The approach to Angra Pequena confirms the meteorological phenomenon that generated Namibe.
Inland, it resisted, undisputed, the dry and abrasive heat to which the desert had already accustomed us. The closer we got to the wild cove opposite Lüderitz, the more the air cooled and came with a stimulating fragrance of marine iodine.
For a few extra kilometers, we wind down the dirt and pressed salt road. We skirt the long stretch of sea to the south of the city and then head north again, to the peninsula exposed to the Atlantic already defined as our final destination. We passed the sharp, white-and-red-streaked headlamp that announced it.
Thereafter, the wind gains overwhelming power. It projects unbridled waves against the rocks and pushes waves of mist down the coast, sometimes so dense that it completely takes away the view of the rugged coastline.
Even diffused in that intermittent white mantle, we glimpsed a prominent pattern atop a rocky promontory.
Diogo Cão, Bartolomeu Dias and the Frozen Mist of Angra Pequena
There were no doubts. In 1486, Diogo Cão reached the current area of Cape Cross. After a year, in the service of King João II and at the command of two caravels of fifty barrels and a support vessel, Bartolomeu Dias exceeded, right there, the limit of Diogo Cão.
Then, the navigation in search of the southern limit of africa.
We skirt a wooden ladder destroyed by unrelenting tides and climb over the rocks. From the top, shaken by the furious gusts, we admired the power of the waves that shaped the rocky indentations and made the forest of kelp who had been dragged there.
Waves, fog and wind confronted each other. Out of nowhere, a squadron of loons flies over us at great speed. After that, another one. And so many more, as close together as the gale allowed them.
That strange migration that mottled the whitish sky black goes on for a good twenty minutes. During this time, we remain absorbed, eyes in the air. With nothing to rush us, we still peek into other corners of an adjoining cove.
One of them reveals to us, on the other side of the great bay, the houses of Lüderitz. We see it perched on the parched coastline so common throughout Namibia.
A yellow temple stands out above the red roofs of the other buildings, not so much from the sandy ground.
It was the iconic, evangelical and Lutheran church of Felsenkirche.
The Germanic Genesis of Old Lüderitz
The German settlers who built it wasted no time looking for inspiration. Since the hill (later nicknamed the Diamond Mountain) on which the foundations were laid was rocky, they named it Igreja das Rochas. The name, like so many other Germanic influences, is to last.
And yet, the Teutonic domain of these parts was never to be verified. When it finally materialized, it resulted from a cartoonish colonial situation.
Since the passage of Diogo Cão and Bartolomeu Dias, the presence of Europeans in the Namibe desert was limited to the passage or limited and swift settlement of navigators and merchants. This reality lasted until 1800.
In the early XNUMXth century, German and English missionary societies were established and built churches.
At the same time, merchants and farmers settled and founded entrepots. Some, British, were concentrated around the present-day Walvis Bay.
Historic in Europe and already projected to other parts of the Earth, the rivalry between Germany and Great Britain extended to that inhospitable end-of-the-world.
Adolf Lüderitz: founder of … Lüderitz
In 1882, Adolf Lüderitz, a Bremen merchant, petitioned the German chancellor for protection for a trading station he planned to build in Southwest Africa. Otto von Bismarck had all his life against the colonial expansion of the German Empire.
He considered that conquering, maintaining and defending the colonies would cost more than the profit they brought. In addition, there was the risk that the damage would sabotage the power that Germany maintained in Europe.
Against his opinion, there were millions of Germans who watched rival European nations grow their empires. In many cases, profit from colonies.
There were also merchants and adventurers with dreams and projects in different parts of the world, such as Lüderitz. The latter was lucky enough to have Bismarck need to be re-elected and, as such, to have been forced to please the defenders of colonial expansion.
As soon as he obtained the chancellor's support, Lüderitz instructed Heinrich Vogelsand – an employee of his – to acquire land in Angra Pequena from an ethnic Nama chief. In this way, he was able to build a village that Lüderitz gave his own name.
From Rest of the African Continent to Germanic Warehouse
In 1884, determined to prevent British intrusion, Lüderitz managed to have the area declared a protectorate of the German Empire. A few months later, the German flag was raised. In a hasty and arrogant way, the British convinced themselves that the rivals had just been left with some unfit leftovers for the consumption of the African territory. They agreed.
Even against Chancellor Bismarck's principles and genuine will, Lüderitz – the man and the people – forced the creation of the Germanic Southwest African colony. Thereafter, until 1915, the colony expanded. Especially to the north and into the inhospitable interior. It equaled, in size, the Germanic Empire in Europe.
Then it surpassed it by more than half. Until 1915, the population stayed at 2600 adventurous souls. Lüderitz – the city – concentrated a good part.
The new inhabitants devoted themselves to hunting whales and seals. To fishing and the trade of guano produced in industrial quantities by the same species of birds that had flown over us – and shot – along with the Bartolomeu Dias standard, and by so many others.
