Germany in Africa

Swakopmund is an old German town at the mouth of the Swakop River.  It sits between the Atlantic and tall sand dunes that rise behind it from the Namib Desert.  It was the main port for German Southwest Africa.  It was not the first choice.  Thirty six kilometers south is Walvis Bay, Whale Bay, the best natural harbor on the Namibian coast.  But the British had grabbed it earlier although the Dutch were also interested.  So Germany had to settle for second best.   At Swakopmund they built a big steel pier out into the Atlantic so they could land supplies for their colony and its capital Windhoek.  They also built a railroad and a little German city.

During the First World War German troops from Swakopmund took Walvis Bay in 1914, but then South Africans aligned with Britain, re-took it a year later, along with the rest of the colony.  Although at the beginning it was not a sure thing that the South Africans would side with the “Mother Country.”  A decade earlier the Brits had won the bitter Boer War.   But soon after allowed South Africa home rule and dominion status as the “Union of South Africa” uniting the four South African colonies.  The Boer parties won at the ballot box what they lost in the war.  When the Prime Minister told his generals to prepare for war one of them asked “on which side?”

They choose the winning side and at the end of the war South Africa was awarded a League of Nations Mandate to govern Southwest Africa.   I was surprised to find a German war memorial in town “For the Keiser.”  Someone has spattered it with red paint so it looks like it’s blood stained.  I am not sure if that is part of the design but it does make it more dramatic.

The South Africans improved the port at Walvis Bay, extended the railhead to it, and put in infrastructure, like the major airport.   After the war there was no need for the big steel pier in Swakopmund so it fell into disrepair and part of it collapsed.  (The collapsed part closest to shore has been rebuilt and it is now a tourist attraction.)

Swakopmund became a resort town, with fine beaches and German themed tourism.  And that is what it is today, the smaller, (25,000 about half of Walvis Bay) but more attractive of the two cities.  The old German hospital is now a hotel, another German building near the lighthouse is the President’s retreat.  For a while people tore down old German buildings to put up more modern ones but then someone realized that the buildings were an asset so now they are protected.  New buildings try to mimic the old style.

We had a pleasant walk through town, the temperatures were in the 60s. out the pier and then enjoyed a pastry and coffee.  And we tried the local beer, a commemorative brew for independence.  We raised a toast to a German friend.  It’s well into autumn and it was a Saturday, the tourists are gone and the town closes down at noon, so we left around 12:30 for our adventures at Sandwich Harbor.


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