Situated at about 12 kilometers outside the town of Luderitz, lies the captivating Kolmanskop Ghost Town. It was once inhabited by a thriving community of over 1,200 individuals, comprising approximately 700 families. The town’s history tells a tale of immense wealth, prosperity, and sudden decline.
A visit to Kolmanskop provides a spooky understanding of how the desert slowly takes back everything that was built in it. The sand sneaks into every corner, breaking down and absorbing bricks, metal, and plaster. Furthermore, it creeps across floors and through doorways, finding its way into every space as if it were liquid. However, the result is an amazing sight with a rich history, making it a fantastic place for photography.
The History of Kolmanskop
On an evening in the year 1908, Zacherias Lewala – a railway worker from Namibia, was diligently clearing the encroaching sand dunes off the railroad tracks. As he toiled, he noticed a glimmering sight among the dim light; stones that eventually turned out to be diamonds. Lewala’s German employer, upon identification, immediately acknowledged the significance of the discovery. However, Lewala received no compensation or recognition for his remarkable find.
Following this revelation, a massive number of prospectors descended upon the region. By 1912, a bustling town had emerged, churning out a staggering one million carats annually—equivalent to 11.7 percent of the world’s total diamond production.
Wealth flowed abundantly in the town of Kolmanskop, transforming the desolate desert into an oasis of luxury. The city boasted diverse amenities, including a butcher, a baker, a post office, and many others. Fresh water was brought in by the railing system, ensuring the sustenance of the growing community. Moreover, European opera groups graced the town with their performances, adding a touch of extravagant eccentricity. Also, a particular family’s ownership of a pet ostrich was notably peculiar. It both terrorized the locals, but was eventually employed to pull a sleigh during the Christmas season.
The abandonment of Kolmanskop
The miners in Kolmanskop were picking diamonds off of the desert floor and becoming rich overnight. However, the German government wanted more control over the town’s tremendous wealth. They responded strongly, declaring a sizable portion of Namibia as a “Sperrgebiet”, or restricted zone. They prohibit the general public from entering and granting exclusive prospecting rights to a single, Berlin-based business. The construction of this zone displaced local tribespeople from their ancestral lands, often forcing them into labor in the diamond mines. These individuals endured cramped, barracks-like compounds for extended periods, stripped of their freedom and connection to their traditional way of life.
However, it was short-lived. As World War I unfolded, the diamond field that brought prosperity to Kolmanskop began to lessen, and the town experienced a significant decline by the early 1920s. The final blow came in 1928 with the discovery of the most abundant diamond-bearing deposits ever found on the beach terraces. It was located approximately 270 kilometers south of Kolmanskop, near the Orange River.
These new diamond finds sparked a frenzy as prospectors hurriedly flocked to the south, abandoning their homes and belongings in Kolmanskop. The allure of scouting the beaches for diamonds proved more appealing than the arduous process of traditional mining, hastening the demise of the once-thriving town. The city had been entirely abandoned by 1956. The sand dunes that formerly rolled over the railway tracks in Lewala have now broken through the doors and porches, filling the interior spaces with smooth banks of sand.
Visiting Kolmanskop In Southern Africa’s Namib Desert
In 2002, Kolmanskop embarked on a second life, thanks to the efforts of a local private company – Ghost Town Tours. They were granted the concession to manage the site as a tourist attraction. They now transport visitors into the once-forbidden zone, allowing them to explore and capture photographs of the hauntingly beautiful ruins covered in sand. Today, the abandoned town receives an impressive number of tourists, with approximately 35,000 visitors flocking to the site each year. This influx of tourists brings economic benefits to the nearby coastal town of Lüderitz.
Moreover, exploring Kolmanskop – the ghost town in southern Namibia’s Namib Desert, is a fascinating experience that unveils the eerie beauty of a forgotten era. Visitors can join a guided tour or venture independently to discover the secrets of this abandoned diamond mining town. If you are interested to learn more about Namibia’s history, you may also read our article, Why Does the Herero Dress of Namibia Reflect Victorian Era Styles?
To enter Kolmanskop, a permit must be purchased in Luderitz, which is required to be presented to the guard at the entrance gate. This ensures that the site is well-preserved and protected. Furthermore, as you wander through the knee-high sand, you’ll immerse yourself in the miners’ and their families’ history and way of life. Learn about the unique governing structure of the town and how daily necessities, such as ice and soda water, were distributed to each household via the tram system.
Exploring the decaying houses, you’ll feel a sense of awe and perhaps a tingle of excitement as you hear the tales of past inhabitants and their untimely fates. The ghostly atmosphere adds an extra layer of mystery to the experience.
However, keep an eye out for signs of wildlife in the area. If you arrive early, you may spot tracks left by the elusive Brown Hyenas that roam the surroundings at night. The sandy terrain also harbors a variety of insects and creepy crawlies, adding to the hidden life within the ghost town.
Kolmanskop was once a thriving diamond mining town that was accidentally discovered by Zacherias Lewala, while working on the railway. Since then, it provided its residents with a prosperous way of life. However, the intervention of the German government disrupted its wealth and success significantly. The town’s tribespeople were reduced to laborers, while Kolmanskop became a hub for diamond mining for the Berlin-based companies. Eventually, during the 1930s, the town faced its demise as the diamond reserves decreased.
As the opportunity arose to discover new mining sites in other areas, the people of Kolmanskop abandoned their native lands, leaving behind a city in ruins and an eerie atmosphere. The remnants of their lives and possessions now serve as a haunting reminder of the past.
Today, both locals and tourists have the chance to catch a glimpse of the ghost town and witness its melancholic beauty. However, despite efforts to preserve it as a memorial, the relentless encroachment of sand threatens to engulf the entire city. The desert, slowly but surely, claims what once stood as a testament to human endeavor and the transience of our existence. With time, Kolmanskop may be entirely consumed by the captivating sands, leaving only faint traces of its former glory.