March 1, 2024 | Jamie Hayes

Eerie Photos Of The World’s Most Bizarre Ghost Town


The Sands Of Time

Rising out of the sands of the Namib Desert is an eerie remnant of another time. The town of Kolmanskop was once a bustling, prosperous German settlement. Now it's slowly being swallowed by sand. What happened?

Gt2

Rocks In The Desert

In 1908, a Namibian worker named Zacharias Lewala found some large, interesting stones while working at a railway station. He had a feeling they might be diamonds, so he showed them to his supervisor.

Kolmanskop ghost mining town, Namibia - 2014jbdodane, Flickr

Ancient Dunes

The Namib Desert is the oldest on Earth, having remained arid and barren for over 50 million years. It was still largely unexplored by the time Lewala found those stones—but that was about to change.

Kolmanskop, Namibia - 2018Johan Jönsson (Julle), CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Diamond's Are A Town's Best Friend

Lewala's hunch was right. His supervisor, a German named August Stauch, confirmed his suspicion. There were diamonds in these hills. The rush was on.

Diamonds from South Africa - 2020James St. John, Flickr

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Time To Get Rich

Stauch reported on the find, and soon German settlers swarmed the area. The German Empire declared the area around the mines a "Forbidden Zone," barring anyone but miners from entering, and set about exploiting the region as much as they could. And it all centered on the small town of Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop Ghost Town Buildings Abandoned - 2016SkyPixels, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

For The Good Of The Company

By Februrary of 1909, Kolmanskop had a central diamond market, entirely controlled by a single German company—and it proved to be incredibly productive.

Diamonds from Zaire - 2015James St. John, Flickr

Churn Em Out

In 1909, Kolmanskop produced half a million carats of diamonds. Within five years, that number was up to 1.5 million annually. That's a lot of dough—and Kolmanskop quickly transformed into a paradise in the desert.

Kolmanskop in Lüderitz, Namibia - 2010mallix, Flickr

Like The Old Country

The German settlers of Kolmanskop had more money than they knew what to do with and they were a long way from home, so they built up their town in the German architectural style that reminded them of home.

Old House in Kolmanskop, NamibiaElina Emeleeva, Pexels

Camel Cops

Kolmanskop opened a police station in 1909, but their officers had to deal with the town's...unique conditions. Instead of horses, they patrolled the area on camels.

Man on the Camel in desert.John Patrick, Flickr

Modern Comforts

With all the money coming in from the mines, Kolmanskop became a remarkably modern town in the middle of the Namib. It had a hospital, school, ice factory, and even the first X-ray machine south of the equator.

But more importantly, the miners knew how to have fun.

Kolmanskop ghost mining town - 2014jbdodane, Flickr

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Let's Party 

What's life in the desert without a lemonade factory? A playground for the kids? A skittle-alley (picture bowling but slightly different)? The wealthy residents of Kolmanskop worked hard and played hard.

Bowling, Kolmanskop, Namibia - 2007Joachim Huber, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Night Out On The Town

Probably the jewel of Kolmanskop was the ballroom, which allegedly had "perfect acoustics" and featured operas, plays, and plain old fashioned parties.

Kolmanskop developed after the discovery of diamonds in the area - 2023only_point_five, Flickr

They Looked Down On The Town

The few two-story houses in Kolmanskop belonged to the mining managers, who would send workers out into the diamond fields with nothing but a jar and a spade. They expected those jars to be full of diamonds on their return.

Kolmanskop, an gost mining town in Namibia - 2006calips96, Flickr

The Work Was Hard

Though Kolmanskop had some nice amenities, the miners employed there didn't have much time to enjoy them. Workers pulled grueling, nine-hour shifts, six days a week, with only two days off a year: Christmas and Easter.

South Africa Gold Miners  circa - 1890-1923pingnews.com, Flickr

The Drink Was Good, The Food Was Not

Kolmanskop residents got to enjoy nice cool drinks like champagne and beer, but the food options were less than inspiring. Dry rations like beef, tinned fish, and dried forage were about all you could expect, especially in the early days.

