Thursday, March 23, 2017

Easy come; easy go

Stanley - Thursday

It was 400 years after Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to set foot in what he called Angra Pequena (small bay) in 1487 that the first Europeans settled there.  The reason?  Good whaling, excellent fishing, and an abundance of guano from thousands of cormorants, penguins, and gannets.  In 1887, the village was renamed for sentimental reasons to Lüderitzbucht.  This is often shortened to Lüderitz.  (Click here for my Lüderitz blog.)

Lüderitz today - German influence is very strong.

Bank cormorant 
African penguin (formerly jackass penguin!)

Cape gannets

The area would probably remained a small trading town at the bottom of the then German Southwest Africa (now Namibia) at the southern end of the Namib desert had it not been for a railway worker, Zacharias Lewala.  As he was working on a railway line in 1908, he picked up a strange rock lying on the sand about 10 kilometres from Lüderitz.  His supervisor, August Stauch, a railway inspector, identified it as a diamond, and the rush was on.

Given that the area was under German control, most of the people who flooded to the area were German, and soon a mining village sprung up, called Kolmannskuppe.

This was no shanty town erected by poor miners.  No, because of the wealth generated by the diamonds, the local residents decided to build a German town in the middle of the desert.  Not only that, they built all the amenities a prosperous German town would have: a hospital (which had the first x-ray equipment in the southern hemisphere, a school, a power station, an ice factory, as well as the first tram in Africa.  For recreation, the town boasted a theatre, a sport hall, a casino, and a skittle alley.

All of this in the middle of the desert, all funded by diamonds.

The German Government soon declared a vast area of the countryside off limits - the Sperrgebiet, the Forbidden Area.  The size of this ended up being approximately 300 kms long and 100 kms wide (180 by 60 miles).

Two things happened to spoil the party.  The diamonds became increasingly scarce after the First World War.  Then the richest find find ever was discovered at the mouth of the Orange River, on the border with South Africa, where diamonds were just lying on the beaches waiting to be picked up.  Most of the inhabitants of Kolmannskuppe (or Kolmanskop as it is now known) just picked up and left, often abandoning homes and possessions in their haste to get to Oranjemund (Mouth of the Orange).

And Kolmannskuppe declined, and declined, and was eventually abandoned in 1956.  Since then, the desert has taken over, slowly invading the buildings, sandblasting the outsides when the wind howls, and creeping inside through every nook and cranny.

Kolmanskop today

Today, what came so easily and went so easily is undergoing somewhat of a resurrection.  Now it is a popular tourist attraction and the site of many movies and TV programs.  It will never regain its affluence of long ago, but it is one of the great ghost towns of the planet.


Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


April 28-26
Malice Domestic
Hyatt Regency
Bethesda,  Maryland
Panel: TheBritish Empire
(FYI- Sujata and I will be on the same panel!!!)

May 31
Janet Rudolph Literary Salon:
"The History of Hot Places: Clashes between Colonialism and Local Cultures”
Joint appearance with Michael Cooper

Jun 11
Books NJ
Sounds of the Paramus Library
Panel: How to Write (and Read) Mystery
Signing at the MWA-NY Booth

June 16-18
Deadly Ink Conference
Hilton Garden Inn
Rockaway, New Jersey


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, comes out June 6, 2017.
Just signed the contract for the next two Aimée Leduc investigations in Paris with Soho Press.


Paper back of Rat Run published 28th March.
Signed two-book contract with Severn House.


"The Olive Growers,” appears in BOUND BY MYSTERY, an anthology edited by Diane DiBiasi celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, out in March.


Dying to Live (Kubu #6) to be released in May in UK and in October in USA


  1. And a strange echo of today's Shetland Isles. When the oil came ashore, the Island council banked a percentage and invested the money. The interest was paid into six funds for health, education and culture etc. So the population of 23000 had a much higher standard to living than the rest of us. And that is now on the wane with the crash of 2008 and the subsequent drop in oil prices.
    Interesting blog.

  2. Your title is so apt, Stan. Did it all happen in just 48 years of.,.. Frenzy is the word that comes to mind. It seems unbelievable that it all came and went in such a flash.

  3. Whoops! Apologies for not putting the author updates in right away.

    Annamaria, it is a remarkably quick rise and fall.

  4. Hmm, seems the perfect town for holding a book would never be disappointed by over estimating the potential crowds. :)

  5. there's something utterly eerie about abandoned towns, with nature reclaiming what once was hers anyway. thanks for sharing this with us!