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Saturday, October 8, 2016

My very own 'Out of Africa'


I bet you've never heard of Kolmanskop, ten kilometres inland from Lüderitz where I used to work and live in 1968/69 and which, thanks to YouTube, I can now revisit without even getting out of my comfortable armchair.

In 1908, the railway worker Zacharias Lewala found a sparkling stone amongst the sand he was shoveling away from the railway line, near Kolmanskop. His supervisor August Stauch, was convinced it was a diamond and when this was confirmed, the news spread like wildfire, sparking a huge, frantic diamond rush and causing fortune hunters to converge in droves on Kolmanskop.

The town soon developed, becoming a bustling little centre and providing shelter for workers from the harsh environment of the Namib Desert. Large, elegant houses were built and it soon resembled a German town, complete with an impressive array of amenities including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, 4-lane skittle alley, theatre and sports hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere. Fresh meat could be purchased at the butcher's, there was a bakery, furniture factory, a public playground and even a swimming pool! At the time, there was also a railway line to Lüderitz.

The development of Kolmanskop reached its pinnacle in the 1920s, but the town declined after World War I, when diamond prices crashed. At this time approximately 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 Owambo contract workers lived in the town. In spite of, or probably because of, the isolation and bleakness of the surrounding desert, Kolmanskop developed into a lively little haven of German culture, offering entertainment and recreation to suit the requirements of the affluent colonialists.

Unfortunately for Kolmanskop and its inhabitants, richer diamond deposits were discovered further south, and operations were moved to Oranjemund. Within a span of forty years Kolmanskop lived, flourished and died. Today the ghost town's crumbling ruins bear little resemblance to its former glory. The stately homes have been nearly demolished by the wind, and are gradually becoming enveloped by encroaching sand dunes. In 1980, the mining company De Beers, restored a number of buildings, and established an interesting museum, which has now become a tourist attraction.

Film buffs might be interested to know that in 2000 the film The King Is Alive was filmed in Kolmanskop, with the town being utilised as the film's main setting. The town was also used as one of the locations in the 1993 film Dust Devil.

Lüderitz - Town at the end of the world

Just a few kilometres down the road is Lüderitz which to this day is a small German oasis in the huge emptiness of Namibia. In my days there - click here, the languages spoken were German, Afrikaans and English - in that order - and there was a German "Kegelbahn", "Lesehalle" and "Turnhalle", and it would've have been very easy to have stayed. Some of my former colleagues did and still live there today - notably my friend Karl-Heinz - but I returned to Australia - and I'm glad I did!

And aren't you glad you visited this blog and learned something new? ☻