Kolmanskop, Namibia

An abandoned town in southern Africa is a reminder of a little-known period of German imperialism.

Rhys Griffiths | Published in 04 May 2016

For the past 60 years the south Namibian desert has been reclaiming a settlement built by early 20th-century German colonists seeking diamonds. Namibia became a German colony in 1884, forming part of German South-West Africa. From 1904 to 1907, following an uprising, the occupiers carried out what is considered the first genocide of the 20th century, driving members of the Herero and Namaqua tribes into the desert, where many died from dehydration. In 1908 diamonds were discovered during the construction of a railway at Kolmanskop, near the port town of Lüderitz, and the inevitable rush prompted the building of a new settlement. In 1912 the area produced 11.7 per cent of the world’s diamonds. At its height, the town of Kolmanskop was an enclave of Teutonic culture, with a pub, a hospital, a casino, a concert hall and, incredibly, an ice plant for producing lemonade. Water was transported 120km by train to nurture some of its 300 residents’ gardens. Kolmanskop’s decline began when the First World War interrupted mining operations. In 1928 more fertile diamond deposits were found 270km to the south and the inevitable rush saw the last family leave the town in 1956.