Swakopmund is Namibia’s most ‘German’ city. The Wilhelminian buildings in the centre form a bizarre contrast to the backdrop of the Namib dune landscape in the hinterland and the rough South Atlantic in front of the city panorama.
Although the coastal waters were too shallow and no protected bay would have favoured a port construction, the German colonial administration had a landing site marked out here and in 1893, under adventurous conditions, 40 settlers and 120 members of the German protection corps rowed ashore through the surf. Already at the beginning of the 20th century the entire supply of German Southwest Africa was handled by Swakopmund. The 325 metre long landing stage made this easier, as did the narrow-gauge railway between Windhoek and Swakopmund, which went into operation in 1902.
After extensive renovation, the old railway station was turned into a luxury hotel with casino and is now one of the city’s landmarks. Other striking buildings in the city panorama are: The neo-baroque Hohenzollern Building, built between 1904 and 1906 as the Hohenzollern Hotel, whose façade is one of the most frequently photographed motifs in the city; the Woermann House, built in 1894 in the historicizing half-timbered style as the seat of the Damara and Namaqua trading company, whose striking Damara Tower served as a vantage point for incoming ships, as a water tower and as a flagpole; the Old District Court, originally planned as a school but then used as a court building because of the construction costs; the Princess Rupprecht House, which formerly served as a military hospital and hospital and now accommodates a nursing home and a hotel; the Cable Fair, once the accommodation of employees who laid an undersea communication cable from Europe to Cape Town on behalf of the Swakopmund trading company; and the former residence of a knight’s family, known as the Ritterburg.
The 21 metre high old lighthouse, whose red and white painting dominates the “skyline” of Swakopmund, dominates all these buildings. Below the lighthouse the Swakopmund Museum is worth a visit. It is privately operated and the largest of its kind in Namibia. Its exhibits include the original furnishings of the historic Swakopmund Adler-Apotheke (eagle pharmacy), artefacts of Namibia’s various ethnic groups, various dioramas of historical events, an ox cart from the Angola trekker era and finally an extensive collection of local insects.
The visit of the also private crystal gallery is highly interesting. Among the exhibits are the world’s largest crystals, weighing up to 14 tons, an extensive collection of minerals and semi-precious stones, as well as the Tiger’s Eye, which can only be found at two locations worldwide and is called Pietersit after its discoverer. A relatively new attraction is the aquarium on Strand Street, which opened in 1995. It shows the underwater world of the Namibian coast in several large basins, including stingrays and sharks, which are hand-fed daily at 3 pm by divers.
The name Sawakopmund goes back to a phonetic transformation of the Khoenkhoen term Tsaokhaub, which means ‘diarrhoea’ and was referred by the Khoi Khoi to the muddy black waters of the Swakop when it carries water after heavy rainfalls.