Windhoek walking tour
Situated in the central Khomas Region, Windhoek lies in a valley bounded to the south by the Auas Mountains, in the east by the Eros and Otjihavera mountains, and in the west by the rolling hills of the Khomas Hochland.
Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is a microcosm of Namibia's rich diversity of people. Stately Herero women with their Victorian dresses share the sidewalks with businessmen in suits and tourists dressed in safari outfits. The city is a mosaic of German colonial buildings, modern shopping centres and high-rise bildings - a colourful blend of yesterday and today.
Exploring Windhoek on foot
The clock tower at the upper end of Post Street Mall is a popular meeting spot and an ideal place to start a walking tour of the city centre. It's a replica of the clock tower that graced the Deutsche Afrika Bank in 1908. Following the surrender of the German administration during World War 1, the National Bank opened a branch here. Sadly, the building was demolished when new premises were built for Barclays Bank. Post street used to be a busy thoroughfare until the late 1980's when it was redeveloped into a mall. It's a good place to bargain for curios on weekdays and Saturday mornings. Most of the crafts aren't Namibian, but come from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
One of the largest Open air displays of meteorites in the world can be seen about 100m down Post Street Mall. The display includes 32 meteorites collected in the Gibeon area by the German Imperial Government's state geologist between 1911 and 1913. The meteorites consist of 90-95% iron, 8% nickel, as well as cobalt, phosphorous, carbon, sulphur, chrome, copper and various trace elements. The Hoba Meteorite by comparison contains 16% Nickel.
The Gibeon Meteorite Shower, one of the most extensiveof its kink in the world, occurred after a huge meteorite exploded. It has been suggested that the meteorites remained together as a group and struck the earth in the area of Brukkaros and Gibeon after a long journey through space.
In addition to the 37 meteorites colleced by state geologist Dr Paul Range for the Museum in Windhoek between 1911 and 1913, some 40 other meteorites have been collected. The largest known Gibeon meteorite, weighing 650kg, was donated to the South African Museum in Cape Town. Others can be seen in the British, Budapest and Prague Museums, as well as the Washington and New York natural history museums.
Retrace your footprints up Post Street Mall, cross Independence Avenue adn make your way to Zoo Park where you'll find lawns, shady trees, a bubbling stream and ponds. The park was established in the late 1800's / early 1900's and once featured marble water fountains, birdbaths and benches. But there's no evidence today of either the zoo or the aviaries that were here between 1916 and 1932. Kudu, gemsbok, red hartebeest, common duiker and even a leopard and wild dog were among the animals kept in the zoo.
Cafe Zoo on the park's northwestern corner is a reminder of the kisk-type tearoom built herer during WW2. New buildings erected in 1929 formed the focal point of receptions, concerts and functions. The building was demolished in 1966, but the planned erection of a new cafe failed to materialise until 2001. The Amphitheatre behind Cafe Zoo is used from time to time for live outdoor music performances.
A wonderstone sculpture takes you back some 5000 yeards to when this was a marshy area visited by herds of game. It marks the spot where Stone Age hunter gatherers lay in wait for game. During excavations in 1962 the bones of at least two elephants and the tools used to slaughter them were uncovered. They were preserved in situ until 1990 when they were transferred, partially disintegrated, to the State Museum. Internationally renowned Namibian sculptor Dorte Berner was commissioned to create the sculpture.
A plaque on the edge of the park provides an excellent view of the four historic business facades linin independence Avenue. Erkrath Building, the oldest of the three, was built in 1910. The ground floor was used as business premises, and the first floor as a residence.
The first Gathermann Building, in the centre, was built three years later for Heinrich Gathermann, then mayor of Klein Windhoek. Its unusually steep-pitched roof was a German technique to prevent snow from accumulating on the roof! Immediately to its left is the second Gathermann building completed in 1928. The Hotel Kronprinz, on the left, dates back to 1908 but was converted into business premises in 1920.
Also in Zoo Park is the Kriegerdenkmal (Soldiers Memorial). This is an obelisk shaped memorial crowned by a golden eagle and it was unveiled in 1897 to honour the Schutztruppe who were killed in the 1893-94 war against the renowned Nama Chief Hendrik Witbooi.
Leaving the gate at the southern end of Zoo Park you find yourself opposite the Street market in Fidel Castro Street where many handicrafts are sold. There is also a small Windhoek Information and Publicity office here.
Ludwig von Estorff House was built as a canteen for military artisans in 1891. Later it became the residence of Schutztruppe commander Ludwig von Estorff, who lived here until 1910. After that it served as a residence for senior military officers, a hostel, a trade school and the National Library of Namibia. When the National Library moved to new premises in Robert Mugabe Avenue, the Namibian German Foundation for Cultural Cooperation (NaDS) leased it for 25 years for the establishment of the Goethe Centre. The building has been renovated and is shared with the British Council.
The Hauptkasse dates back to 1899 and formed part of the core of early Windhoek. Built to house the finance department of the German colonial government it was also used as officers quarters, a school hostel and government offices.
Windhoek's most prominent landmark, the Christus Kirche, was built for the Evengelical Lutheran Church as a symbol of gratitude for peace after the end of the various wars against the indigenous people. Gottlieb Redecker's imposing design was based on a basilica with neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau elements. The cornerstone was laid in 1907 and local sandstone was used as building material.
Kaiser Wilhelm II donated the beautiful stained glass altar windows, and the altar Bible was a gift from his wife. The brass bells were manufactured in Apolda by the same firm that cast the bells of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Swakopmund. The church was consecrated in 1910 and has been a popular choice for weddings for many years.
