A little bit of sightseeing in Windhoek

01 April 2013

During our short visit to Windhoek over Easter, we also did a little bit of sightseeing. Yesterday afternoon, on our way back home after tea and cake at Sister Tanya’s home, we drove almost to the top of a hill, from where we could clearly see the city centre. On the very top of the hill stood a big white funnel-shaped object.

“That is the Trichter,” indicated Richard. “It is a very recognisable landmark, and you can see it from almost everywhere in the city. I’m not sure what it’s purpose is – perhaps to store water?”

This is the Trichter - a very visible landmark from almost anywhere in Windhoek
This is the Trichter – a very visible landmark from almost anywhere in Windhoek

We pulled over at the side of the road, and looked down on the city centre below us to the southwest. The sun was very low in the sky, hidden by a couple of clouds, and just about to sink below the horizon. The city looked very beautiful from up here.

“Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia,” said Reggie, putting on her tour guide hat. “It is situated in the middle of the central highlands, at an altitude of about 1650 metres above sea level – which is what you noticed when you first arrived here, Flat Kathy, remember? You were feeling a bit out of breath?”

“Yes,” I nodded, “I remember.”

Windhoek is a beautiful city among several hills
Windhoek is a beautiful city among several hills

“The Nama people, who come from the south, called this place ǀAi ǁGams [those funny dashes are click sounds], which means ‘hot springs’, because there used to be a couple of hot springs, which are now located in the suburb of Klein Windhoek. Another tribe, the Herero who come from the north, called it Otjomuise, which means ‘place of steam’,” continued Reggie.

“The springs were used for a long, long time already by Khoisan hunter-gatherers, but the settlement itself only properly began around 1840, when an important chief, Jonker Afrikaner, settled here with his followers. So the city isn’t yet two hundred years old, which is quite young by European standards.”

A view of Windhoek's city centre from the Trichter
A view of Windhoek’s city centre from the Trichter

“You’ll notice that the buildings here aren’t very tall, Flat Kathy,” said Richard. “We don’t have skyscrapers, like in Cape Town or Johannesburg, or any of the huge cities around the world like London or New York. Although the city centre is fairly small and concentrated, the city itself is spread out across a large area. Many people live in free-standing houses, surrounded by gardens – though there are apartment blocks too, but they aren’t as common.”

Windhoek's city centre in the golden light of the setting sun
Windhoek’s city centre in the golden light of the setting sun

We continued driving along the side of the hill, until we came to another spot, where we could look north/eastward to the suburbs of Klein Windhoek and Ludwigsdorf. Richard explained that these were the more affluent suburbs, with lots of green trees, well-established gardens and larger houses.

View to the other side of the hilltop with the Trichter - towards Klein Windhoek and Ludwigsdorf
View to the other side of the hilltop with the Trichter – towards Klein Windhoek and Ludwigsdorf

Back in the car, we headed down the hill towards the city centre. Richard stopped at the side of the road.

“We are now in Robert Mugabe Avenue, which is named after the long-time ruler of Zimbabwe,” he said. “The next road down, which runs parallel to this one, is Independence Avenue, and it is the main street through the city centre. Before Namibia became independent in 1990, that street used to be known as Kaiserstraße, or the Emperor’s Road.”

This photo was taken on my very first day in Windhoek - up ahead is the main street known as Independence Avenue
This photo was taken on my very first day in Windhoek – up ahead is the main street known as Independence Avenue

“Why do so many people here speak German?” I asked. “I noticed that you often speak German with the people in the shops and restaurants.”

“That’s because Namibia used to be a colony of Germany,” said Richard. “It used to be called Deutsch Südwest Afrika, or German Southwest Africa.”

“The Germans arrived in Windhoek in 1890,” added Reggie, “under Major Curt von Francois. Near the top of the hill, overlooking the city centre, they built a fort, which is known as the Alte Feste – or old fortress in English; it is Windhoek’s oldest building. It was the headquarters of the Schutztruppe, the German colonial troops. When the railway from Swakopmund on the coast to Windhoek in the central highlands was completed around 1902, German colonists began to arrive in Windhoek and to settle the area.”

You can see the Alte Feste in the picture below, with a horse and rider statue in front of it.

“That is the Reiterdenkmal – or equestrian memorial,” indicated Reggie. “It commemorates German soldiers who were killed during the wars with the Nama and Herero around 1903 to 1907. The statue used to stand a couple of metres further west along this road, but it was moved here a couple of years ago to make room for that new, three-sided building that is hollow underneath – it looks rather like a molar tooth!”

