Photographing ghosts – a series in a deserted Namibian Town

Recently I had the privilege to spend an afternoon in one of Africa’s authentic ‘ghost towns’. It is the historical town of Kolmanskop (or as it was spelt under the Germans, Kolmanskuppe), near the harbour town of Luderitz in Namibia.

The town is named for Johnny Coleman (hence Coleman’s Hill, or Kolmanskop), a transport driver, who got stuck in a sandstorm opposite the site where the town is now, and abandoned his ox wagon there.

Once diamonds were discovered in the area, Kolmanskop became part of the restricted area (the Sperrgebiet, as proclaimed by the German government). The town became very affluent as miners settled there, until it began to decline after World War I. It was entirely abandoned after 1954, and the desert has started to reclaim the once-thriving town.


The town was built in the style of German architecture. Namibia was then a German colony, carrying the name of German South West Africa. Visitors van still see most of the intact buildings, including the homes of the architect, doctor, mayor and clergyman.


The hospital is one of the largest buildings in the town. One can roam through the hallways and rooms which once held both the living and the dying. Even now, totally abandoned, one is struck by how much these walls have seen. How many births did it witness, and how many tears as some left their loved ones behind?


It appears as though even a century ago, architects preferred their homes to be modern. The architect’s house is filled with deep red and green walls, casting a soft glow on the desert sand that has come to now inhabit these homes.


The town boasted modern amenities like a ballroom, theater, sport hall, school, casino and even an ice-factory. The first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere was found here, along with the first tram.



When walking through these sand filled ruins, it is hard to imagine it holding 1200 citizens, and some 700 families, as it did at its peak. Visitors are allowed only in the morning, and a special photographic permit is required to enter at other times. When I visited the town, it was just be,my husband and our son. The wind whispered through the window panes and lifted roofs, filling the atmosphere with voices. Antelope grazed through the town as the sun set.

To witness the circle of life from such an interesting angle, was truly magical. The desert gave diamonds, and as such the town was created. Now the desert is claiming back the town it once sustained.

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