Hemmed in by the wild Atlantic coast and the encroaching dunes of the Namib to the north and south, Lüderitz is undoubtedly Namibia’s most isolated, and for many years forgotten, major town. It’s also the country’s windiest settlement, with gusts regularly topping 40kph, especially during the summer months (Nov–Jan). Yet, on the mornings when the wind drops and the sun gleams on the pretty, brightly painted colonial buildings that decorate the town’s slopes, Lüderitz’s charm is clear to see, and its chequered history easy to forget. There’s enough to keep the visitor entertained for a few days: taking in the Art Nouveau (Jugundstil) architecture, making forays into the desert to the abandoned mining communities of Kolmanskop, Pomona or Bogenfels, exploring the lagoon-laden rocky peninsula to the south, or seeking out whales, flamingos or penguins on boat trips round the bay. The annual wind- and kitesurfing speed challenge (Oct–Nov) and five-day crayfish festival (May–June) are also major draws.

Brief history

What began life as a trading post buoyed by whaling, the seal trade and guano harvesting was first settled in 1883 when an intermediary acting on behalf of German merchant Adolf Lüderitz effectively swindled the land from Nama chief Frederick II of Bethanie, who seemingly signed away five times more terrain than he realised. Once official backing for the colony had been granted (including from the British) and the German flag had been hoisted – making Lüderitz the first town of German colonial South-West Africa – Adolf Lüderitz set about acquiring more land for the colony before vanishing – presumed drowned – on an expedition south in search of the mineral wealth he believed was needed to sustain the newly acquired empire. Despite this setback, the town began to expand as a major transit point and supply line for the Schutztruppen in the conflict with the Herero and the Nama; indeed slave labour from the infamous concentration camp on Shark Island enabled the development of the town’s infrastructure – the railroad, in particular – which in turn helped strengthen Germany’s colonial grip on the land.

The colony’s fortunes took a major step forward in 1908, with the discovery of diamonds, which kick-started an eight-year boom period, during which most of the town’s impressive colonial mansions were built. This was cut short by World War I but even after the conflict had ended, Lüderitz continued to struggle as diamond prices fell and richer pickings were found further south, initially at Pomona and Bogenfels, then eventually down at Oranjemund.

Today, after years of neglect and marginalization, the prospects for Lüderitz’s twenty thousand inhabitants are beginning to improve, with a reviving port, the establishment of a small waterfront, the redevelopment of the old power station and renovation of the railway line to Keetmanshoop.

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