Kolmannskuppe – The Ghost Town of Namib Desert

KolmanskopCenter

The abandoned ‘ghost town’ of Kolmannskuppe was the site of a diamond mine in the Namib desert that was in operation during the first half of the twentieth century. It is located in southern Namibia, ten kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz.

kolmanskop map A

Now a tourist destination operated jointly by De Beers and the Namibian government, Kolmannskuppe is the location of my latest sim, which opens today. The landmark is here.

kolmanskop from above

The name Kolmannskuppe (aka Kolmanskuppe, Kolmanskop & Kolmanskoppe) originated from an ox wagon driver named Johnny Kolman who transported goods from Keetmanshoop to Luderitzbucht in the Namib Desert. He would often make camp in the vicinity of a low-lying gneiss kopje (Kuppe) or hillock, until in 1905 he was caught in a fierce sandstorm, and his oxen vanished. He was fortunately rescued but the wagon remained abandoned for years. From that time the kopje was known as Kolmannskuppe.

kolmanskp old 1

In April 1908, Zacharias Lewala, a worker on the railway line between Lüderitz and Aus in what is now southern Namibia, picked up a shiny stone and showed it to his supervisor, August Stauch …

Recognising the stone immediately, Stauch secured a prospecting license, and within months the diamond rush was on. Kolmannskuppe subsequently became a major site of diamond extraction, producing more than 1,000 kilograms (or five million karats) of diamonds before the First World War.

Within a decade or so of Lewala’s discovery, Kolmannskuppe was home to 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 native Owambo contract workers. The town was built in a typical German architectural style, and boasted first-class amenities including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, bowling alley, theatre, gym, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa. Kolmannskuppe also had a railway link to Lüderitz.

Kolmannskuppe went into decline after World War II when the diamond-field started to deplete, but its demise had already begun with the discovery – in 1928 – of the richest diamond-bearing deposits ever known, 270 km south of Kolmannskuppe. Many of the town’s inhabitants had headed south, leaving their homes and possessions behind. Kolmannskuppe was eventually abandoned in 1956.

Kolmannskuppe survives today as a much-photographed tourist destination. What makes it extraordinary – and highly photogenic – is the way the desert has ‘swallowed’ many of the buildings, so that visitors walk through houses knee-deep in sand.

Kolmannskuppe has been used as the backdrop for a number of artistic endeavours. For example, it was the subject of the stunning series of photographs by Neil Krug that were used in the album art for Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush, released in February 2020 …

the slow rush

Kolmannskuppe also featured in a number of movies, such as The Mantis Project (1985), Dust Devil (1993), and The King Is Alive (2000). Will Healey composed an orchestral piece inspired by the town …

In addition, there are countless videos and blogs, made mainly by tourists, that give a very detailed impression of the stark and haunting buildings that can be found in this desert ghost town …

While Kolmannskuppe’s empty buildings look and feel as if they have been overwhelmed by the harsh and unyielding geology of the desert, elsewhere in the town there is a definite tourist vibe. The buildings are presented in a more ordered state, cleaned up and prepared in readiness for the daily guided tours. Even those bath tubs that you see littered everywhere seem a little bit contrived, exactly the kind of contrivance one might expect to find in a Second Life sim! So in case you think I made them up, here are some of those baths for real …

Kolmannskuppe, then, is a decidedly corporate ‘ghost town’. In light of this, it is hardly surprising that there is a colonial history here which gets underplayed – in so far as it is acknowledged at all – in the official marketing, and passes by almost unnoticed in blogs about Kolmannskuppe by tourists. To take one of the most glaring examples, next to nothing is known about Zacharias Lewala, who went unrewarded for his initial find and enjoyed no share of the wealth subsequently generated because of it. By contrast, August Stauch went on to become a very wealthy diamond miner. As Zora del Buono remarks in an article in the German news magazine der Spiegel

Lewala’s name entered history but not much more, the man had nothing of his find, no one paid him for it or showed any kind of gratitude, others made the big business and they made it quick.

Namibia itself was once part of the German Empire; the colony to which it belonged was known as German South West Africa. Between 1904 and 1908, this empire perpetrated a genocide against the Herero and Nama people. German rule ended in 1915 with a defeat by South African forces. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations mandated administration of the colony to South Africa. In the later 20th century, uprisings and demands for political representation by native African political activists seeking independence resulted in the UN assuming direct responsibility over the territory in 1966, but South Africa maintained de facto rule. Namibia did not obtain full independence from South Africa until 1990.

In terms of sim design, the tourist elements of Kolmannskuppe were just as challenging and fun to do as the structures covered in sand, if not more so. I especially enjoyed putting together the small gift shop, with custom-made postcards, posters, and tee shirts for sale, as well as the museum area on the floor above – both can be found in the main ‘Kasino’ building.

