17 May 2010

Namibia: Kolmanskop, Where No Expense Was Spared

KOLMANSKOP is a ghost town in the Namib Desert about 10 kilometres inland from Lüderitz.

The town was named after Johnny Colemann who abandoned his ox wagon on a small incline opposite the settlement during a sandstorm.

Coleman died of dehydration.

The town was developed after the discovery of diamonds in the area in 1908, to provide shelter for De Beers workers from the harsh environment of the Namib Desert.

Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the company and individuals built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital with the first X-ray facility in the southern hemisphere.

Kolmanskop had a ballroom, power station, school, skittle alley, theatre and sport hall, casino, ice factory, bakery, butcher's shop as well as the first tram in Africa.

The tram was used to provide the 400 people living at Kolmanskop daily with a case of soda water, a case of lemonade and a block of ice for free.

The ice was placed into refrigerators and the cold air sank to the bottom, cooling milk, butter, cheese and other perishables. The melted water was caught in containers and reused.

The tram was also a public transport system which picked people up and delivered them to their doorsteps.

Fresh water was brought by ship about 1 000 km from Cape Town. It was offloaded at Lüderitz and then transported with ox wagons to Kolmanskop.

All building materials, food, clothing, interior decorations and other luxury items were imported from Germany. From champagne to caviar was available in what was known as the richest town in Africa.

The town declined after World War I when diamond prices crashed and operations were moved to Oranjemund.

De Beers abandoned it in 1956 but has since partly restored some of the structures.

The geological forces of the desert mean that tourists now walk through the houses knee-deep in sand.

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