Windhoek on Foot If you’re keen on walking and would like to orient yourself in the capital, a leisurely circular route starting and ending at the Gustav Voigts Centre in Independence Avenue will give you a good idea of what the city has to offer. It should take you between three to four hours to complete, but be advised to wear a hat, especially if it’s summer, and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
From the Gustav Voigts Centre, cross Independence Avenue at the traffic light, take note of the crafts displayed on the corner and cross Fidel Castro Street to Zoo Park. Here you will see a curious 2-m-high stone column sculpted by well-known Namibian artist Dörte Berner. The monument marks the place where the remains of elephant bones were excavated in the fifties, now on display at the Geological Survey Museum near the Eros Airport. Also in the park is the Witbooi Memorial, unveiled in 1897 to commemorate the lives of soldiers lost in battles fought between Schutztruppe and the legendary Nama chief, Hendrik Witbooi.
When you reach the complex of concrete fountains, cross Independence Avenue for a short detour down Post Street Mall. Completed shortly after independence, the Mall has a large number of shops and boutiques and is a favoured venue for street vendors selling rural art, African-style clothing, curios and jewellery. While the new structures blend with Windhoek’s historic German architecture, bright colours such as blue, pink, cerise and purple give them a modern and lively appearance. The latest addition in the mall is Town Square alias the Standard Bank Centre, officially opened in 2003.
Developed around one of Windhoek’s oldest hotels and accessible from the Mall is the popular Kaiserkrone Shopping Centre with its palm trees, beer garden, restaurant with seating outside and variety of shops and stalls. Mounted on steel columns and adding special interest to the Mall is the Gibeon Meteorite Fountain, where 31 of the original 77 Gibeon meteorites are displayed. The Gibeon meteorite shower occurred south east of Gibeon in southern Namibia, and is the largest known shower of its kind in the world. The explorer, Sir James Alexander, recorded the occurrence of the fragments in 1838. For many years local Namas hammered the pieces into implements.
Return to Independence Avenue, cross to the Main Post Office, turn right into Daniel Munamava Street and then left into Lüderitz Street, proceeding down the hill until it runs into Independence Avenue again. On your right you will pass the Public Library, then the Magistrate’s Court and, on the corner with John Meinert Street, the Old Supreme Court. The bronze kudu mounted on a high stone plinth on the corner to your left is a landmark often used by locals when giving directions. The sculpture is the work of Professor Fritz Behn of Munich and was unveiled in the early fifties. From here you turn right into Independence Avenue, cross at the traffic lights, and at the next set of lights, veer left into Bahnhof Street. If you’re thirsty at this juncture, the Thüringer Hof Beer Garden is a good place to enjoy a quick thirst-quenching Windhoek Lager before proceeding westwards down Bahnhof Street.
At the bottom of Bahnhof Street is the historical Windhoek Railway Station, built in 1912/1913. In front of the building is the narrow-gauge locomotive, vintage 1900, which used to work the old line between Swakopmund and Windhoek, and on the first floor is the TransNamib Transport Museum, well worth a visit. Double back up Bahnhof Street, cross Independence Avenue and proceed until you reach Robert Mugabe Avenue, having taken note of the Turnhalle Building on the right-hand corner. The Turnhalle, which means Gymnasium, was where the Turnhalle Conference (Constitutional Conference of SWA/ Namibia) had its first session in 1975. In 2003 the main section of this historic building was renovated to house the SADC Tribunal.
On the opposite corner is the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre and when you proceed to the right down Robert Mugabe to where it crosses John Meinert Street, you will find the National Art Gallery of Namibia, well worth a visit to see the Permanent Collection of historical and contemporary Namibian art. In the gallery shop are Namibian and other African crafts for sale, and at the back, the Sculpture Garden and Gallery Shop Tea Room, where light lunch and refreshments are served during the day. Next door is the National Theatre of Namibia, and opposite the Namibia Scientific Society, where a wide selection of authoritative publications on the country published by the Society can be purchased.
Further south along Robert Mugabe Avenue, on your right, you will find the Owela Museum. Owela is the name of a traditional African game played with pebbles, of which there is an example in front of the building. The museum houses cultural displays and dioramas. Next to it is the Public Library, which you passed on your way down Lüderitz Street.
Up the hill on Robert Mugabe (on the right) is State House, the official residence of President Hifikepunye Pohamba, a renovated version of the original house occupied by the former South West African administrators. At the top is the Christuskirche or Evangelical Lutheran Church, one of the city’s most striking landmarks, built from local sandstone and completed in 1910. Its design was influenced by Romanesque, neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, and its stained-glass windows were donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
To the east of the church is the famous Tintenpalast, meaning Ink Palace. This is Namibia’s original Government Building, completed in 1914 in time for the first session of the Landesrat. Since then it has housed a series of successive governments. After independence it was renovated to accommodate the current Namibian parliament. South of the church on a rise is the Alte Feste (old fort) built in the early 1890s to protect the new settlers in Windhoek and provide accommodation for a company of the Schutztruppe. The Independence Collection and other historical displays can be seen here. In front of the Alte Feste is the Reiter Denkmal, also known as the Equestrian Memorial, which commemorates the soldiers who lost their lives in colonial wars. Opposite, in the historical Emma Hoogenhout building, are the administrative headquarters of the National Museum of Namibia.
Further south along Robert Mugabe Avenue, on the right, is the Office of the Ombudsman, built in 1906 as a residence for senior government officials and converted into offices following independence. Take a sharp turn right into Sam Nujoma Avenue, and at the first traffic light, do a quick detour to the right into Rev. Michael Scott Street to look at the new Supreme Court building, the only new development after independence that reflects an African, albeit northern African, style of architecture.
