— WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA — “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit!” “A toast, a toast, to wellbeing!” The song reverberated in my head as I stepped off the plane and entered the international Hosea Kutako airport, about a 40-minute drive from Windhoek.
Since the sixties, it would be the first time when, as a young student, I heartily sang that song at the German Carnival and Bierfest in Windhoek. This Windhoek Karneval is still an annual German tradition in Namibian style.
Windhoek, today, is an eclectic mix of colonial influences and indigenous African culture. When entering the old city, you might think you landed in Germany by mistake. There is still a heavy German influence in the spoken German language still used today, the food served in restaurants, and the typical German architecture. But the city happily blends its historical colonial past with a new Afro vibrancy.
Germany established Namibia (formerly known as German South West Africa) as a colony in 1884. South Africa took over the country’s administration at the end of the war in 1915. A resistance movement, the South West African People’s Liberation Organization (SWAPO), was instrumental in the long struggle for freedom. In 1990, Namibia finally declared its independence.
German authorities established Windhoek in 1890. Located in central Namibia, in the Khomas Highland plateau, it is the capital and largest city in the country. It is the headquarters for nearly all institutions, be it government, educational, cultural, or national enterprises.
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Namibia will beguile and captivate you.–Elsa Dickson
1. Independence Museum
Visit the Independence Museum for a detailed exposition of the colonial regime, the resistance, the struggle for racial freedom, and finally, the country’s independence. Paintings, artifacts, and informative displays tell disturbing stories from a historical perspective.
Two statues have pride of place at the entrance: the first is Sam Nujoma, the first President of Namibia, and the other, Genocide Statue, depicts a man and a woman in an embrace with the inscription: “Their Blood Waters Our Freedom,” referring to the suffering at the hands of the German troops.
The museum is open seven days a week. Entrance is free.
Christuskirche, or Christ Church, with its unique combination of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque architecture, stands in front of the parliament buildings. This oldest Lutheran church in Namibia dates to 1907. Its unique blend of architecture, the imported German clock, and the stained-glass windows make this national monument a distinctive landmark.
There is a 10 a.m. service in German on Sundays. During the week, you can request the keys or do a guided tour at the church office on Fidel Castro Street.
3. National Museum of Namibia
The National Museum of Namibia is situated next to the Independence Museum and housed in the Alte Feste, an old German Fort in the capital of Windhoek. It consists of two display centers. The Alte Feste contains exhibits of the country’s past, both colonial history, more recent times, and some cultural aspects. At the same time, the Qwela Museum presents elements of Namibia’s natural history and traditional practices of the indigenous peoples.
Admission is free. The National Museum has active research programs and arranges professional visits by advanced appointments.
Located just north of Robert Mugabe Avenue, the Tintenpalast (German for “Ink Palace”) is a landmark in Windhoek. Its name refers to the excessive use of ink by administrative workers during that time.
The German architect Gottlieb Redecker designed this building with its Neoclassical facade during the time when Germany colonized Namibia. The building project in 1912 and 1913 used forced labor by Herero and Nama people. After Namibia gained its independence, it became the seat of both chambers of the Parliament of Namibia, the National Council, and the National Assembly.
Be sure to stroll through the Parliament Gardens surrounding the Tintenpalast. Students love to hang out in the gardens, and local people frequent the park for lunchtime picnics and weekend excursions. Three statues of local heroes stand at the entrance to the Parliament. In addition, the gardens contain a bowling green and an olive grove.
5. Katutura Township
The township in the Khomas Region has the unusual name of Katutura, meaning “The place where people do not want to live” in Herero.
During the late 1950s, the Windhoek municipality and the South African colonial administration forced the black population to move from the old location. As a result, the inhabitants could not own property, had no gardens, had to pay rent to the municipality, and lived further away from their jobs.
These disadvantages led to the Old Location Uprising event when 11 people died. Today it is commemorated on December 10, Human Rights Day, a Namibian national holiday. The old location area subsequently became a sought-after suburb called Hochland Park (Highlands Park.)
Visit Katutura to experience urban township life. Meet some locals, taste traditional kapana meat (grilled beef) at a local marketplace, and buy some indigenous crafts.
A popular excursion is a bicycle tour offered by Katu Tours. When visiting the township, make your booking through a reputable company.
