On April 10th, 2020, Serene Footman opened his latest limited-time region build to once again transport us to one of the most unusual places to be found on Earth.
I tend to wax lyrical over Serene’s designs, and for three good reasons: the first is they are invariably elegant in design and statement, packed with details that may be both obvious and subtle, whilst also incorporating Serene’s own recognisable individuality of touch that has marked all of his designs. The second is that they demonstrate that while Second Life sets the imagination free and can become the home of the strange, the out-of-the ordinary and the unique – so too can the physical world around us, which is every bit as richly diverse as anything to be found in-world; the difference is, Second Life offers the means for to visit such places where otherwise they might forever be out of out reach save for photographs and videos seen in publications and on-line.
The third reason is that his builds are always educational, both in terms of what can be achieved in Second Life with care and forethought in design and because as soon as I visit one of his designs, I’m reaching for the encyclopaedia and calling up my search engine to find out as much as I can about the locations he picks, so I might broaden my own knowledge.
And so it is with Kolmannskuppe – The Ghost Town of Namib Desert, his build for April 2020, which brings to SL the long-deserted mining town of Kolmannskuppe or (to give its name in Afrikaans) Kolmanskop located on the inter-coastal erg of the southernmost reaches of the massive Namib desert in modern-day Namibia, but was at the time of the town’s founding, German South West Africa.
Named for a nearby kopje, or hillock, which had in turned been dubbed Kolmannskuppe “Kolman’s Head” after the wagon driver who had been forced to abandon his wagon there after a particularly violent sand storm in 1905, the town came to prominence as one of the first areas along the Namib coast to experience a diamond rush.
Three years later, a railway was being built between the territory’s major harbour town of Lüderitz on the coast and the inland town of Aus. The man in charge of the work was German-born August Stauch, who has moved to the territory in the hope of alleviating his asthma. An amateur mineralogist in his spare time, Stauch became fascinated the tales surrounding the territory’s founder, Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz (after whom the the harbour town was named) and his belief the region contained diamonds just waiting to be found.
So firm was his belief Lüderitz had been correct, Stauch obtained a prospecting licence and told his railway workers to bring him any unusually shiny stones they might turn over whilst digging to lay the train line’s foundations, and in April 1908, one of his aides, Zacharias Lewala – who had previously worked at the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa – did just that. Systematically searching the area Lewala had been scouting, Stauch found more of the stones and took them to Lüderitz, where his friend and mining engineer Sönke Nissen confirmed they were diamonds.
Using Stauch’s prospecting licence, the two men secured a 75-acre claim at Kolmannskuppe. At first they tried to keep the mine and their growing wealth secret, but news inevitably spread, sparking a diamond rush into the area, and Kolmannskuppe grew to become an extremely wealthy settlement, boasting all the amenities of a modern town: a rail link to Lüderitz (itself massively enriched by the flow of diamonds from Kolmannskuppe and further deposits found to the north), its own tram service, a host of civic facilities and utility services form a hospital (with the southern hemisphere’s first x-ray machine) through a theatre, ballroom and casino to its own power station and ice-making factory.
The town reached its peak in the years immediately before and after the first world war. However, the discovery of a huge deposits of diamonds 270 km to the south around the mouth of the Orange River that did not require complex mining, resulted in many from Kolmannskuppe simply up and moving south, leaving their homes and possessions to the sands of the desert. These moves marked the start of 3-decade decline for Kolmannskuppe, the last inhabitants leaving the town to the shifting desert sands in 1956.
More recently, Kolmannskuppe has become a tourist attraction – if one that is corporately managed, De Beers and the Namibian government jointly funding it. This remaining buildings sit alongside a dusty road, dunes of tufted sand wrapping themselves around wooden, sun-bleached walls that are so leached of moisture they don’t so much fall down as crumble away. It’s a place that is beloved of photographers, artists and film-makers for its sense of desolation and nature’s reclamation of man’s fragile foot-hold in this harsh desert environment. As Serene notes in his own informative blog post on the setting, it is in some ways a contrived and artificial location, centred upon the hulking form of the former casino (and now the nexus for tourists) – but it is undeniably photogenic and captivating.
It is in this form that Serene captures the town, and does so quite magnificently, from the high shoulders and roof of the former casino through to the crumbling skeletons of houses and the bare bones of former utilities. While some of the house styles may be more esoteric than those of the actual town, he has perfectly captured and embodies the spirit of Kolmannskuppe, right down to the touches of corporate artificiality, such as the misplaced baths.
As the same time, he has added his own touches, notably in the form of multiple places where visitors can sit and immerse themselves in the setting, watching the coming and going of others, the entire region surrounded by high dunes that mirror the Namib’s reputation for sand dunes that can reach heights of up to 300m. Rounded-out by the presence of oryx gazella, Kolmannskuppe – The Ghost Town of Namib Desert is yet another remarkable location presented by one of Second Life’s foremost region designers.