From riches to rags | Inside the Namibian ghost town of Kolmanskop

The far-flung town of Kolmanskop was once one of the world’s richest, with luxuries and opulence in the extreme conditions of the desert. But after the diamond mine dried up, it was abandoned and has been slowly sinking into the sand ever since, Kolmanskop left to be consumed by the elements in the remote Namib Desert.

Just a handful of miles inland from one of Africa’s least habitable coats, in southwest Namibia, lies a series of abandoned buildings, filled with sand. Bathtubs, doors and caved-in ceilings reveal a recent human footprint, yet in the last few decades this town has quickly become a place that the world forgot. It is called Kolmanskop, and only 100 years ago was one of the wealthiest diamond mines in the world. Now, it has quite literally been lost to the sands of time. 

The Namib desert has reclaimed the town. As the world’s oldest desert, dating back some 55 million years, Kolmanskop was not the first town to rise and fall in the Namib, nor will it be the last, but the fleeting nature of this town and the skeleton left behind makes it one of the most fascinating. 

Kolmanskop Ghost Town Namibia

Nowadays, the buildings frame the extreme landscape, as if by design. This is an area that has long been uninhabited, and it was only a chance discovery in 1908 that sent hundreds of German miners to the region, hoping to make their fortune in this remote corner of the world. 

At the time, the area of Namibia was the colony of German South West Africa. A railway worker named Zacharia Lewala was working on the line, when he saw a glimmering stone. He ran it up the chain of command, and his superior, August Stauch, realized it was a rare diamond. The influx of miners was swift and the diamond mine of Kolmanskop was born.

Kolmanskop Ghost Town Namibia

With diamonds comes wealth and with wealth comes infrastructure. The first settlers erected a town in the style of a German village. They had luxuries such as Viennese sausages, a tram to the port city of Lüderitz, and supposedly the very first x-ray station in the entire southern hemisphere. There was a post office, a concert hall, a power station, a casino and a police department, as well as extensive railway lines connecting Kolmanskop to other major cities in the colony, including the diamond mine of Pomona which is also now abandoned. 

Read More: Solving the mystery of Namibia’s “Fairy Circles”

The mines were shut during World War One, and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 also saw the end of German South West Africa. The area itself was transferred to the British-controlled South Africa, but Kolmanskop was still predominantly German populated and when the mine reopened, it continued to generate extreme wealth. In fact, during the early 1920s, Kolmanskop was at the height of its prosperity. 

Kolmanskop Ghost Town Namibia

1928 was a year when Kolmanskop’s fortunes began to change, however, as a huge diamond reserve was found in Oranjemund, further south in the country. Many moved to the new site, and in 1943 the owners of the Kolmanskop mine left as well. Mining stopped altogether in 1950 and the final residents left the town in 1956. It has been abandoned ever since. 

In less than 50 years, Kolmanskop was built, reached stratospheric heights, and then was abandoned again. Now, you can visit as a tourist, and the old casino has been converted into the Ghost Town Tavern, serving visitors breakfast and lunch. 

Kolmanskop Ghost Town Namibia

It is also the site of filming for documentaries and movies, and you might recognize it as the site of the cover from Tame Impala’s 2020 album, The Slow Rush.

On the other side of the world, there is another abandoned mine that Great Big Story went and visited. Deep in the Arctic Circle, the extreme conditions here are expected to preserve the Soviet-era mine, rather than consume it. Check it out in the video below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More like this