Miners have lunch break in a mine.Unknown Author, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

You Could Have A Pet Ostrich

One resident of Kolmanskop owned a pet ostrich that could pull a sled. They even had the bird pull Santa's sleigh at Christmas!

Ostriches, Buellton, California - 2016Ken Lund, Flickr

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It Had Africa's First Tram

With its population of mostly German settlers and the vast wealth produced by the mines, Kolmanskop was on the cutting edge of industry in Africa. Notably, it featured the first public transit tram on the entire continent.

Kolmanskop Ghost Town - Namibia April - 2006Geof Wilson, Flickr

The Mines Had To Close

Kolmanskop has turned into a ghost town more than once. When WWI broke out, the mines closed down and the town ground to a halt. 

Once the fighting stopped, the diamonds started flowing again, and Kolmanskop soon reached its peak.

The since long abandoned small town Kolmanskop, near Lüderitz in Namibia - 2018Johan Jönsson (Julle), CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

It Was Incredibly Wealthy

By the 1920s, Kolmanskop was one of the richest towns in all of Africa—but as usual, that wealth was limited to a lucky few. The 300 German settlers became fabulously rich, while the Indigenous Oshiwambo workers got next to nothing. But it wasn't going to last forever.

Hospital of Kolmanskop near Lüderitz (Namibia) - 2017Olga Ernst, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Diamonds Started Running Out

As the years wore on, the workers started returning from the mines with fewer and fewer diamonds. The town started to decline—but it was soon going to get a lot worse.

Abandoned small town Kolmanskop, near Lüderitz in Namibia. - 2018Johan Jönsson (Julle), CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Final Nail In The Coffin

In 1928, the Germans found some of the richest diamond-bearing deposits ever found—and they were only 270km south of Kolmanskop.

Kolmanskop Namibia Ghost Town - 2016Xenia Ivanoff Erb, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

It Was Better In Every Way

These new diamond deposits weren't just bountiful—they were way more accessible than the ones near Kolmanskop. No brutal mining to endure, just diamonds deposited on terraces along the Orange River. Win win. 

Lose lose for Kolmanskop.

Abandoned small town Kolmanskop – now a tourist destination – outside Lüderitz in Namibia. - 2018Johan Jönsson (Julle), CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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The Settlers Headed South

Most of Kolmanskop's German settlers moved South, simply leaving their homes and most of their possessions behind. Some remained, but the writing was on the wall.

Abandoned Stairway in house in Kolmanskop - 2016Xenia Ivanoff Erb, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Mines Closed

Though the glory days were behind them, mining continued in Kolmonstop until 1950. A few stragglers clung on, but in 1956, the town was abandoned for good.

Buildings at Kolmannskuppe [Kolmanskop] ghost town. Lüderitz, Karas, Namibia - 2006LBM1948, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Desert Is Taking Over

Deserts are not static things, and without the settlers to keep Kolmanskop clear, the sand has slowly been retaking the town ever since.

Kolmanskop, Ice factory - 2017Olga Ernst, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Tourist Trap

Today, Kolmanskop is a popular tourist destination for photographers, who flock from all over the world to take pictures of the towns eerie, half-buried buildings.

Kolmanskop ghost mining town - School - 2014jbdodane, Flickr

It Keeps Popping Up

Kolmanskop has appeared many times in pop culture, from televisions series to feature films. Most famously it was featured on the cover of Tame Impala's 2020 album The Slow Rush.

Kolmanskop ghost mining town - Hospital - 2014jbdodane, Flickr

He Never Saw A Dime

For a few years, Kolmanskop was one of the wealthiest places in all of Africa. But in a cruel twist, the man whose discovery started it all got nothing from it. Zacharias Lewala was not paid, nor even rewarded in any way, for discovering that first diamond that gave birth to Kolmanskop.

I like to think he would look upon the image of Kolmanskop slowly being buried by sand and smile.

The sad and depressed man sit near the cliff.9Tiw, Shutterstock


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