FROM DIAMOND MINE TO GHOST TOWN - THIS IS KOLMANSKOP

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If ‘ruin gazing’ is on your bucket list, the ghost town Kolmanskop in southern Namibia is just for you. Once the home of diamond mines and a thriving community, it is now an abandoned area with perfectly preserved houses, that get slowly consumed by the desert sand

Words: Aleksandra Georgieva

Photography: Alfred Quartey, Jean Wimmerlin Aubrey Rose Odom

29 March 2020

Once the home of a thriving community, profiting from diamond mines, Kolmanskop was completely abandoned by the mid-1950s. The ghost town is located in southern Namibia, haunting visitors with the power of time which echoes among the empty desert.

 

Modern-day travellers seem fascinated with ruins. Broken cities breathe foreign memories calling out to our imagination. Collapsed walls and dusty windows guard the abandoned traces of past lives. For over a millennium ‘ruin gazing’ has applied to enthusiasts, who visit ghost towns for a glimpse into the long-forgotten lives and unknown people’s existence.

 

Today Kolmanskop is one of the most fascinating locations to visit as the geological forces of the Namibia desert leave visitors walking around traditional Edwardian houses knee-deep in sand. The architecture in the area is completely preserved, although slowly consumed by the sand dunes. This makes Kolmanskop popular among tourists and photographers alike. Yet, once upon a time the ghost town of Namibia unveiled the livelihood of a community that thrived from the area’s natural resources.

 “Broken cities breathe foreign memories calling out to our imagination.

Collapsed walls and dusty windows guard the abandoned traces of past lives.” 

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Travellers can find Kolmanskop around 10 kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz. It may seem curious that the ghost town was named after a transport driver. During a sandstorm Johnny Coleman was forced to abandon his ox wagon near the settlement, which adopted his name. ‘Kolmanskop’ comes from Afrikaans for Coleman's head.

 

It was 1908 when a railway worker named Zacharias Lewala found a diamond in the area. After showing it to his supervisor, the German railway inspector August Stauch, it didn’t take long for people to realise how rich the location was in diamonds. German miners settled in the desert area to exploit the field. Soon enough the German Empire declared a large region as a ‘Sperrgebiet’ (restricted area).

 “It didn’t take long for people to realise how rich the location was in diamonds.

Soon, German miners settled in the desert area to exploit the field.” 

The first diamond miners in Kolmanskop generated enormous wealth. The residents in the area began investing into the development of the town. They focused on German style architecture when building a hospital, school, power station, theatre, ballroom, ice factory, casino, sports hall, skittle-alley and impressively the first x-ray-station in the entire southern hemisphere. The town also had the first tram in Africa, which had a railway connection to the town of Lüderitz.

 

The industrial incline in the area was impressive and the residents’ wealth seemed everlasting. Unfortunately, there dark times laid ahead. After World War II the diamond field began depleting and by the early 1950s the town was in complete decline. However, in 1928, some 270 km south of Kolmanskop was found the richest diamond-bearing location in the area. After the town’s decline, residents left their homes and possessions behind in a new rush, this time to the south, towards the beach terraces of the Orange River.

 

It was 1956 when Kolmanskop was ultimately abandoned. Today visitors trace the lives of a once thriving community, whose proof of existence rests among the sand dunes of the Namibia desert. The houses, built in traditional Edwardian style, stand half-swallowed by sandstorms. Still, travelers go – seeking that glimpse into the past lives of strangers long-forgotten, unspoiled and unknown.

Visitors note: today Kolmanskop is a tourist destination, run by the joint firm Namibia-De Beers. If you plan to visit, know that you will need a permit to enter the ghost town.

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