Kolmanskop is certainly one of the most visited ghost towns in the world today. Hard to think that less than 80 years ago, Kolmanskop, which is located in the Namib Desert, had a casino, a bowling alley, a theatre and an opera, as well as a hospital! It must be said that the German settlers, with the help of a local, had made an exceptional discovery: the presence of millions of diamonds scattered everywhere in the open. If this discovery fueled the development of Kolmanskop, it stopped just as sharply when the Namib completely devoured the city!
History and geography of Kolmanskop
The story of the ghost town of Komanskop
The town of Kolmanskop was founded in 1908 by German settlers. It all started on the dunes of the Namib with the discovery of a sparkling stone by Zecherias Lewala who was at that time removing sand from the railway line (do you know what Zecherias Lewala received for his discovery? Nothing, no reward or retribution). This shiny stone was in fact…a diamond! From then on and until 1920 the town of Kolmanskop experienced a dazzling boom with the mining (or harvest) of diamonds. For your information, in 1912, 11% of the world production of diamonds came out of the soil of Kolmanskop! In spite of a complicated and even frankly hostile environment, the town had up to 1200 inhabitants divided into 700 families.
During this period of great prosperity, superb buildings were built by families in search of wealth. In addition to the houses, the city saw the construction of a hospital, the first in Africa to be equipped with an X-ray machine (to see if people hadn’t swallowed the diamonds?), but also shops, a power station, a casino and a very beautiful hall where European plays and opera were played! Of course, money never was an issue. More than 5 million carats of diamonds were extracted during the first 6 years of exploitation. In doing so, the people of Kolmanskop had the highest level of wealth per capita in the world! (When I write this, I am thinking of the oil producing countries with their huge cities, wondering what they’ll become in 100 years time).
But after the 1930s the city started to see its population decrease and finally had not a single inhabitant in the 1950s. Why? Because in 1928, some of the largest mines of diamond in the world were found on beaches further south. Thus, Kolmanskop was born in 1908 and died in the 1950s! From then on, the desert could claim back its rights! In 1980, the mining company De Beers restored part of the buildings and wanted to create a museum.
Although there are no longer inhabitants on the Kolmanskop side, it should be noted that diamond mining is still on-going in the area!
But the city is now known above all as one of the most visited ghost towns in the world with more than 35,000 tourists every year!
Did you know that?
Shortly before the discovery of the diamonds, the Hereroes suffered a genocide… passed over in silence!
About what was before Kolmanskop: what I did not know and which is very well explained in an article in National Geographic, it was really not good to rebel against the German occupiers present. The Hereroes of Namibia have a bitter experience of when they rebelled against the German settlers in 1904. The result was dramatic, more than 60,000 Heroes were killed, a real genocide that is still ignored even today! Not even the Lonely Planet says a word about it!
When the diamonds were discovered, an entire section of this area was declared a « forbidden zone » for ordinary citizens; members of the local tribes were expelled from their lands.
Talking about an aberration in this world, it should be noted that during the expansion of the city, the town of Kolmanskop imported drinkable water from the neighboring country of South Africa. Indeed, it was from Cape Town, a city more than 1,000 kilometers away, that fresh water came! The craziest thing is that Kolmanskop is only a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean!
What to do and see in Kolmanskop?
Visit the Great Hall of the old theater
This former theater was recently renovated by the mining company. It is still sometimes used by workers. Otherwise tourist guides tell how people lived here.
Visit of the old hospital, the town hall and the school
Everything is written in German but the hospital, the town hall and the school are still standing! This is an opportunity to see the German architecture at the time. If they are still standing, be careful where you walk, as the ground tends to sag.
Don’t hesitate for one second to enter the houses! Discover the German architecture of the time! While some of the houses have sand almost up to the ceiling, others are easy to enter and visit. Get lost in them and imagine yourself in 1920 when the inhabitants of Kolmanskop were the richest in the world!
Tips for visiting Kolmanskop
Information on visiting the Kolmanskop site
The best is to come early in the morning, you may then be able to visit the site without the herd of tourists arriving by bus! The opening hours are from 8am to 1pm Monday to Saturday and from 8am to 12pm on Sunday.
Tourists who are very curious often tend to go and listen to guided tours. These tours are very interesting and I recommend it but if you are a photo lover, then it is better to take advantage of the place and get away from the tourists to have the site almost for yourself!
The entrance of the site is 6 euros or 100$N. It seems that they increase the prices every year by 5$N.
How to get to the Kolmanskop site?
Kolmanskop is 15 minutes driving distance from the coastal town of Luderitz. So it is best to sleep in Luderitz and come here early in the morning. Moreover it is a « B » rated road, which means in excellent condition and tarred! Daddy was over the moon…and so was I!
Otherwise, you can sleep next to the town of Aus, about 100 km from Kolmanskop, the road is also excellent. As an example, we visited the surroundings of Aus, and spent the night; we even got to see wild horses. Early in the morning, we took the road to Kolmanskop, and at the end of the visit of the ghost town we headed for Luderitz.
The other activities to do near Kolmanskop are almost all in Luderitz. It is well worth a visit, especially for its coastal town architecture. And with a bit of luck between Kolmanskop and Aus you might see the wild horses!
Opinion on my visit to Kolmanskop
When we arrived in the morning at the entrance of Kolmanskop, my heart was pounding! Because a few years ago I had discovered Namibia thanks to some pictures seen on the Internet with the splendid dunes of Sossusvlei and its dead trees but also the houses devoured by the desert of Kolmanskop! What to expect then? I was really afraid to be disappointed when paying the entrance fee.
I reassure you, there was no disappointment! The wonder was everywhere and so many questions started to fill my head!
How could they make a city here in the middle of the desert? How long did it take for the desert to invade the houses. How long will Kolmanskop keep standing? And then how did the inhabitants live?
That’s what’s so crazy! How to live in such an inhospitable space! In many ways I was excited by the visit, but the number of unanswered questions also left me with a lot to think about. You have to make movies about how people lived, how they left? Was it a difficult decision to leave this place? You ask yourself a lot of questions when you leave this site full of history!
You can really imagine people’s lives, you can see where the bedrooms, the bathroom, the living room were! When the wind is blowing, you can hear the howling of the suffering houses! Those who believe in legends tell this could be the spirits of the miners who died in the diamond mines so that they would not be forgotten.
The visit of Kolmanskop is now over, later today we will visit the city of Luderitz. And tomorrow we will drive to the oldest sand dunes in the world in the Sossusvlei desert. That is, if the car doesn’t let go of us!
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