Kolmanskop, a former Geman settlement is located on the west coast of Africa in the southern region of the country of Namibia. The once majestic city sits just 10 kilometers from the sea, built on waves of sands.
The ghost city of Kolmanskop has abandoned for more than 50 years. It’s buildings trying in vain to hold out the encroach of nature. Once a booming place to live, the only residents are the transient tourists who come to photograph the impressive buildings ravished by sand and frozen in time.
The city lies in the Sperrgebiet, (forbidden territory). Visitors must apply for a government permit before visiting the city.
How Kolmanskop started
Kolmanskop is named after a traveler by the name of Johnny Kolman who during a sand storm, abandoned his ox wagon on a small hill opposite where the settlement would one day stand.
At the time, the only thing existing on where Kolmanskop would be were some railroad tracks that ran from the coastal town Luderitz to a bigger town of Keetmanshoop, from there the railway connected with a northern line to the capital of Windhoek.
It was in 1908 when the city started when a railway employee by the name of Zacharias Lewala was performing maintenance on the track. This maintenance involved sweeping the sand from the track before the train was due to come through.
The diamond boom
While performing his duties Zacharias noticed a sparkling stone among the sand. He showed it to his supervisor August Stauch, was positive it was a diamond. Upon confirmation, the news spread quickly and a great frantic diamond rush ensued. Almost overnight people seeking their fortune descended upon the site.
The town grew quickly. Shelters were quickly constructed to shelter workers from the harsh Namib desert heat and conditions. Small business sprang that provided necessities to the treasure seekers.
The city grows
As the city grew large elegant houses were built. Kolmanskop was becoming a proper German town sporting a lot of great modern amenities for the time.
- a hospital
- a ballroom
- a power station
- a school
- a 4-lane skittle alley
- a theater
- a sports hall
- a casino
- an ice factory
- a bakery
- a butcher shop
- a furniture factory
- a public playground
The hospital also had the 1st X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere!
Kolmanskop during WWI
Germany’s involvement in World War I interrupted Kolmanskop’s mining operations. After the war, the city rebounded and mining operations resumed. The city continued to grow and reached its highest point of growth around 1920. At this time about 300 German adults, 40 children, and 800 contract workers were residing in the Kolmanskop.
The beginning of the end started in 1928 when on the beach terraces of Oranjemund, near the Orange River about 270km south of Kolmanskop large diamond deposits were found. The diamonds could be collected by simply combing the sand on the beaches instead of the much more difficult mining operations.
Many of the town’s inhabitants joined the rush to the south, leaving their homes and possessions behind.
Kolmanskop kept some of its importance as a supply depot for other mining operations, including for the new operation in the south. Soon, however, it became much easier to bring supplies from South Africa. The last three families finally left the town in 1956.
Today, the city of Kolmanskop retains little of the glory that it had a half-century ago. Without the daily sweeping away of the sands, the former residents would undertake each morning, the sands have taken over many of the buildings. In 1980 the mining company De Beers restored some of the buildings and created a museum to attract tourists.
Kolmanskop in film
- Dust Devil – 1993
- Lunarcop – 1994
- The King Is Alive-2000
- A 2010 episode of the tv show Life After People.
See also the abandoned city of the Ukraine!
Additional photo credits
Ice factory By Olga Ernst – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65083953