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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Sand-Filled Room in a Ghost Town

Sand-Filled Room in a Ghost Town

Year: 2011, Month: April

Namibia > Luderitz > Kolmannskuppe

What happens to a town that is not needed any more? It gets abandoned, and once the people have moved out, then nature moves back in. There are a number of abandoned, so-called ghost towns on the planet, and one of the more famous ones, certainly in Africa, is the ghost town of Kolmannskuppe or Kolmanskop, some 14km south west of the coastal town of Luderitz.

Once a substantial diamond-mining town, Kolmannskuppe was named after an early Afrikaner trekker, Jani Kolman, whose ox-wagon became bogged in the sand here. Prosperous from diamond sales, it once boasted a casino, skittle alley, and theatre with fine acoustics. The large mining company 'Consolidated Diamond Mines' (CDM) had its headquarters here. Workshops, a bakery, and many fine houses were built, but with the slump in diamond sales after WW1 and the discovery of richer deposits at Oranjemund, further down the coast, its days were numbered, and by 1956, with the CDM long gone, its last inhabitants left, and the town was deserted to its fate.

The Barchan dunes are found all along the northern end of the Skelton Coast of Namibia. These are the so-called 'roaring dunes', which let out a haunting roar when air is pressed out from the interstices between the sand granules on the slipface. These most mobile of dunes continued their inexorable advance, and without men or machine to hinder them, they slowly began to take over the town of Kolmannskuppe. With windows smashed and broken, open doors left to bang slowly in the wind, the blowing sand began to invade the houses, and soon filled many of the downstairs rooms, as we see in this 'Photo of the Month'. The town might have completely disappeared, had the people of Luderitz not realised that here was a useful tourist attraction to help bolster the economy of the area. Some of the houses were repaired or stabilised, a visitor centre was built in the old theatre, and soon a stop at Kolmannskuppe was a must for all travellers to the area.

'Stabilised' is perhaps the best word to describe the attention given to Kolmannskuppe. Although the buildings are, for the most part, safe to visit, little has been done towards 'reconstruction' and thus the town and its houses are a fascinating and evocative place to visit. Houses have been left as they were when the occupants moved out, and there are often small household articles and other reminders of a bygone age to be seen. Scraps of wallpaper still cover the walls, paint is cracked and peeling in the dry desert air, and old electrical fittings blow idly in the breeze where wooden mountings have crumbled away. A bathtub sits incongruously in the desert - did someone intend to steal it but couldn't lift it? We will never know. The remains of the houses at Kolmannskuppe intrigue rather than satisfy, and pose as many questions as they answer. A tantalising view into the lives of the people who once lived here is offered, and for the photographer, the many colors, textures and framing of views, plus the unqiue quality of the desert light in this part of north-western Namibia makes this a location not to be missed.

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