in Beijing, Qufu, Qingdao and 3 days passive house conference in Gaobeidian, where at the same time the worlds largest Passive House Settelment is under construction.


Our return runs via the legendary Manchuria route in 5 days – non-stop - to Moscow, where we spend another day with local passive house activists and then we go back home.


The tickets were ordered via the travel agency Gleisnost. Here we would like to thank Joost Hahn for the good support. The acquisition of visas for Belarus, Russia, Mongolia (for the Austrians) and China also required expertise and 3 months’ time …  twice as much as the journey will take

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