Kolmanskop: Namibia’s Ghost Town

Kolmanskop: Namibia’s Ghost Town

By Caitlin Overend

Kolmanskop: Namibia’s Ghost Town

It seems as though every photographer with a penchant for traveling has made the trek to Namibia’s red desert recently. With sand dunes as high as sky scrapers ending in vast salt and clay pans, it’s not hard to see why. Perhaps the most notable (and recently most photographable) of Namibia’s landmarks is the ghost town, Kolmanskop, a must-see on every trip to Namibia. Thanks to years of intense sand storms, the town has been swallowed by the desert, adding an extra layer to the eeriness of the town. But where did this ghost town come from? And why are so many travelers drawn to it?

In the early 1900s, men worked hard building a railway line connecting Luderitz and Aus (now southern Namibia). One worker, Zacharias Lewala, ventured away from the line and dug up what he believed was a diamond. Upon testing, it was confirmed the stone was a diamond, and so began the diamond rush of the Namib Desert. Hundreds of residents moved in from Germany and Namibia and began building great homes, a butcher, post office, hospital, and even a bowling alley.

Diamonds were so easy to find that you could simply crawl through the desert on hands and knees and pick them right out of the sand! With such a great number of diamonds, it’s no surprise that the town was one of the richest communities in the world. Though sand storms were frequent and temperatures were scorching, people were turning this remote corner of the desert a home.

Eventually new machinery was brought in and the desert was scraped clean of all remaining diamonds. By the 1930s, things began slowing down for Kolmanskop. Gone were the days of walking through the desert and tripping over diamonds. Almost as quickly as it began, the diamond rush ended. In 1956, just 40 years after the discovery of diamonds in the desert, the diamond rush was over. People packed their bags and left without ever looking back at the city in the sand they had created.

Over the years, the desert has slowly creeped up and reclaimed the town; filling homes with sand, and creating an eerie atmosphere perfect for a photoshoot. The Namib Desert is relentless in its mission to take back its land, but there has been a push to keep the town standing. Among the derelict houses and buildings, travelers can find homes being slowly restored. Some house museum exhibits and displays, ready to teach anyone who makes the trip about this once bustling diamond town.

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