Desert Sands Move Into Abandoned Diamond-Rush Boom Town

Day 73, Grand World Voyage

Friday, March 17, 2023; Luderitz, Namibia.

It must have been a wonderful life, living on the edge of the desert with more money than they knew what to do with. The German residents of Kolmanskop in what is now Namibia had a tram to take them to any location in the few square blocks of their town. Most of them lived in large, elegant houses.

The diamond-rush boom town had a modern hospital (with the first x-ray station in the Southern Hemisphere), a school, bowling alley, gymnasium, cinema and sports hall. Even in the early 20th century, they enjoyed electrical power. They had shops, a butchery, a bakery and an ice factory.

Just 40 years after reaching its peak of about 350 residents, the town of Kolmanskop died. Today it is a ghost town with sand dunes taking over the abandoned buildings. The only movement is that of tourists, following guides in small groups to hear about this most German of towns near the coast of Namibia.

Google satellite Image of Kolmanskop

My group boarded a 13-passenger van for the short drive to Kolmanskop from the port town of Luderitz. Our driver was simply that – a driver – so we didn’t learn much about the small town itself. Once we were dropped at the ghost town, he left only to return a couple of hours later to return us to the tender dock.

Kolmanskop’s history dates back to 1908, when a worker laying the railroad in what was then part of German South West Africa found a diamond in the sand. Diamonds normally are found deep in the earth, but the alluvial diamonds found here were deposited by running water. As they are heavier than sand, the winds exposed the diamonds on the surface. A diamond rush ensued.

The end came quickly, with the discovery of diamonds in larger quantities elsewhere in South Africa and the collapse of the diamond market just before World War II.

Our guide warned us that many of the building roofs are unstable and we assumed responsibility for ourselves. After taking us through a few of the buildings, she set us free to explore virtually anywhere we wanted. I drew a quick sketch of the schoolmaster’s house, which with its collapsed roof and elegant style is the most photographed building in town.

Once back in town I returned to Luderitz, running into Eloise and Elaine on the pier. They were taking an afternoon walking tour nearby. The town is a small outpost in the desert with a shallow harbor that mainly supports the fishing industry.

Tonight was an odd combination of St. Patrick’s Day with a dressy dress code. It’s not the first time the ship’s staff has stacked seemingly incongruous events. A few weeks ago, on one of the monthly formal nights, dinner was followed by a party with the crew on the Lido Deck. The objective was to enjoy a social evening with each other, but I found it awkward that many of the passengers were dressed in formal attire while the crew was wearing their jeans and t-shirts.

It seems to me that it would have been so easy to schedule the crew party on a casual night (all but 16 of the 128 evenings) or move a dressy night away from St. Patrick’s Day. If only they would hire me to help straighten these things out! Oh yeah, I’m retired….

I skipped the “dressy” attire I normally would have worn for a new kelly-green cotton dress I bought in New Zealand. The dining room was full of passengers who did the same thing. Who wants to change clothes again for the St. Pat’s party that was to follow? I did go back to the room to apply the metallic green false eyelashes I brought for the occasion. It isn’t always easy to find “costumes” that don’t add to the luggage.