The Kaiserliche Realschule was the first German secondary school in Windhoek. It opened its doors with three classrooms for 74 pupils in 1909. Additional classrooms were added a few years later. The building also served as an English and German primary school, and later as the offices of the Educational Ministry.
Gottlieb Redecker designed the imposing Officers' House on the corner of Sam Nujoma Drive and Robert Mugabe Avenue. It was built in 1906-7 as a residene for senior government officials. The decorative brickwork around the windows, arches and doorway is characteristic of the Putz architecture fashionable in Germany at the time, although the relatively steep roof with eaves wasn't in keeping with the typical style. It was restored in 1987 and now serves as the Bank of Namibia's training centre.
The foundation stone of Windhoek's oldest extant building, the Alte Feste fort, was laid in October 1890, soon after Captain Curt von Francois decided to relocate the headquarters of the Schutztruppe from Otjimbingwe to Windhoek. The western flank was demolished and rebuilt in 1901 and serveral alterations were also made.
The fort houses the historical section of the State Museum. Photographs and memorabilia of independence, as well as the country's national symbols are on permanent display, as are indigenous pottery, antique furniture and houshold implements. Temporary exhibitions are held from time to time.
The Reiter Denkmal, or Equestrian Statue, honours German officers and soldiers, marine officers and civilians killed in the wars fought by the Germans against the Nama and Herero between 1903 and 1907 and in the Kalahari Expedition of 1908. Adolf Kurle designed the larger than life statue of a mounted soldier. It was cast in Berlin and unveiled on Kaiser Wilhelm II's birthday in January 1912.
The Tintenpalast, or Ink Palace, dominates the skyline behind the Christus Kirche. Built as the headquarters of the German colonial administration, its name appropriately refers to the pen pushing that took place here. It was completed in 1913.
The National Assembly of the Transitional Government of National Unity met here from 1985 to February 1989, and the Constituent Assembly sat here when it drafted Namibia's Constitution. The building has been the seat of the National Assembly since independence.
Denburg House was built for high ranking government officials and accommodated German Secretary of State Dr Bernard Dernburg when he visited in 1908. The house was used as offices for the Governor after Dernburg left. As you walk down Park Street, State House is on your right. It was built on the site of the German Colonial Governor's residence, which was demolished in 1958 to make way for South Africa's representative in Namibia. The retaining garden wall in Luderitz Street is the only reminder of the original building. It has served as the President's official residence since independence, but is to be replaced by rather controversial presidential village being built at a cost of more than N$500 million on the hills above Windhoek's Olympia suburb.
The old German Lutheran Church dates back to 1896 and is one of Windhoek's earliest buildings. Built for the German Evangelical Lutheran Chruch, it served as a place of worship until the Christus Kirche was completed it has been used as a nursery school and as offices.
The Obergericht or Old Supreme Court, opposite the old German Lutheran Chruch, was a rather stately house governemnet builder Carl Ludwig built for himself in the last years of the nineteenth century. However, it didnt meet whith the governor's approval and he wasn't allowed to live in it. Instead, it was put to use as a Supreme Court and still later as magistrate's courts. Not surprisingly, Ludwig's contract wasn't renewed after it expried!
Other places of interest in Windhoek
You can extend your walk to view several other interesting buildings if you have enough energy and time
The natural history section of the State Museum is house in the Owela Museum, a name derived from a very popular game played in many parts of Africa. Displays focus on the country's people and fauna.
The Kaiserliche Landesvermessung, or Survay Office, was built in 1902. It consisted of a large drawing office, a fireproof archive where maps were stored, and rooms for survey equipment. After standing empty for several years, it was resotred in 1988 and used as the reservation office of Namibia Wildlife Resorts for several years.
The Kudu Monument was unveiled in December 1960. Prominent local businessman Ernst Behnsen donated money for this life size statue of a kudu on the corner of Independence Avenue and John Meinert Street. Designed, sculpted and cast by German sculptor Franz Behn, it symbolises Namibia's economic growth in the 1950s.
Otto Busch drew up the plans for the Turnhalle, the training hall of the Windhoek Gymnasium Club. A single storey building was completed in 1903, but later converted into a double story building. The first session of the Consitutional Conference on Independence for Nambibia, later known as the Turnalle Conference, took place here in September 1975. Following independence, it became the erstwhile seat of the National Council. It now serves as the seat of the SADC Tribunal.
The middle and southern wings of Windhoek's Railway station were built in 1912-1913 to replace the original prefabricated building, which could no longer handle the increased rail traffic once the Windhoek-Keetmanshoop railway line was completed. The northern wing was added seven years later. Although further extensions were made in 1930, the original style was retained.
A Zwilling locomotive is the focal point of the railways equipment displayed in front of the station building. It was imported from Germany and assembled in Swakopmund in 1899. More than 100 were in use by 1906. Used singly, they were referred to as Illing, but when two were coupled back to back, they were referred to as Zwilling. Several other historical rail vehicles are also displayed outside the station.
The development of railways in Namibia from German colonial times until the end of the South African Railways era is depicted in the TransNamiba Transport Museum on the upper level of the station building. Exhibits you can see here include old railway furniture, early communication equipment and photographs.
The sandstone obelisk diagonally across from the station is yet another reminder of the country's turbulent history.
The Windhoek Information and Publicity Office (WIP) is near the Meteorite Fountain. Although signposted, it's easily missed. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 08h00 to 13h00 and 14h00 to 17h00. Tel (061) 290 2092