Back to Eccentric City
We return to the center of the village along the same path that, however, seems to us to be different. The tide had receded hundreds of meters. It had left behind a sandy expanse once covered by the encroaching Atlantic, a sinuous and sedimented bed in which a brackish stream continued to flow into the sea.
Near its threshold, below a stranded boat, a flock of flamingos drank the water. There was no sign of the endemic chestnut hyenas in those parts of Namibe, so they fed without worry.
We stopped at the edge of town to fill up the car. The owner of the gas station appears from inside a booth and starts a conversation. We immediately realized that he was of Germanic origin, without any ethnic mix, one of the few who resisted time and the vicissitudes of history.
"Oh, are they Portuguese?" It admires and blames its native employees for their inefficiency. “There are several here in the city, they inform us as if with a wrinkle of their nose and it seems to us that they are containing a certain chauvinism. Now they are even less. There was a time when they were everywhere.” We wouldn't be long in finding them.
The Atrocious Imposition of the Germans on the Natives
The afternoon was drawing to a close. The sun setting west of the Atlantic warmed the assorted colors of the city's numerous low-rise buildings. We take advantage of this additional stimulus. We walk through the almost deserted streets, paying attention to the architecture art nouveau Germanic, that the discovery of diamonds in the surrounding desert in 1909 allowed the foundation of the neighboring village of Kolmanskop, like Lüderitz, soon endowed with whims and fantasies otherwise difficult to pay.
However, it was not only the mined gemstones that contributed. Since 1903, the German Empire fought the resistance of the natives to its invasion. The conflict escalated. It degenerated into the cruel Herero Wars waged against this tribe of cattle ranchers who, like the neighboring Nama, the Khoi and the Namaqua, elsewhere, controlled that area of Namibe.
At the height of the conflict, German troops numbered 20.000 fighters. By 1908, they had already killed tens of thousands of natives, in the midst of conflict, or in concentration camps like the one on Shark Island in front of the city, where prisoners only left to work by force in building infrastructure or in the businesses that made them rich. the settlers.
On Berg Street – the old diagonal heart of the city – the row of houses they helped build looks like something out of a cinematic set.
A Strange Germany on the Edge of the Namib Desert
We appreciate the picturesque Haus Grünewald with its Bavarian windows, some part of a built-in turret. The pediments of the following homes are cut to match. They display very bright colors: almost turquoise blue, yellow, orange. Further on, the salmon tone of Barrels, a bar-restaurant specializing in seafood and dishes also with a German influence.
It surprises us or maybe not that several of the palatial mansions have steep roofs, as if snow had ever fallen in those parts. This is the case of the exuberant and emblematic Goerke house, just behind Felsenkirche, also the train station and the Krabbenhöft & Lamp building, which, in the image of the houses Kreplin and Troos, erected by the diamond magnates heirs to the de Kolmanskop.
As we walk through the center we notice the golden skin tone of several passersby, their translucent eyes the color of honey, olive green and even blue, like those of a smooth-mannered salesman who, at the entrance to the local station, almost convinces us to buy you smoked fish.
Coincidence or not, we go shopping when we see the first inhabitant of Portuguese origin in Lüderitz. Luís Figueira owns the only large grocery store open after dark, the “Portuguese supermarket".
Luís Figueira: One of Many Portuguese in Namibia
Despite speaking English, the features of the man at the counter, somewhat chubby and unshaven, give us promising indications of his ancestry. "Are you the Portuguese here at the store?" we ask you.
The question and the suspicion that he was before people with his blood awoke a sparkle in his eyes and a strong stimulus to tell us a little about everything. Speak in English. The Portuguese language had lost almost all of it. “Because my grandparents came here from Madeira at a time when there was always work in fishing and fish processing.
I still have my mother there in Santana and I go to Madeira once a year. Here in Lüderitz, I married a colored lady and here we are. We have four children, all with Portuguese names. You have to stop by our cod academy! It's where the Portuguese-born gang lives…”
When Luís Figueira's grandparents arrived, Lüderitz was part of the South Africa. Thus dictated the continuation of the history of these stops. In the midst of the 1st World War, the South Africa occupied all of Germanic Southwest Africa and deported many Germans.
Incorporation in South Africa and newly independent Namibia
With the shift of mining prospecting from the surroundings to the south, this deportation contributed to the temporary decline of the population. THE South Africa it managed Lüderitz and the former German colony – first under the League of Nations and the UN, later in the absence of the UN – until 1990.
This year, the movement SWAP (SouthWest African People Organization) forced Namibia's independence, with a strategy of military confrontation from southern Angola, recently freed from Portuguese yoke.
A century passed without the present territory of Namibia being subject to effective Germanic rule. There are more than 30.000 inhabitants of German ancestry and speaking German.
They form a compact audience of a German-language radio station, their own television news service and the daily newspaper general newspaper founded in 1916 and which has endured over the years.
Despite the unusual genesis of the Teutonic legacy and the efforts of the Namibian authorities to mitigate it, in Lüderitz as, further north, in Swakopmund, this zeitgeist is far from passing.