Namibia’s Sand Castle Kingdom

Namibia’s Sand Castle Kingdom

The German Empire had reached the peak of its influence by the dawn of WWI. Though later to the colonial game than many of its rival European powers, by 1914 Germany had established territories everywhere from New Guinea to northeast China, while back home its borders included vast tracts of present-day Poland and Russia. But it was in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia), one of the country’s few African possessions, where real fortunes could be made. Diamonds were discovered here in 1908, and within six years over 2000 pounds of the precious stone had been dredged up from the sands of the Namib desert. Enterprising Germans wanting their own slice of the good life flocked to Kolmanskop, and soon this far-flung desert outpost became one of the richest towns in the world, with a bowling alley, gym, outdoor swimming pool, the first tram in Africa, and a 200-bed hospital that boasted the first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere.

But the good life couldn’t go on forever, and shortly after the war the sand-clearing crews were given their papers and Kolmanskop was abandoned. Today this windswept sarcophagus of a town is slowly sinking back into the desert that once gave it a reason for being.

New Sign for a Ghost Line

Shiny Sign for a Ghost Line

The Granulated Ocean

The Granular Ocean

Rival Narratives of Erosion and Burial

Rival Narratives of Erosion and Burial

Century Tides

Century Tides

In Case of Emergency Bring a Shovel

In Case of Emergency Bring a Shovel. Photo by Natalie Theron.

Sandcrawler Migration

Sandcrawler Playground / Exit Frame Left

Weatherproofing / Exit Frame Right

Weatherproofing / Exit Frame Right

Glass Stands Guard

Glass Fortified

Skeleton Attic

Skeleton Attic

Skeleton Chamber

Skeleton Chamber

In Civilised Quarters

Millionaires’ Row Macro

Millionaires' Row Micro

Millionaires’ Row Micro

Trekking the Great Rift Valley

Trekking the Great Rift Valley

Shadow Reclamation

The Shadow Reclamation Project

Emergency Exits I, II and III

Emergency Exits I, II and III. Photo by Natalie Theron

Sprawling on the fringes of the city / In geometric order / An insulated border / In between the bright lights / And the far unlit unknown

Geometric Order / An Insulated Border

German Engineering

Dreadnoughts of the High Seas

The Electric Sky

The Electric Sky

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Author

Austin Andrews is a Vancouver-based photojournalist and occasional filmmaker with a penchant for finding the fantastic in the everyday. Contact him at austin [at] disposablewords [dot] net

5 comments

    • I first saw it in the movie Samsara a few years ago and it looked like the most fantastic place. It’s a long drive to get to (from anywhere, really) but is well-marked and definitely worth the trip.

      Reply
    • Kolmanskop is a ten hour drive from the Namibian capital Windhoek, or two long days from either Cape Town or Johannesburg. But the port at Lüderitz is nearby, and makes for a convenient jumping-off point from which to explore. Kolmanskop is technically in the “sperrgebiet”, Namibia’s large forbidden zone, but passes are easy to obtain in Lüderitz. People do visit, a few a day (note footprints in the sand in some photos), but the place is definitely a mission to get to.

      Reply

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