Ghost Town

Imagine you are in the African desert and the sun is about to set. The night falls like a curtain over the sand dunes and the full moon rises. Slowly you realise that the desert sand starts to sparkle. Diamonds as far as your eyes can see. You can fill your hands, pockets and even socks in seconds and there are still heaps left.

This is what happened near the town of Kolmanskop. The famous diamond-mining town in the Sperrgebiet (forbidden area) was originally constructed by German colonialists as the Consolidated Diamond Mines headquarters. It used to be a prospering lively town with a hospital with over 200 beds, a bowling alley and a casino. They even had a bakery, a butchery and an ice factory that distributed one block of ice to each household every morning to keep their fridges cool. Everything they missed from Germany could be ordered and it got shipped to nearby Lüderitz from where it was then transported to their houses in just a few weeks time. A small steam train which circulated through Kolmanskop helped the ladies in the desert heat get around town and bring their groceries home.

Diamond sales decreased slowly after WWI and the later discovery of richer pickings in Oranjemund ended Kolmanskop heyday. After decades of glory the town was totally abandoned by 1956 and left to the mercy of the shifting desert sands.

Ever since the Germans discovered the riches below the desert’s surface in 1908 the area has been declared off-limits. About 10% of the Sperrgebiet has been mined for diamonds and access is still strictly controlled. In 2008 Sperrgebiet was inaugruated as a national park and today permits are issued by Namdeb (an organisation owned in equal shares by the government of Namibia and the De Beers Group). Kolmanskop can be visited relatively easily nowadays. Unfortunately we did not find any diamonds but had a lot of fun dreaming for a few hours of how it was to live back in the roaring 20’s.

 

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We explored the houses that have been reclaimed by the desert and walked down the long hall of the ghostly hospital (see featured image). There is an emptiness that washes through you. The town has been swallowed by the desert and has become part of it.

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