Kolmanskop Ghost Town
Diamonds might be for ever, but the same can't always be said for the associated mining towns that spring up, every time some lucky punter finds an instant fortune. Kolmanskop was such a town, and ex-Kimberley railway labourer Zacharias Lewala, was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. It was he who recognized the glitter of diamonds in the sand he was shoveling near the railway line at Grasplatz, a tiny railway siding just to the east of Luderitz in Namibia.
Not surprisingly, news spread like wildfire and within a few months, thousands of hectares had been pegged. His discovery saw the amazing sight of lines of men, crawling through the desert by the light of a full moon, sifting the sand beneath them for diamonds. Subsequently, the German authorities declared the land 'forbidden territory' or Sperrgebiet, awarding the Deutsche Diamanten Gesellschaft (DDG) the sole prospecting rights.
The rush lead to the establishment of a busy little village, served by a general dealer, butchery, bakery, furniture factory, soda-water and lemonade plant, daily ice and mild deliveries, 4 skittle alleys, a public playground and swimming pool, a grand community centre complex complete with a theatre and an orchestra that played at tea dances, until well after the sun had set. The well-equipped hospital housed the country's first X-ray machine and to top it all off, magnificent houses were built for the mining executives of the DDG.
At it's zenith, more than 300 Germans and around 800 labourers (from the north of Namibia) made Kolmanskop their home, with the amenities and trappings of wealth of an affluent European town, slap bang in the middle of the surrounding sand dunes. No expense was spared, fresh water was imported from Cape Town and cheeses from France. Rumour had it, that at the height of the town's wealth, special teams of workers were hired to clear sand from the streets every day.
As soon as the diamond deposits in the immediate vicinity became depleted, the townspeople began to move away. Some 30 years after the Zacharias's amazing find, even richer alluvial deposits were discovered at Oranjemund, and the transfer and redeployment of mining equipment and workers was under way. But it was not until 1956 that the hospital closed and last inhabitants of Kolmanskop packed their bags and turned off the lights, leaving the once opulent settlement well and truly deserted.
Kolmanskop became a ghost town, a miserable remnant of a happier past. Peeling paint, broken windows and silent streets buried by shifting sands, replaced the remarkable champagne lifestyle and bustling atmosphere of yesteryear.
In 1980, a number of buildings were restored and more followed with the advent of Namibia as a premier tourist destination. Guided tours of Kolmanskop last approximately 1hr and are conducted Monday to Saturday at 09h30 and 11h00, as well as Sundays at 10h00. Permits must be obtained prior to the tour from Luderitz. There is a restaurant open for light lunches from Monday to Saturday and the museum is open until midday.
Photography is best at first light; the golden glow is very warming and enhances the colour no end. But as the sun gets higher, the colours tend to bleach out a bit and the shadows become harsh. You will need to buy a photographic permit but the outlay is well worth it, as it allows you to access the site from sunrise to sunset. Sunrise is not just the best time for photography because of the better lighting conditions, there are also no footprints around to give the game away! With a permit you can join one of the guided tours as well, and you can experience Kolmanskop when nobody else is around. (Just like 1956!)
Namibian's and tourists in general, have a lot to thank Zachanias Lewela's discovery of a diamond in 1908. Over 100 years later, diamonds still make up 40 % of Namibia's exports!
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visit the Kolmanskop Ghost town near Luderitz
trip into the Sperrgebiet (forbidden diamond area) with visits to the abandonded mining town of Pomona & the rock arch at Bogenfels
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