A quick visit to a small city with a big heart – where culture, colonialism and memory coincide. Nancy Richards recommends the best of Windhoek you can experience in a day…
We didn’t have much time in Namibia’s capital with its modest population of less than 40,000 – but we sure did learn a lot. For one thing, it lies in a basin protected by the Auas and Eros mountain ranges. And that it wears the heart of its history on its sleeve – with an architectural mix of colonial and fiercely independent architecture.
This is what we experienced in the city in a day…
1. Independence Building
The gleaming and impressive Independence Memorial Museum, officially inaugurated on 21 March 2014, the 24th anniversary of Namibia’s independence, was designed and built by North Koreans. It is affectionately known by locals as the ‘coffee percolator’. But dominating the entrance, the colossus statue of Sam Nujoma, founding president and father of the nation is taken very seriously, as is his legacy message, ‘Namibia is forever free.’
2. Himba Women
It’s far from their ancestral Kaokoland home in the North West, but a group of ochre -coated Himba women come to the city centre sell their leather and carved jewellery. Be respectful and know that you will also need to pay to take photographs, or face their wrath if you don’t. If you’re in town in September, you might catch the /Ae//Gams Arts and Cultural Festival – bringing all cultures together.
3. Kudu Monument
Of all the statues in this town of powerful, or once powerful people, one with a more environmental than political story to tell, is the Kudu Memorial. Erected in 1960 in honour of the elegant antelope species that very nearly became extinct as a result of raging foot and mouth disease at the time. We didn’t have time, but if you’re fascinated by animal history, it is worth checking out the archaeological relics of an elephant dating back many thousands of years at the National Museum of Namibia in Robert Mugabe Avenue.
4. Book Shops
Since there’s a lot to take in about a city in a short space of time, I like to buy a travel guide to read about it all later in more detail. Windhoek has quite a few bookshops with books mainly in English, Afrikaans or German. I could have spent hours in the jam-packed second hand bookshop just outside the Namibia Craft Centre in Tal Street, but the one that really kept me browsing was the Foto Namibia – where wildlife photographer Hentie Burger sells superb original photographs and a collection of rare, old or contemporary books on the region and surrounds.
5. Craft Centre Stalls
It would be very easy to spend the best part of your whole day at the Namibia Craft Centre in Tal St. Sprawling around the Old Breweries complex, it houses over 40 crafters and co-ops. The only problem you’ll have is deciding what to buy.
Top tip: Check it out in advance > www.namibiacraftcentre.com
6. Food and Beer
But the best way to savour the flavour of a town is to eat local – so we took some time out at the Craft Café at the Centre to indulge in some locally produced game salami and the ubiquitous Tafel beer, which seems to slip down very nicely in the dry Namibian heat.
There are lots of lovely old red-roofed buildings like the Christuskirche, which was built in 1910 by the German Evangelical Community as a monument to peace – though that was a long time coming.
8. Two People Statue
There are plenty of statues too – like the unshackled couple that have replaced the Equestrian soldier in front of the Alte Fest museum, Windhoek’s oldest surviving building. Beneath the couple are the words ‘Their blood waters our freedom’.
9. Sam Nujoma
But if you want to get the whole story of Namibia – from the country’s resistance start to freedom finish – take a lift up to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors of the Independence Memorial Museum. Be sure not to miss out on the restaurant at the top – from here you can look out over the whole city.
Words: Nancy Richards