I thought so too!

The famous Reiterdenkmal with the massive new National Museum behind it
The famous Reiterdenkmal in front of the Alte Feste, with the massive new Independence Memorial Museum behind it

“It’s the new Independence Memorial Museum,” explained Aunty Lissi. “It was only opened in March last year. It was built by a North Korean construction firm at a cost of over 100 million Namibian dollars. The same firm also built the Heroes’ Acre memorial site to the south of Windhoek, which was finished in 2002 at a cost of about 250 million Namibian dollars, and the presidential State House in Auas Blick, which cost about 600 million Namibian dollars.”

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit those other places, because they were on the outskirts of the city. We continued a little further along Robert Mugabe Avenue.

At the end of the street stood the most beautiful church, softly illuminated by the light of the setting sun. It looked so stunning that I couldn’t help but gasp.

What a stunningly beautiful church - it too is a distinctive landmark in Windhoek
What a stunningly beautiful church – the Christuskirche is a distinctive landmark in Windhoek

“That is the Christuskirche,” said Reggie proudly. “It is an Evangelical Lutheran Church, and it was built of local sandstone between 1907 and 1910. Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was the German ruler at the time, donated the colourful stained glass windows.”

Reggie leapt out of the car again at the next traffic circle to photograph the road from the other side; luckily, there wasn’t much trafffic, but a chilly wind was blowing, so I elected to stay in the car.

“You didn’t expect Windhoek to be such a big and proper city, did you, Flat Kathy?” asked Aunty Lissi, while we were waiting for her.

“No,” I confessed. “I thought it would be much wilder. You know, when people speak about Africa, they always talk about the bush and the wilderness, and about all the wildlife… When we were coming in on the plane, I couldn’t even see the city – so when we drove into Windhoek from the airport, I almost expected there to be gravel roads, and bush huts, and cattle and goats and sheep grazing next to the road… I certainly didn’t expect proper tarred streets with traffic lights, and hundreds of cars, and big shopping centres, and tall buildings, and so many, many people!”

My companions nodded and smiled understandingly.

The Christuskirche with the new Independence Memorial Museum in the distance, behind which is the Alte Feste with the Reiterdenkmal
The Christuskirche with the new Independence Memorial Museum in the distance, behind which is the Alte Feste with the Reiterdenkmal

“You’re absolutely right, Flat Kathy,” said Aunty Lissi. “First-time visitors to our country are often surprised at how cosmopolitan and modern Windhoek is. But don’t worry – you’ll get to see a bit more of the wilderness and the vast open spaces when we drive down to Swakopmund in a couple of days.”

“Will we see lots of wild animals too?”

“No, unfortunately not,” explained Aunty Lissi. “Those you will only find in nature reserves and on guest farms nowadays; they won’t just be standing next to the road…. Though you may see warthogs by the roadside, or some kudus – which are large antelope with horns. There are a couple of nature reserves on either side of the road between Windhoek and Okahandja, so you may see springbok or even some giraffes. But no elephants, lions or rhinos, or any other big game.”

“If you want to visit a game reserve, Flat Kathy, perhaps you must come back to Namibia for another visit sometime,” suggested Reggie, looking at me fondly. (I can sense that she will find it hard to send me off to my next destination.) “But there are already lots of people all around the world who are impatient to meet you! So I shall have to send you to your new friends and host families very soon. But perhaps you can come back again some time, when you have seen the rest of the world?”

“Yes,” I said, smiling at her happily. “That would be wonderful.”

Windhoek - between rain showers
Windhoek – between rain showers

4 thoughts on “A little bit of sightseeing in Windhoek

  1. I think Flat Kathy had a wonderful sightseeing tour in Windhoek
    Fantastic pictures of Windhoek and surrounding.
    Regards
    Lissi

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  2. That is a beautiful church. The photo of it next to the modern molar tooth building shows such a contrast.

    Your postcards have been such treasures to find in the mailbox Flat Kathy! Thank you so much for sending them 🙂

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    1. You are most welcome, Amy-Lynn. I am relieved to hear you received the postcards, as the mail service from Southern Africa isn’t always so reliable.

      My visit to Namibia was such a surprise – I hadn’t expected it to be so lovely, as I hadn’t heard much about the country before.

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