Repeated traffic signs on the last endless straight towards Lüderitz, had warned us: the wind from the southwest can blow brutal in those parts.
The winter of these bleak and inhospitable places is, however, about to settle in. The gusts remain moderate.
They allow us to speed up and quickly reach our destination in the morning. We had already glimpsed it in the distance, but it is shortly after we pass the access gate that we see with eyes to see how time and wind have inherited Kolmanskop and continue to bury it.
We parked. We went up to the top floor of a building that stands out from the rest.
There we find the reception of the complex and its old ballroom and shows, from time to time adapted to a casino, something that the residents never lacked was money to squander.
we are in full Namib Desertand. A desert so overwhelming that it has even taken over the country's nomenclature. We are in Namibia.
In the most precious and forbidden of its regions, the one that has gone down in history and now appears on maps as restricted area, the Germanic term for “prohibited zone”.
In 1908, Namibia was one of the few German colonies in Africa, an unwanted birth colony.
Unlike most Old World rulers, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was averse to African expansion, which he considered a costly illusion. “My map of Africa is here, in Europe.” will have said in front of a map. "Here is the Russia and here is France and we are here in the middle.”
It was the interest and commercial investment of Adolf Luderitz – a merchant from Bremen – in the area that eventually forced his integration into the German Empire.
And if Bismarck had to support something that was thwarted, the tantrum would make even less sense if carried out by the following Teutonic rulers.
The Find That Lead to the Kolmanskop Foundation
On April 14, 1908, Zacharias Lewala, a black worker who worked the railway line between the coastal town of Lüderitz and inland Aus, found a shiny stone in the sand.
Zacharias showed it to his supervisor, August Stauch. The latter recognized it as a diamond and hurried to obtain a prospecting license. Confirmation of the verdict triggered the race for diamonds in the area. Shortly thereafter, the German government expelled all miners and forced their prospecting to be exclusive.
Even if the monopolizing entity is today another, the Sperrgebiet has changed little. We detected its official ban all over the place, along the B4 road and several of the secondary roads and dirt or beaten salt that branch off from it.
Also next to one of the last warehouses in Kolmanskop and the plaque that identifies it in Germanic font.
Despite the inaccessibility of the surrounding wilderness, with the ticket paid, we could explore most of Kolmanskop.
We start with the house of the manager Leonard Kolle, detached from the stream of buildings that provide the linear organization of the city and the elegance of the staircase that leads to its entrance, the balcony and the pediment that crowns the second floor.
Kolmanskop, in Times, the Richest City on Earth
There is little sand inside this abandoned home. The accountant Wiese's house, even though it was built on stilts, appears semi-sunken in one of the resident dunes.
While there, Wiese had no hands to measure. Between 1908 and the beginning of World War I alone, more than a ton of diamonds were mined from Kolmanskop.
Unsurprisingly, the village evolved into a whimsical small town.
Residents liked to call it the Richest City on Earth. Even after more than a century, the capricious grandeur that he wore is clearly visible to us.
After the entrance hall of the main building, we find the huge and elegant hall erected to host parties, theater shows and even a movie projection.
Downstairs, we find the Clubhouse, where the resident men entertained themselves playing bowling on a track that had evolved for the time.
Kolmanskop's Diamond Luxuries and Refinements
From 1911 onwards, the city received electricity and, soon, the only tram in Africa. Electricity was provided by a coal-fired power station built nearby in Lüderitz.
Water was imported from Cape Town by boat. It cost 5 pfennig per liter, half the cost of a liter of beer. Kolmanskop was even locked in with an ice factory operated on the basis of ammonia.
Generated, every day and free of charge, half a bar of ice for the refrigerator of each home.
Sparkling water was also produced.
From Germany, by boat, arrived all the luxuries and non-luxuries that the locals could remember from champagne to bonbons and caviar.
In the late 20s, around 300 adults and 44 children lived in the city. Kolmanskop had its own school, a bakery and a butcher.
When they were too drunk, the men who played with the bowl would enter the butcher's shop and steal sausages to prolong the revelry. As expected, no bills were left unpaid.
The butcher estimated the loss and the debt was paid off without any problem.
Kolmanskop also had a hospital with the only x-ray equipment in the Southern Hemisphere. The reason, this one, was not as philanthropic as might be expected.
Aware that a single stone could make them millionaires, prospecting workers often tried to swallow them.
In addition to the x-ray, the hospital was equipped with the best medical techniques to make workers return stolen fortunes.
The End of Diamonds, Abandonment and the Invasion of the Sands
Unlike diamonds, the Namibe Desert is still part of the village. We investigated the buildings and found several of them filled with their sand, accumulated at the base of the painted walls or with classic and worn wallpaper.
Or, in certain other cases, in such an accumulated way that it bars access to several divisions. Electricity meters and outlets resist, as well as iron bathtubs we crawl into to compose the best self-photographic moments of the morning.
Like the others, the day remains radiant.
A guide in charge of a group of fascinated Germans enlightens us all: “this is just a fragile calm. At any time, winter kicks in and winds of 100 to 150km sweep tons of new sand over the city.
This is what happened when Johny Coleman, a cart driver, was caught in a terrible storm and was forced to abandon one of them with his oxen near the village.
Coleman's name was Germanized, later Afrikaansnized. Thus gave rise to Kolmanskuppe or Kolmanskop.
From Germanic West Africa to Independent Namibia's Kolmanskop
With the arrival of World War I, the winds of history took the Germans out of Namibia and, by drag, into the possession of Kolmanskop.
As a first direct consequence of the conflict, the Germans, isolated in Africa between the territories of Anglophone, Francophone or Portuguese enemies, found themselves powerless to protect their colonies.
In 1914, Great Britain pressed the South Africa to invade Namibia. The following year, the new South African administration in Windhoek undertook to expel the German settlers from the lands they had previously conquered from the natives of those parts.
Kolmanskop, on the other hand, passed into the hands of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, a German-born industrialist who had worked since the age of 17 in London in a diamond company.
Ernest Oppenheimer eventually founded, in 1919, the Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM). This company of yours has become powerful.
In such a way that it took over Cecil Rhodes' De Beers Consolidated Mines, which used to dominate the world diamond market.
The Ghost Town of Namibe
It was not unrelated to the fact that it allowed the former managers and employees to remain in the posts, the origin of Oppenheimer.
This unexpected decision allowed Kolmanskop to preserve to this day the Germanic character that we also find in the much larger neighbor Lüderitz.
The end of the time given to visitors to explore the city of sands is drawing to a close.
We took the opportunity to take a look at the museum that preserves numerous photographs, maps and artifacts from the time, long before Kolmanskop started to be called a ghost town and appear in world tops of this type of place.
Its last gasp occurred in 1936. Ten years earlier, geologists had discovered a new diamond field 250 km to the south, north of the mouth of the Orange River that marks today the border between Namibia and South Africa.
The diamonds discovered there were much larger.
Around 1936, after the years of the Great Depression, the Oranjemund mine opened its operation and attracted many of Kolmanskop's inhabitants, who were soon out of business. The offices moved to Oranjemund.
When the hospital and transport structure were closed, the last inhabitants of Kolmanskop abandoned it to the whims of Namibe.