Swakopmund – Namibia’s most popular holiday destination
Swakopmund (German for “mouth of the Swakop”) is a town on the coast of Western Namibia, 352 km west of the Namibian capital Windhoek on the federal road B2. It is the capital of the Erongo County. The city has 44,725 inhabitants and covers 196 square kilometers of land. The city is located in the Namib Desert and is the fourth largest population center in Namibia.
Swakopmund is a seaside resort and an example of German colonial architecture. It was founded in 1892 as the main port for German South West Africa and a small part of the population is still German-speaking.
The city’s buildings include the Old Prison, designed by Heinrich Bause in 1909. The Woermann House, built in 1906 with a striking tower (Damara Tower), is now a public library. Attractions in Swakopmund include a Swakopmund Museum, the National Marine Aquarium, a crystal gallery and spectacular sand dunes near Langstrand south of the Swakop River. Outside the city, the Rossmund Desert Golf Course is one of only five purebred desert golf courses in the world. Swakopmund is located on the B2 and the Trans-Namib Railway from Windhoek to Walvis Bay. It is served by Swakopmund Airport and Swakopmund Railway Station.
The Herero named the place Otjozondjii. The city’s name is derived from the Nama word Tsoakhaub (“excrement opening”), which describes the Swakop River, in which objects in its riverbed, including dead animals, are introduced into the Atlantic. However, Professor Peter Raper, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of the Free State, points out that the name for Swakopmund is based on the San language, in particular on xwaka (rhino) and ob (river). The German settlers changed it to Swachaub, and when the district was officially proclaimed in 1896, the Swakopmund version (German: Swakopmund) was introduced.
Captain Curt von François founded Swakopmund in 1892 as the main port of the imperial German colony – the deep-sea port in Walvis Bay belonged to the British. The founding date was August 8, when the crew of the gunboat Hyena built two beacons on the bank. Swakopmund was chosen because of the availability of fresh water and because other locations further north such as Cape Cross were found unsuitable. However, the site did not provide natural protection for offshore ships, a geographical feature that is rarely found on the Namibian coast.
When the first 120 protection soldiers and 40 settlers were dumped in Swakopmund, they had to dig caves in the sand to seek protection. The unloading was carried out by Kru tribesmen from Liberia who used special boats. The Woermann-Linie, the operator of the shipping route to Germany, employed 600 cruisers at that time.
Swakopmund quickly became the most important import and export port for the entire area and was one of six cities that achieved city status in 1909. Many government offices for German Southwest Africa had offices in Swakopmund. During the Herero Wars, a concentration camp for Herero people was operated in the city. Inmates were forced to slave labor; approximately 2,000 Herero died.
The port created by the breakwater was soon silted up, and work on a wooden footbridge began in 1905, which was insufficient in the long run. In 1914, the construction of a steel walkway began, the remains of which can still be seen today. After the First World War it became a pedestrian path. It was declared structurally unclean and closed to the public for seven years. In 2006, renovation work was completed on the part supported by concrete pillars, and a fish restaurant and sushi bar were soon added to the end of the steel part of the footbridge. A new wooden walkway was also added to the existing steel structure, and the steel part of the walkway was released to the public again in late 2010.
Trading and shipping companies set up branches in Swakopmund. Some of these buildings still exist today. After the German Southwest Africa was taken over by the Union of South Africa in 1915, all port activities were moved from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay. Many central government services have been discontinued. The shops were closed, the population declined and the city lost wealth. However, the natural potential of Swakopmund as a holiday resort was recognized and developed further as a result. Today tourist services are an important part of the city’s economy.
After Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990, many street names were changed from their original German or, in some cases, Afrikaans names to honor the Namibians, mostly Namibians with a black heritage. For example, the then President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, renamed the main street (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Straße) in 2001 to Sam Nujoma Avenue in honor of himself.