Namibia Road Trip – Days #8 and 9: Luderitz
Luderitz Harbor – note the Germanic weather vane
Luderitz surprised almost as much as Swakopmund did, but for converse reasons. Whereas Swakopmund surprised me with its dominant German culture, Luderitz surprised me for its lack thereof.
I mean just look at the name: Luderitz. Can you get any more German than that? A look at a street map and all the names were German. I even found a Goeringstrasse! (Although I learned after we’d departed that this street fortunately referred to a former Commissioner of Southwest Africa, and not the mad Chief of Hitler’s Air Forces.) Naming a street after the prominent Nazi was such an act of defiance I simply assumed that Ludertiz would absolutely totally overshadow Swakopmund with its Teutonic swagger.
The road to Luderitz was yet another strip of bulky black asphalt laid across a strip of lifeless white. To one side was the Namib Desert, to the other, the Restricted Diamond Area (“Sperrgebiet”). The only sign of life was the occasional ostrich or wild horse. The desert disappeared and the road then wound its way through a craggy, harsh terrain. The asphalt disappeared under skeins of sand slithering across the road. Strong gusts of wind beat at our truck. I could best compare the site to a harsh moon, or better yet, the lifeless planet LV-426 from my favorite flick. I know it sounds overly dramatic (or nerdy) to compare an African climate to a science fiction film, but I’m absolutely on the level when I say it was the spitting image, right down to the howling winds.
Rather than arriving at well manicured homes as in Swakopmund, we drove past a township situated on a barren hill. There were no municipal gardens, no orderly grid of streets. Unlike the Swakopmunders, the Luderitzers had never never been able to beat the grounds into a with the sense of order I’m sure they desired. Rough moon rock jutted out everywhere, reminding the locals just how tenuous a grip their civilization had there.
A not-so-Tuetonic Luderitz
Our accommodation was a German guest house. We navigated through sand streets (no paving here) and found the home ensconced behind high walls capped with cast iron fencing crowned with spikes. On all sides were “non-German” residents who didn’t bother with such extreme security measures (although they all had bars on their windows too).
Our host was a real, fifth generation Suedwester originally from Windhoek. He was a jovial chap and quite comfortable conversing in German (accent-free, of course), Afrikaans, or English. His wife greeted us in German; she spoke little English and no Afrikaans. (She was actually a German immigrant.) I couldn’t imagine how solitary her life was being unable to speak to anyone outside of their little enclave.
As if to underscore her solitude and helplessness, the neighbors across the street began to blast some awful Whitney Houston music from a parked car. I could see in her eyes the desire to whip out her Gesetzbuch and lob it across the street. But she had no power there. They had no power there.
Hard to believe that a steamship company once ran a regular route between Hamburg and Luderitz.
“Ja, it’s the end of the month,” she lamented, “and they tend to get very rowdy. You must be very careful if you plan on walking around tonight.”
Our expectations of an orderly and Germanic Luderitz were further shattered when we visited the supermarket the next day. Back in Swakopmund, their Super Spar was as big as any supermarket in the US; the sparkling aisles in could easily accommodate three carts side-by-side piloted by enormously posteriored housewives – without their sweatpants even brushing. Swakopmund even featured a bakery, deli counter, butcher, and snack bar.
The Spar in downtown Luderitz was tiny. Sickly fluorescent bulbs flickered above us as I pushed my creaky cart over bumpy and ripped linoleum. The narrow aisles were crowded with shoppers. Instead of a deli counter, they had only N$ 5 heads of lettuce still covered in dirt and wormy tomatoes. Men stood idle outside.
I did meet a few German Luderitzers the next day, but never on the street. They were all like my German hostess: waiting behind their walls and watching German television on the satellite. Waiting to hand over the rest of the city to the native sons.