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Travel Namibia 37

Kolmanskop 38 Travel Namibia N ever- mind X- Factor, Pop- Idol, or any other reality TV talent show you care to mention, I just want to know how on earth I ended up alone on stage with this large auditorium before me and my heart thumping loudly in my ears. What am I going to sing? All I can see is Steve's face grinning encouragingly. At least I think that's what his expression is trying to communicate - he seems so far away. I rack my brains for song titles, but nerves have numbed my memory. The silence is totally embarrassing and endless. Oh well, here goes. I belt out my best impression of an operatic diva together with fl amboyant hand gestures for dramatic effect. What does it matter if I'm not pitch perfect? We're in the desert, surrounded by sand dunes, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. You couldn't fi nd a more weird or remote setting for a grand music hall if you tried. Thankfully there's hardly anyone here, apart from our guide, and he's the one who got me this ' gig' in the fi rst place. " Thanks Ann. That will do. As we have just demonstrated the acoustics of the place are quite remarkable. In a moment or two we'll be moving on to the skittle- alley." We're visiting Kolmanskop, the windswept, eerie, diamond mining ghost-town about 10km inland from Luderitz. It was home to 400 or so Germans at its peak in the mid 1920s and together they lived a remarkable champagne lifestyle. They had an ice- factory, ballroom, gambling salon, bakery, butchery, general store, school, hospital, and southern Africa's very fi rst X- ray machine. Now all that's left is what sounds like their own ghostly singing echoing in the winds that batter the skeletal walls of their once beautiful, now long- abandoned, castles in the sand. Despite the sad story, or perhaps because of it, the place is a real sweet- shop for anyone with an interest in photography. The play of light and shadows as the sun moves round the remains of the buildings is loaded with atmosphere. You can fi nd potential images wherever you look as the encroaching dunes slowly swallow up the derelict homes and broken dreams of this once cultured and thriving society. A cast- iron DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER? In 1908 a railwayman named Zacharias Lewala found a glittering diamond in the sand near Kolmanskop. His discovery sparked a frenetic diamond rush in the area. Lines of men were said to have been seen crawling through the desert by the light of the full moon, sifting the sand for diamonds. It wasn't long before Kolmanskop had all the amenities of a European town slap bang in the sand dunes. Fresh water was imported from Cape Town and cheeses from France. At the height of the town's wealth in the mid- 1920s it's claimed that a special squad of people was employed just to clear the town's streets of sand every day. Over 1000 kg of diamonds were extracted before World War I, but within a span of 40 years Kolmanskop fl ourished, foundered and died. By 1928 more valuable diamond deposits had been discovered further south and production shifted to Oranjemund. The last residents of Kolmanskop left in 1956 when the hospital fi nally closed. In 1980 a number of buildings were restored. Following the opening of the ' Diamond Room' it's now possible to purchase single- cut, under- one- carat diamonds during a visit to the town. roll- top bath sits half buried in sand, pale scraps of hand- stencilled wallpaper blow feverishly in the wind, once- elegant drawing rooms fi ll with sand like giant egg- timers. There's plenty of potential for good pictures if you simply book onto one of the twice- daily guided tours of the former mining town, but for the best results, and perhaps more importantly the best light, it's a good idea to get a photographer's permit which allows you access to the site from sunrise to sunset. It's a bit more expensive but worth it, if only to experience the place when nobody else is around. The permit allows you to join one of the guided tours too - hence the ' singing audition' in the auditorium earlier. We fi nd it's best to get photographs here at fi rst light. The golden glow is very warming and really punches up colour. As the sun gets higher colours tend to bleach out and shadows become very harsh. You can get round this by using a circular polarising fi lter. It works best when used at right angles to the sun so you might need ABOVE: Try composing photographs through old windows LEFT: experiment with abstract pictures STEVE AND ANN TOON