Namibia

Sand Houses: The Forbidden Zone

In April, 1908, Zacharias Lewala, a railroad worker in what is now southern Namibia, found the first diamond under the sand, which resulted in a diamond stampede.

Early documents record the amazing sight of lines of men crawling through the desert on their bellies under the light of the full moon, sifting sand for glimmering diamonds.

By September, the German colonial government declared a "forbidden zone", or Das Sperrgebiet, designed to give joint control over the entire region; to this day, the Sperrgebiet is still a forbidden area and harsh penalties ensue to those who enter without a special permit.

By 1920, the desert town Kolmanskop was a booming center of mining activity and home for 300 German expatriates and their families who came to seek their fortune.  A hospital, gymnasium, concert hall, casino, bowling alley, school, bakery and power station were all built in the desert.

Kolmanskop was one of the wealthiest communities in Africa.  Over 1,000 kilos of diamonds were extracted before World War I.  Houses were built with great interior aesthetic sensibility and color, presumably to offset the lonely existence in the middle of the inhospitable desert.

By 1928, large deposits were found elsewhere and the houses were left abandoned to the fierce winds and forever shifting sands.  Their remains, savaged by sand and time, are left behind with objects emerging or being buried by the daily winds.

Sperrgebiet challenges the visitor to ponder the temporality of human presence, both in terms of specific place and in relation to the immense power of the natural world and the inexorable reclamation of Nature.