The Namib Desert stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to deep inside Namibia. Neither Angola to the north nor South Africa knows of such extremes. I should though, for I have been deep into this harshest of desert places where nothing grows, and only scorpions scuttled into my sleeping bag at night. No wonder early German settlers chose cooler spots like Luderitz, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund Namibia to settle. For there at least the ocean fog rolls in at night permitting a quieter sleep.
Swakopmund Namibia: A Touch of Germany in Africa
In 1892, the Imperial German Government chose Swakopmund as its deep-sea port, because the British controlled Walvis Bay with its deep lagoon and abundant supply of fresh water, and they were not talking to them. It was so hot when the garrison arrived that they dug caves in the sand dunes. In short time civil servants and merchants followed, although trade was intermittent because the original wooden jetty proved inadequate. Many of their early buildings are now small, colourful hotels,
The isolated community set about erecting buildings that reminded them of their native Germany, and indeed one might think that one was in Bavaria were it not for the desert or the ocean at the end of every street in their teutonic grid. I was always a short walk away from forbidding sandy wastes, although I must admit a cold beer and eisbein with pumpernickel rye bread at a boutique restaurant distracted me from the thought of it.
By 1896 the settlement was ready to deliver imported goods to Windhoek some 350 kilometres (200 miles) away. The climate was too hot for oxen. and pack horses had to carry so much water there was little room for cargo. The merchants imported a steam transaction engine in tiny pieces, and assembled it after much debate regarding how it functioned.
Namib Desert: The World’s Oldest, Purest Desert
The machine travelled a scant 10 kilometres (6 miles) before the harsh environment caused the mechanism to seize up, When I first saw it more than 40 years ago it was half buried in shifting sands in the Namib Desert – although I could make out the sign bearing Martin Luther’s famous words, ‘Here I stand, may God help me. I cannot otherwise’. I am pleased I ran my hands over the resting hulk back then. Today it stands in splendid isolation in a glass box in the world’s oldest and purest desert.