Namibia’s largest ghost town, Kolmanskop, is situated in the Sperrgebiet about 10 km inland from Lüderitz. It was named after a transport driver called Johnny Coleman, who lived in the tiny settlement of Aus at the turn of the century. During a fierce sandstorm he was forced to abandon his ox wagon on the small incline from where Kolmanskop can be seen. It stood there for a while, giving rise to the name Colemanshuegel, which eventually became Kolmanskop.

In 1908 the railway worker Zacharias Lewala found a sparkling stone amongst the sand he was shovelling away from the railway line near Kolmanskop. August Stauch, his supervisor, was convinced he had found a diamond. When this was confirmed, the news spread like wildfire, sparking a frantic diamond rush and causing fortune hunters to converge in droves on Kolmanskop. It soon became a bustling little centre with a butchery, bakery, furniture factory, soda water and lemonade plant, four-skittle alley, a public playground and even a swimming pool.

The town’s development reached its pinnacle in the twenties, with approximately 300 German adults, 40 of their children and 800 Owambo contract workers living there. In spite of, or probably because of, the isolation and bleakness of the surrounding desert, Kolmanskop developed into a lively little haven of German culture, offering entertainment and recreation to suit the requirements of the affluent colonialists for whom large, elegant houses were built. The well-equipped hospital boasted Southern Africa’s first X-ray machine.

However, when richer diamond deposits were discovered further south, operations were moved to Oranjemund. Today the ghost town’s crumbling ruins bear little resemblance to its former glory. The stately homes, their grandeur now scoured and demolished by the wind, are gradually becoming enveloped by encroaching sand. In 1980 the mining company CDM (now Namdeb) restored a number of the buildings and established a museum.