The ghostly shore of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast
Intense mining saw boom lead to bust. Abandoned in the early 1950s, Kolmanskop is today a ghost town. Sand fills the houses, paint stripped from the walls, blowtorched by the wind. In one of the buildings down near the tramway I find the fragment of an old black and white photograph. It shows a young German couple in their Sunday best. They are straining to look serious, as people used to do when posing, the tramway sign ‘Kolmannskuppe’ behind them.
Twenty minutes’ drive from Kolmanskop, another neat little German town, Lüderitz, gives a hint of how life in the ghost town may once have been. It was constructed about the same time and with the same Teutonic attention to detail. There’s a sense that its glory days are long gone, replaced by faded grandeur and irresistible melancholy. Lüderitz was once gripped by diamond fever, too. The boom began in 1908 when a station master on the diminutive Aus to Lüderitz railway line spotted something glinting between the tracks. Quietly, he staked a claim, made a fortune and lost it, before dying penniless.
At the town’s Kegelbahn, the century-old skittles hall, the descendants of diamond miners and Voortrekkers bet over beers and hardwood balls on a Thursday night. Among them is Alexi, a Russian trawlerman who was washed up in Lüderitz years ago. Downing his beer in one, he orders another, then peers out at the street.
‘Perhaps I’m crazy to live here,’ he says all of a sudden. ‘It’s just as well if I am, because a little madness helps you to bear the silence of the Skeleton Coast.’
Tahir Shah is a writer and film-maker. He is a regular contributor to Lonely Planet Magazine.