The desert that ate Kolmanskop
It had its heyday during the first half of the 20th century, thanks to the diamonds that used to be found there. Nowadays, Kolmanskop, in Namibia, is a ghost town awash with sand.
During the four years of the First World War, Kolmanskop provided 1,000 kg of diamonds to German miners. While Europe was being battered in the Great War, this small region in the Namib desert – then under the control of Germany – enjoyed its finest era. It all began in 1908, when Zacharias Lewala found an enormous diamond while he was repairing a train line. The Germans answered the call of the ‘treasure hunt’ and decided to settle in this area, creating a new town that they named Kolmanskop. Three years earlier, in 1905, a transport driver called Johnny Coleman had lost his way in a sand storm whilst driving towards the coastal town of Lüderitz. He had to abandon his wagon on an incline there. That’s why this area came to be known as ‘Coleman’s hill’. Translated into Afrikaans: Kolmanskop.
The visit costs 60 Namibian dollars.
In a short time, this mining village became the richest town in Africa and had all modern comforts: a school, hospital, casino, dance hall, etc. Real German-style mansions were built for the over 700 families that lived there. Money was no obstacle. Until the First World War, Kolmanskop was where the South-Western Diamond Industry was based. The workers received high salaries and enjoyed social benefits. Every morning blocks of ice were delivered to keep the food and drinks cool, and the buildings were protected so that the strong winds wouldn’t ‘flood’ the area with sand.
Kolmanskop is 850 kilometres from the capital, Windhoek.
It was the first African city to have a tram system.
It all ended in the mid-1950s, when the massive extraction finished off the supply of diamonds and all the inhabitants abandoned the town. The miners moved to Oranjemund, around 400 kilometres to the south, where they began new excavations. Since then, Kolmanskop has become a ghost town buried by sand. The desert has reclaimed the space that the large stone mansions used to occupy, and nowadays the dance halls are small indoor dunes. Today, Kolmanskop is owned by the company Namdeb and receives thousands of visits thanks to the fame that its houses buried in sand have acquired. To enter, you must have a permit from the government of Namibia, in an attempt to avoid saturation and vandalism. Visits must be made in the company of a guide and have a maximum duration of one hour. Some tours include other abandoned towns such as Pomona and Bogenfels. 30 kilometres away we find another ghost town, Elizabeth Bay, which enjoyed its boom years between 1926 and 1935. Its good times didn’t last as long as those of Kolmanskop, but both met the same end: once the diamonds ran out, the town was finished.