Windhoek, a touch of Germany in Africa

My friend Laurel, author of the lovely Monkeys and Mountains, is presently exploring Namibia. I was reminded of my visit in this country in the south-western corner of Africa and inspired to dig out the photo albums.

Windhoek

Travellers flock to Namibia to get up close with wildlife, to see Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast, Fish River Canyon, the sand dunes at Sossusvlei, the Caprivi Strip and Swakopmund. Most barely stop – in fact, many aren’t even anywhere near – the country’s capital Windhoek. (Laurel is doing both – here is her article on the Namibian capital.)

It’s the other way around for me: I’ve only been in Windhoek. Not because I have anything against nature’s wonderful work of art in this country – all the aforementioned are on my wish list. I simply didn’t have time.

I only had a few days at the end of a deliciously busy roam around in South Africa and wanted to spend them in a city. Preferably a new one. There’s something wonderfully exhilarating about cities – relaxing and invigorating at the same time.

Now, not all cities are exciting. At least, it wasn’t to my younger self (regrettable case in point: Gaborone). And as cities go, with around 300 000 inhabitants, Windhoek isn’t exactly a metropolis. Nevertheless, it was an easy and lively place to spend a few days.

I was there when Namibia had just become independent from South Africa, after 22 years of brutal warfare. The country was no longer called South-West Africa and the Namibian dollar was scheduled to replace the rand later that year.

Strolling past a travel agency in Cape Town one day, I saw a poster of Windhoek and impulsively bought a ticket. A few hours later, I boarded an Air Namibia flight which stopped in Windhoek en route to Luanda. Somewhat ironically, by the time I landed, I knew much more about Luanda than I did about Windhoek. You see, I happened to sit next to a lovely Angolana couple, and back then, people still had conversations on planes. These days, we’re all absorbed with our gadgets, aren’t we… increasingly anti-social. In real life, at least.

A touch of Germany in Windhoek

Windhoek

One of the first things I noticed about Windhoek was its Germanness.

Wait, Germanness? In Africa? (And yes, according to Wiki, Germanness is a word.)

Why, yes. Nambia, you see, was once a German colony. Now, we’ve all heard of the British and French in Africa. We know of the troubled former Portuguese colonies where war raged for decades until fairly recently. And we might even be familiar with King Leopold of Belgium, who used Congo as his own personal ‘slice of magnificent African cake’. But Germany? Not exactly a well-known colonial power.

It was all politics, of course. Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the German Empire, wanted to avert British intrusion in the area, and so the country we now know as Namibia became German South-West Africa in 1884. It didn’t last long. In 1915, during World War I, South African forces defeated the Germans and South-West Africa became an unofficial part of South Africa.

78 years later, I thought I had been transported to Bavaria. Windhoek simply felt like Germany with an African flair. Consider these factors:

Religion

The Lutheran church was – and still is – the major religion. Here is Christuskirche, Christ Church, in the middle of the city. Lutheran, of course.

Christuskirche, Windhoek

German memorial

Reiterdenkmal and Südwester Reiter, the Equestrian Monument and the Rider of the South-West, is a memorial to the dead on the German side during the Herero War, a local uprising against colonial rule in the early 1900s. A monument honouring dead German soldiers – and not a mention of the dead Herero and Damara people, who died in far, far larger numbers. What’s more, Hitler used this monument in books and films, as propaganda for German rule in Africa.

Reiterdenkmal, Windhoek

You’d think that come independence, the monument would soon fall, like so many Lenin statues around the world. Not so. Reiterdenkmal has had a kind fate. When I was in Windhoek, the monument was still in its original location, near Christ Church. Three years ago (in 2010), it was moved and re-erected in front of the old fortress… which still bears the name Alte Feste.

Lodgings

There weren’t any bed and breakfasts in Windhoek, but rather pensione. I spent one night at Pension Cela, where I was given semmeln, sausages, cheese, fish, boiled eggs – in short all the makings of a German breakfast – by a lady which brought me right back to my host mother during a youthful summer at language school in Bregenz. The next night, I stayed at Pension Steiner, because of this lovely pool:

Pension Steiner, Windhoek

Language

Most curious of all, people still spoke German, including these ladies in traditional attire. Which, by the way, is inspired by the dress of German colonialists from the Victorian era, hats, petticoats and all.

Windhoek

Have you been in Namibia? Or are you curious about it?

11 Responses to “Windhoek, a touch of Germany in Africa”

  1. Mette 1 September 2013 1324 #

    Perfect case of travel serendipity – But it spite of the surprising German influence I don’t think I would want to miss out on a trip through one of the most desert-like yellow deserts.
    Mette recently posted..Must see places on the Amalfi coast

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 September 2013 1225 #

      I want to see much more of Namibia. Fascinating country.

  2. Salika Jay 2 September 2013 0915 #

    You’ve traveled during an interesting time in Namibian history. It’s interesting how to read about how the actions in the past has reshaped entire countries.
    Salika Jay recently posted..10 Must-See Famous Landmarks Around The World

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 September 2013 1230 #

      Seems there’s no getting away from the past…

  3. Sand In My Suitcase 2 September 2013 1953 #

    It must be so strange to be transported to Germany in Namibia. Not what one would expect!
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..There’s only one One & Only Palmilla

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 September 2013 1232 #

      I was surprised – and a little charmed – by the German influence. But then I do like the unexpected…

  4. Andrea 3 September 2013 2256 #

    I’m so curious about all of Africa! Really hope we make it there someday
    Andrea recently posted..…But Maine Lobster Is Amazing Too

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 September 2013 1233 #

      Hope you do, too. It’s an intriguing continent, all round.

  5. Sherry 3 September 2013 2316 #

    I am not surprised to see this, but yet still very amazed by the German influence around the world. It seems like where ever the Germans lay ground, they always manage to make it stick. I’ve seen German towns all over the world, and most especially in the USA. How great it is to see it in Africa, too. It is such a great culture and the fact that they influence the world this way shows how much it is loved.
    Sherry recently posted..Roses, in the Rose City

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 September 2013 1234 #

      I’ve heard about German towns in the USA, but never visited one. I hear German influence is strong in Wisconsin.

  6. Windhoek-Reise 24 September 2013 1321 #

    Of course Windhoek is built by Germans and as one of the old coloniey Namibia (“Deutsch-Süd-West”) has still some german influence. Maybe Windhoek is a small capital in a land with a smaller number of people. So the city has not very much changed the last decade (of course there are some modern buildings). It seems that time is running slowly in Windhoek/Namibia …

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