More background info:
The name Windhoek goes back to the Afrikaans for ‘windy corner’. The first settlement here was founded by Jonker Afrikaner, the important Orlam chief (see Namibian history
), in ca. 1840. Just a couple of years later some German missionaries arrived too. The Orlam clashed with the Herero living to the north, whose cattle herds the Orlam raided occasionally, and in one such incident Jonker Afrikaner was killed in 1861. After that the Orlam abandoned the settlement of Windhoek.
The first German colonialists arrived in 1890, and it was then that the “Alte Feste” (‘old fort’, then brand new, of course) was constructed, now Windhoek’s oldest building. This became the main stronghold of the “Schutztruppe” (‘protection force’) as the German colonial military was cynically called. German settlers followed. The completion of the railway line to Swakopmund
in 1902 brought another boost to the young town and typical colonial-style structures, such as the Christuskirche (see below
) were built.
The city kept on growing but a big change came when South Africa
, ruling Namibia
since the end of the German colonial era after WW1
, introduced Apartheid
here too from the late 1950s onwards. New “townships” for the black and “coloured” (mixed) population were set up in Katutura and Khomasdal, respectively. The white elite continued living in the centre of Windhoek and in leafy affluent suburbs such as Klein Windhoek. While those districts have become more divers since Independence in 1990, with segregation officially abolished, giving rise to a new black/coloured elite in the mix as well, the black township of Katutura remains largely unchanged, with hardly any whites living there. This divide is also an economic one, Katutura still being severely impoverished compared to other parts of the city.
In between those affluent districts and the townships new middle-class residential areas have been built, also new commercial and office buildings. Windhoek is very much the financial and economic hub of the country.
In terms of tourism, Windhoek’s international airport to the east of the city is the principal point of entry/departure (see below
), and some visitors do slot in a day or two in Windhoek itself too (while many others do not). But it’s far from a touristy city destination in its own right.
What there is to see: The main attraction from a dark-tourism perspective has to be this:
Also of interest, and in a similar style (and for the same reason), is this monumental site, just a little outside the city limits proper:
Other than those, the core of colonial Windhoek, the “Alte Feste
” (‘old fort’) in the very city centre is also worth noting. In the colonnades at the front are some old cannons and horse-drawn carriages on display. There’s also a bronze plaque in German dedicated to “our comrades of the imperial protection force who fell in the war 1914 to 1915” (my translation – see photos
for the original). Apparently this was put up here as late as in 1964, by or on behalf of an association called “Alte Kameraden SWA” (old comrades South West Africa).
The courtyard of the Alte Feste is supposed to be the new home of the removed “Reiterdenkmal” (‘Equestrian Monument’) that used to stand in front of the Alte Feste. But as it was seen as an unfitting relic from the German colonial era it was surreptitiously moved in 2013. As the fort and its courtyard were closed at the time of my visit (August 2022) I could not see it. In fact, the Alte Feste has been closed for many years, allegedly for refurbishment, but it’s rumoured that it may never actually reopen again. Still, it’s worth a look from the outside.
Where the old Reiterdenkmal used to stand is now a newer monument
in memory of the victims of the early 20th century genocide
against the Herero and Nama people (see Namibian history chapter
). Its style is similar to the Heroes’ Acre
and the statue in front of the Independence Museum
, i.e. it’s another North-Korean-designed monument, with a couple of bronze statues with broken chains standing atop a stone plinth. The latter also features two large bas-reliefs – the one at the front depicts an atrocity scene of natives hanging by nooses from a tree while two white “Schutztruppe” colonial soldiers with rifles watch. The back shows a group of natives alive but emaciated. The front of the plinth also has a line in large black letters saying “their blood waters our freedom” (they do like a bit of pathos) and a plaque in front explains that it is dedicated to the genocide victims.
Also of interest may be the Gibeon Meteorites outside Town Square Mall; they are believed to have been part of what’s regarded as the heaviest meteorite shower ever to hit planet Earth, some 600 million years ago. These clumps of iron weigh between 200 and 600kg.
As you walk or drive around Windhoek look out for some “interesting” street names, taken from some more or less infamous dictatorial leaders, such as Robert Mugabe Avenue (after Zimbabwe
’s former dictator of 37 years), Laurent Desire Kabila Road (after the controversial revolutionary of the DR Congo
) or Fidel Castro Street (after Cuba
’s former revolutionary leader).
almost exactly in the centre of Namibia
, in a shallow valley on the high plateau of bushland in the interior. The nearest other significant place is Swakopmund
, on the coast over 200 miles (350 km) by road to the west.
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to by air and ground transfer or car; can be a bit expensive, but needn’t be.
Most international tourists coming to Namibia
fly into Windhoek’s “Hosea Kutako” International Airport, which lies a good twenty miles (42km) to the east of the city amidst bushland. Transfers to the capital from there can be arranged, but most visitors pick up a pre-booked hire car at the airport and drive themselves.
Driving around Windhoek is probably the only time when a Sat-Nav (GPS) system comes in useful in Namibia
, and it’s also only here that you encounter substantial car traffic – but compared to other capital cities it’s still quite calm and manageable. Parking can be an issue though, and often a fee is charged, including at shopping malls.
There’s a wide range of accommodation options from luxury hotels such as the colonial-era Heinitzburg Hotel to more mid-range hotels and pensions, but proper budget options are rather thinner on the ground.
Options for food & drink
are perhaps surprisingly manifold. There are many good-quality restaurants and bars, especially to the east of the city centre and in Klein Windhoek, and prices, though higher than in much of the rest of the country, are still very reasonable indeed.
Time required: not long, half a day would do to see the sights pointed out above, but you will want to have at least one overnight stay before pushing on elsewhere.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Namibia
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Windhoek isn’t the most touristy of cities, but a few colonial-era buildings may warrant a brief look, such as the Christuskirche, a German-style Lutheran church, opposite the Independence Museum, and the nearby Parliament, aka “Tintenpalast” (‘ink palace’) and a few other historical buildings. But the overall impression is of a modern, yet quiet, city. It sports a few more museums and art galleries too (e.g. TransNamib Museum, Geological Museum or National Art Gallery), but since I visited none of these, I can’t really say anything about them.
- Windhoek 01 - seen from a distance
- Windhoek 02 - in the centre
- Windhoek 03 - Tintenpalast
- Windhoek 04 - Alte Feste
- Windhoek 05 - old carriages
- Windhoek 06 - dodgy plaque
- Windhoek 08 - courtyard is locked
- Windhoek 08 - old cannons
- Windhoek 10 - genocide monument
- Windhoek 11 - the rear
- Windhoek 12 - interesting street names
- Windhoek 13 - German church
- Windhoek 14 - Klein Windhoek by night