The Sam Nujoma Stadium, a football (soccer) stadium completed in 2005, has pride of place in Katutura, holding ten-thousand three hundred people. In addition, authorities established Katutura Community Radio, a community-based radio station, and the Katutura State Hospital, one of two State Hospitals in the Windhoek area.
6. Namibia Craft Center
If you need a few moments of quiet relaxation or want to enjoy a good cup of coffee, freshly squeezed juice, or mouthwatering cheesecake and apple strudel, stop at the Namibia Craft Center. Parking is available at the property, located in the center of town.
The project, driven by about 40 women, provides retail space for Namibians to sell their handmade crafts, curios, and produce. 95% of the stock is Namibian. The remaining 5% is African handicraft from the rest of the continent.
7. Daan Viljoen Game Reserve
Enjoy a day of leisure and head to the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve, about 15 miles west of Windhoek. This sanctuary has a variety of game and more than 200 species of birds.
You will have a great time driving yourself around the game park, admiring the scenic views, and looking for, among others, mountain zebras, giraffes, kudus, klipspringers, and blue wildebeest. Since there are no predators in the park, you can also explore the hiking trails or even bike.
Enjoy the Boma restaurant and pool at the newly developed Sun Karros lodge. Overnight visitors can book into one of 19 luxury contemporary chalets or one of 12 well-appointed campsites.
8. National Botanic Garden
Namibia has some fascinating plants, and you only have to drive to the center of Windhoek to view these specimens in the National Botanic Garden, the only botanic garden in the country. Its mission is to protect and promote the Namibian flora and function as an educational, research, and recreational facility for Namibians and tourists alike.
The estate is 11-hectares (27.2-acres) in size. A significant part of the area is not landscaped and serves as a study area for local students.
There is a comprehensive collection of Namibian succulents, many of which are rare and endangered. Several walking trails lead through the garden. You can find exciting specimens such as the Quiver tree along the path. You will also enjoy the desert house, rockery, and nursery house.
9. Joe’s Beerhouse
The iconic Joe’s Beerhouse is a must for the intrepid traveler. Perched high above the entrance is an old Mini car that tells the story of two travelers who crossed Africa from Mozambique in the East to Windhoek in the West. After a few beers, they decided to leave the car at the restaurant and settle in the town. What makes Joe’s Beerhouse unique is the eclectic collection of paraphernalia that fills the rooms, adorns the walls, and line the paths. No doubt, each one has a tale to tell.
You won’t be disappointed with the menu, price, or service. From typical German schnitzel to Portuguese-inspired dishes, vegetarian to exotic game such as kudu or oryx – there is something for everybody.
The eating facilities are spread indoors and outdoors, with bars serving a vast selection of beers and other beverages dotted around. At night, lanterns light up the dining areas outside while locals and foreigners mix happily. It is necessary to book in advance as this place fills up fast.
10. Ondekaremba Lodge
If you are looking for a place to stay close to the airport for an early morning flight or relax for a day or two after a long flight, book in at the Ondekaremba Lodge, situated on a game farm only a 10-minute drive away.
You can take a stroll along one of the hiking trails and see springbuck, kudu, steenbuck, duiker, or red hartebeest. When you stay at the camp, you will be amazed at the many bird species visiting the yard. Families of ground squirrels frolic in and around their burrows in the dirt road.
Arrive in time for a traditional tea, served outside in a boma (an enclosure). A welcome fire burns near the dining room at night, creating a cozy atmosphere while the aroma of a home-cooked meal wafts through the air.
The rondavels (a roundhouse) are spacious and well-appointed. Besides the regular lodge, there is also an Econo Lodge and camping facilities. It is a great place to experience Namibian hospitality and German “Gemütlichkeit.”
Windhoek is a bustling city, and tourists should be aware of the possibility of crime or petty theft, especially near ATMs. Be on alert and do not be distracted by people asking for help or wanting to assist you.
You should probably allow two or three days in the city of Windhoek before heading out into this fascinating country where you can drive around quite safely. Always fill your car with gas when there is an opportunity and pack extra provisions and water since places are far apart.
The country offers vibrant cultures, desolate landscapes, and miles of desert sand in stark contrast, charming beach towns. Namibia will beguile and captivate you.