Out of a lunar landscape of black volcanic rock and wind-whipped sand materialises the Namibian town of Luderitz.
A Story of Namibia | Diamonds and Dust
By Laurianne Claase
KolmanskopKolmanskop was the biggest of the diamond towns that sprang up in the Sperregebiet and at its height, was home to over 1 500 people. Drinking water was brought from Cape Town by ship so that the ladies of this arid mining town need not be deprived of their rose gardens and lawns. Kolmanskop had electricity at a time when Germany still had gas street lights. Its hospital serviced the whole Sperregebiet and boasted the first X-ray machine in Southern Africa. Kolmanskop became Company HQ after Ernest Oppenheimer formed the Consolidated Diamond Mines of South West Africa Ltd. in 1926.All the diamond towns boasted recreation clubs. Kolmanskop's Kasino was built in Germany 1927 and was transported by ship to Luderitz and thence to Kolmanskop to be erected here in the middle of the desert. Today, an echoing hall with wooden stage and dusty paintwork, the hall's acoustics once resonated to the harmonies of opera singers,choirs and dancers imported from Europe and Germany. The caviar and champagne parties would go on for days. When the wind was blowing, as it was on the day we visited, the inhabitants would take shelter in the music hall upstairs or the'bowling alley' downstairs.In the diamond towns, as a former resident recalls: 'Germans always built a skittle alley before anything else.' Kegelbal, played with a solid bowling ball sans finger holes, is a staple of German culture and even today, the locals of Luderitz play once a week. Apparently Ernest Oppenheimer's grandson, Nicky, current CEO of Consolidated Diamond Mines, likes to bring his execs to play a little kegelbal at Kolmankop's deserted skittle alley.
The end of KolmanskopBy 1938 it was all over. Larger diamonds were found at the mouth of the Orange River. The rush went south and with it Kolmanskop. The town held on as a transport depot ferrying goods into the prospecting areas of the Sperregebiet by donkey cart and mule. However, by 1965, the last inhabitants had packed up their suitcases but left their furniture behind them, lest any diamonds came too.Today, sand fills the corrugated iron houses, drifting through doorways and burying the ice factory, the champagne bar and the school in its dusty folds. Empty baths stand outside, forlorn under the withering sun and whirling stars. The desert is reclaiming it all. And yet, in those heady years from 1906-1938, a tonne of diamonds was plucked from the shiftless sands of the world's oldest desert. As for August Stauch, the railway-supervisor-turned-diamond-magnate, died of stomach cancer in his late 60's, destitute but for the 2 pounds 96 shillings he had in his pocket. He'd lost most of what he had made in the Great Depression.
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