The ghost town of Kolmanskop, some 15km inland from Luderitz, appears seemingly out of thin air. Grand old mansions being sucked into the sands of the Namib. The old railway track slowly sinking into the earth. Springboks living in the ruins of the old general store. With Namibia’s hot, dry climate, the ancient buildings stay well preserved. And though the desert has been swallowing them up for the past 50 years, it feels like a biblical cataclysm descended upon Kolmanskop just days ago, devouring it for its sins.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when diamonds were first discovered in the area, Kolmanskop sprouted out of the desert as if by an act of spontaneous creation. In its heyday, it was one of Africa’s wealthiest towns, full of intricate Germanic mansions, a recreation club, a railway station, a church, South West Africa’s best hospital and the first to be equipped with a scanner. The town supposedly had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world.
And then, in the 1950’s, the diamonds started to run out and the town was slowly abandoned and returned to the desert. Today, we can walk the streets and Kolmanskop and from the corner of our eyes, still make out the spectral outline of the grand boulevards of old and, perhaps even, catch a glimpse of the old town’s ghosts, those who never struck a diamond vein and who still linger, hoping that their luck will finally turn.