There’s a lot of sand. A lot, a lot of sand. One might even say a desert full of sand. Kolmanskop is situated in what feels like the middle of nowhere, with the sand slowly swallowing the once grand mansions that housed German diamond prospectors during the height of the diamond craze. You have to crouch and half crawl through some doorways because the sand has filled the bottom floor of the house. It’s very surreal and rather Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass as you manage to wiggle through one gap and arrive in front of a broken and rotten but still impressive staircase.
To get to the top floor of the house, you tiptoe up the sides of the stairs, one hand on the wall, like it would somehow miraculously sprout handholds should you happen to fall. Rusty nails and shards of glass and brick lie in a thick layer on the worn floorboards, and the peeling wallpaper has names and dates carved into it.
The town once was a flourishing mining settlement. There was a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a theatre where opera singers from Europe came to preform (and which also displayed some of the first silent movies in Namibia) along with bakers, butchers and shops. A donkey pulled tram would deliver a block of ice, twenty litres of water, and a crate of soda water and a crate of lemonade to each house every morning. The same tram would take the wives of the rich prospectors to and from the shops on the main street of the town.
Our guide pointed out the hospital to us, telling us that it had boasted one of the first x-ray machines in Southern Africa. The machine wasn’t just for broken bones, she explained, but also to track down missing diamonds. If something suspicious was found, the suspect would be dosed with castor oil and put into an observation cell for twenty four hours.
The lengths the workers went to, to smuggle diamonds out of the town were pretty extreme. Some would slice into the skin of their calves and secret diamonds under the skin. Pigeons were used for a while, but the birds would often become exhausted from the weight of the gems and fall from the sky. Guards would revive the pigeons and let it fly to where it was going, tracking it to find the culprit.
Diamonds are absurdly expensive for a few reasons. One of these is how the diamond company De Beers has marketed them. Huge advertising campaigns along with limiting supply ramped up the prices exorbitantly. Lawsuits accusing them of ‘unlawfully monopolised the supply of diamonds and conspired to fix, raise and control diamond prices’
In the café of the main building, that used to be the saloon, we saw an old sign from Sperrgebiet warning us of the penalties we would face should we happen to wander into the restricted area. The sign declares ‘Warning! Penalty 500 pounds or one years imprisonment. Prohibited Diamond Area. Keep to the road’
After that, we wandered back through the red dunes to peer through these broken down buildings one final time.
All pictures by yours truly.