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From Dust to Dust

A fitting monument to Germany's ill-fated colonial ambitions at the beginning of the 20th century, the former mining town of Kolmanskop, a few kilometres inland from the colonial-era trading post of Lüderitz, is being swallowed by the surrounding desert. Founded in 1908 inside the so-called Schutzgebiet Südwestafrika ('Southwest African Protectorate'), now Namibia, the town was once a booming mining settlement with its own power station, a train link to Lüderitz, a skittle alley, a school, theatre, sports hall, casino and ice factory. It also boasted the first X-ray station in the Southern Hemisphere and the first tram in Africa. As diamond finds started to decline and other sources of precious stones started to be discovered in other parts of the territory, Kolmanskop went into steep decline and was finally abandoned in 1956. It still remains within a Sperrgebiet ('restricted area') since smaller deposits of mineral resources are still being exploited. Ever since the last residents left the town, however, the Namib desert has been steadily encroaching on the streets, houses and other infrastructure of the once vibrant settlement built in they style of a small, provincial German town.

As doors and windows of the remaining houses have come off their hinges and been worn down by the baking sun and desert winds, the buildings of Kolmanskop have been inundated by a creeping flood of sand, filling rooms to the ceiling and slowly embedding what little remains of man-made structures back into the desert floor. Here and there, little reminders of human habitation, strangely out of place with their dainty German design and inscriptions, protrude out of a sea of dusty yellow. An old-fashioned bathtub lies rusting in a field, a simple light switch withers away in the breeze, the inscription Wartezimmer (waiting room) is barely legible on the door of the former surgery.

Slowly but surely, all traces of this colonial oddity, a little corner of the Kaiser's Reich on the other side of the globe from the Teutonic grandeur of Berlin, is being reclaimed by the forces of nature.
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