Kolmanskop – Influx into the Namib
Kolmanskop, the deserted town in southern Namibia where diamonds once literally paved the streets, has just announced that visitors no longer need to take a guided tour when they arrive at this famous Namibian tourist destination. Instead, they can pay their entrance fees and take a self-guided tour of the village.
So what better time to revisit the history of this ghost town…
During its heyday, “Diamonds were picked by the handful as they glittered in the moonlight. – Ron Swilling (Wild Horses of the Namib Desert)” and even today nothing is allowed to be taken out of Kolmanskop like sand used to be. make bricks and mortar contain diamonds.
Visiting Kolmanskop today and learning about its history is a bit of a sad experience as the Namib desert is slowly reclaiming the city.
Kolmanskop was named after a German transport driver, Johnny Coleman, who abandoned his ox-drawn cart near the settlement during a sandstorm. In 1908, Zacharias Lewala found the first diamond in the area and handed it over to his supervisor, August Stauch, which led to this area being declared a Sperrgebiet (restricted area) and the exploitation of the diamond fields began.
At the time, the Sperrgebiet accounted for 20% of the world’s diamond catch, and diamond production tripled in the first five years.
In its heyday, Kolmanskop was home to around 700 families and was described as the richest city in Africa.
Kolmanskop had a police station, which used camels for its patrols, a post office, a general distributor, the largest electric power plant in southern Africa, a hospital, a bakery, a butcher’s shop, a lemonade factory and sparkling water, as well as an ice-making facility. . (Ice, soda, lemonade, and milk were delivered, free of charge, to each home every day) however, less than 50 years after the city’s founding, it was abandoned and left in the desert to be reclaimed.
There was such enormous wealth in this small settlement that the houses were lit with electricity, at a time when Germany was still using gas. Not only was this electricity used to power every house, free of charge, but it also helped run the first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere. The first tram in Africa was found here, in the middle of this unimaginably hostile terrain! Besides, the hospital also had a pretty good wine cellar, and patients could have a fortifying drink!
In 1927, experts built a casino in Germany, ensuring perfect acoustics, shipped it to Kolmanskop, and reassembled it there. It is here that the notorious ‘Champagne Parties’ took place… Legend has it that ladies of easy virtue would sometimes bathe in champagne for the entertainment of gentlemen. After all, champagne was cheaper than water!
When this ‘rec room’, as it was known, was built, the mine arranged for operas, theater groups and orchestras to travel from Europe for the entertainment of the locals, and always for charity.
When the South African troops arrived at Kolmanskop, during the First World War, Frau Zimmer owned a “pleasure house” (the green house): she had been imprisoned for smuggling diamonds, which she received in exchange for services rendered. Ironically, her house of ill repute was situated right next to the church!
This church housed a stained glass window and an altar bible that the German Kaiser and his wife had given to the people.
Despite the fact that water was such an expensive commodity, weekly shipments were brought in from Cape Town, so that the ladies of Kolmanskop could have their lawns and rose gardens, potted plants were ordered and shipped from Europe.
Looking at the deserted city now, with the dunes always encroaching, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like at its zenith, with gardens, pools and lawns and the man who started it all, August Stauch, lost his entire fortune. during the depression years and died of cancer not far from where he was born in Germany, at the age of 69…
Dave’s top tip: If you’re going to Kolmanskop, why not get a sunrise photo pass? This allows you to arrive early to photograph the incredible colors found only in the Namib, as the sun rises over the dunes!