Abandoned buildings and houses in Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the Namib desert in southern Namibia

There are a few ‘signature’ buildings at Kolmannskuppe, and as usual, I tried to capture and recreate at last some of them, starting with that magnificent Kasino pictured above. This was both the largest building in Kolmannskuppe, and the last to be built – it was completed in 1927. It was the entertainment hub of the town, housing a bowling alley, gym and theatre. As far as I can tell from pictures, the gym and theatre were in the same room, which I have placed on the lowest of three floors …

On the floor above you will find a cafe and gift shop, together with the German-style, nine-pin bowling alley, which in real life looks like this …

On the top floor, I have placed the museum, together with a slide show of photographs taken at the real Kolmannskuppe.

Directly opposite the Kasino, you will find the teacher’s house, for which I have utilised the prefab brilliantly created by Marie Lauridsen (aka Milk Motion). This building has those richly coloured walls one finds in so many photographs of the real Kolmannskuppe.

There is another building I wanted to recreate, whose original function I am unsure about. It’s this one ..

Kolmanskop_Abandoned_Buildings

As with my last two sims, I asked Harry Cover to help out with this – and, once again, he did a great job. I designated Harry’s building the ice factory – Eisfabrik. Here the ice was made that the town’s inhabitants used in their fridges. Such a building definitely existed in the old Kolmannskuppe, and you can see its remains today – although not in this exact building. Here are some photographs from inside …

… and a description of the function of the ice factory given by a former resident

We did not have refrigerators but cooler chests. I remember the ice man doing his rounds delivering ice blocks to the homes from the ice factory. He then put the ice blocks into the cooler chests at every home.

Elsewhere on the sim, I have reproduced the main entrance with its distinct curved walls (and ‘Kolmanskuppe’ spelled with just one ‘n’, a variant I have retained on the tour bus parked next to the Kasino)  …

entrance

… a distinctive large concrete water storage tank (and the smaller tanks, right next to it) …

… as well as the old hospital, as pictured here …

There are various other houses, looking much as they do in the real Kolmannskuppe – empty, derelict, and overrun by sand. The two largest houses, situated on either side of the teacher’s house, have a definite ‘colonial’ style.

Somewhat bizarrely, there was a swimming pool in Kolmannskuppe, which I have installed at the sim. This was situated a little distance away on the hill above the town, and I have moved it closer to the remaining buildings. In essence, the pool just consisted of a large and rather deep area surrounded by thick concrete walls …

How was the pool filled with water? The answer, quoted below from a former resident of the town, is something one would hardly have guessed ….

We had a seawater swimming pool. The water was pumped all the way from Elizabeth bay. It was just a square dam of even depth of two meters. Across this pool we had ropes strung where people could hold on to. The overflow water was used on the plant and for cleaning purposes. There were bathing huts around the pool, birthday parties were held there, and on Sundays, weather permitting, the band played and we all had a jolly time. Although the swimming pool was soon half filled with sand after closure of the town, you could still see the beautiful Italian Terrazzo tiles.

Water was inevitably a major concern for townspeople, and it further explains one other odd feature of Kolmannskuppe, namely its tram.

Kolmanskop-Train

I had seen pictures of this tram, and managed to recreate it on the sim in a collaborative effort with Harry Cover, who helped with the tram’s seats and brakes. Those barrel-like things at the back were for carrying water, and this was the tram’s main function – to transport water from one end of the town to the other. Harry also helped out by meshing the quirky little diamond retrieval machine that sits next to the Kasino building …

diamond retireval

Kolmannskuppe is a desert sim, presenting some challenges in terms of ‘nature’ that I had not tackled before. Besides some rather beautiful desert trees, plants, and cacti, you will find snakes and scorpions, and some animals quite rarely seen on the grid, such as Bighorn sheep, Gemsbock (aka Oryx), Sable Antelope, Wildebeest and Hyenas. Regarding the latter, there is a warning sign right outside the real Kolmanskop (a copy of which I have reproduced at the sim) warning visitors about the threat.

kolman hyena sign

Likewise, you’ll find signs warning tourists to close the doors of houses to prevent snakes from entering, as well as warnings about potential building collapse – and once again, I have replicated these on the sim. As for birds, look out for ravens, vultures, kestrels, osprey, a sandpiper, a great horned owl, and an eagle soaring above.

Like many of you I am now in quarantine, and putting this sim together has been a welcome distraction. As always, I hope that those who visit the sim enjoy what they see, post pictures in the Flickr group, sign the guestbook, and help out with donations.

More than anything, I wish you all good health and serenity. 🙏