Having viewed this imposing building, head back to Sam Nujoma and proceed down to Independence Avenue. On your left in front of the Municipality Building is the statue of Curt von Francois, commander of a small force of Schutztruppe, who established the Alte Feste as his headquarters in Windhoek in 1889, and is regarded by some historians as the city’s founder. Go one more block further down and turn left into Tal Street, where you will find the Namibia Craft Centre in the Old Breweries Building. The best example of handiwork by Namibia’s craftspeople can be viewed and purchased here, and the Craft Café offers delectable refreshments. From here return to Independence Avenue and meander northwards until you reach the Gustav Voigts Centre from where you started.
Built in 1972 and conveniently central, the Gustav Voigts Centre offers a great deal in addition to convenience stores and banking facilities, such as hand-crafted jewellery, Swakara garments, camping and safari gear, curios and hand-made souvenirs, maps and books and even gourmet food specialities.
A different perspective of the city can be gained by doing the Hofmeyr Walk. Especially pleasant from March to April when the aloes are in bloom, this short and easy route runs along the ridge between Klein Windhoek and the city, and is accessible from Sinclair Street or the upper end of Orban Street. Lovers’ Hill, recognised by the cone-shaped water tower on its crest, is a romantic spot with views across the city. The hill has a fine collection of indigenous trees and aloes on its slopes. Also leading off Sinclair Street is Werth Crescent with its circular lookout point, giving a splendid view across Windhoek to the south (the Tintenpalast and gardens) and to north and west.
Features of historical interest On hillsides overlooking the city towards the west are three castles built from local stone as residences at the beginning of the 1900s. After being occupied for many years by the well-known Levinson family, Heinitzburg Castle has been enlarged and today functions as a hotel. With its magnificent view over the city to the west, it is a favoured venue for sundowners and cocktail functions, and has an excellent restaurant. Sanderburg Castle is still used as a private residence, while Schwerinsburg Castle is currently the official residence of the Italian ambassador to Namibia.
Although small, the three structures have many of the features associated with castles, such as turrets, niches and nooks, narrow twisting staircases and arched doorways and windows. They were designed by German architect Willi Sander.
Local names such as Ausspannplatz, meaning ‘place to outspan’, recall the days when people drove into town on horseback or in ox wagons. Today the Ausspannplatz is a large traffic circle at the southern end of Independence Avenue. Many names given by indigenous people have survived. The Eros Mountain range derives its name from the blue sour plum, Ximenia americana, a bush which grows on its slopes and bears attractive red or yellow plum-like fruit that is very sour and which the Namas call ‘!eros’.
The John Ludwig Memorial in the suburb of Ludwigsdorf was erected in memory of the founder of the present-day Klein Windhoek. Opposite the military cemetery at the southern end of Robert Mugabe Avenue the Cross of Sacrifice honours the soldiers lost on both sides during the two World Wars. An interesting fragment of history is depicted in the Oudstryders Memorial in Bismarck Street, erected in memory of the Boer Bittereinders, Afrikaner trekboere who moved to German South West Africa to escape living under British rule.
In contrast to Windhoek’s predominantly German historical architecture, St George’s Cathedral in Love Street conjures up visions of an English town. The small church is the smallest functional cathedral in Southern Africa.
Namibia’s latest national monument is Heroes’ Acre built after Namibia’s 10th year of independence on the southern outskirts of Windhoek and inaugurated in 2003 to commemorate Namibia’s freedom struggle. Prominent features of the monument are an imposing 30-m-high white Obelisk, the Eternal Flame, the Heroes’ Medal and the 8-m high statue of the Unknown Soldier. The grave area accommodates 174 graves. There are tour guides at the site who take visitors around. National Archives & Library The National Archives and the National Library of Namibia share a modern archival building with spacious reading rooms at 1 Eugene Marais Street, near the well-known Kenya House. Both institutions are open to the general public.
The National Archives of Namibia holds the memory of the nation, about 7 km of shelving filled with government records dating back to the beginning of German colonisation in 1884. Computerised registers make it easy to search for people, places and subjects. Apart from government records, it preserves a variety of private papers, some of them dating back to the pre-colonial times of the mid-19th century, as well as some 15 000 indexed photographs, 6 000 maps and plans and posters, and a film, video and oral history collection. The Archives is particularly proud of keeping the correspondence books of the famous Namibian leader, Captain Hendrik Witbooi (1835–1905), a treasure whose international importance is recognised by an inscription on the Unesco Memory of the World register – one of very few African items on that list.
The National Library of Namibia keeps the largest collection of Namibiana, that is publications from and about Namibia, in existence. This includes the very first travel report of Namibia by the Frenchman Le Vaillant, published in 1790; an almost complete collection of all Namibian newspapers since the first one appeared in 1896; and books on Namibia published in 50 languages and in 80 countries. National Library of Namibia National Archives Eugene Marais Street Tel (++264 61) 293 5111
Public/Community Library Situated in Storch Street Tel (++264 61) 207 9111
Namibian-published and archival heritage is also preserved by the two private scientific societies. The Namibia Scientific Society in Windhoek, which publishes a scholarly journal, maintains a reference library on Robert Mugabe Avenue opposite the National Theatre. The Society of Scientific Development in Swakopmund maintains not only the popular Swakopmund Museum, but also the Sam Cohen Library. Both libraries are open for research and include archival material, photos and maps.
Botanical garden The National Botanical Garden of Namibia (NBGN) in the heart of Windhoek is undoubtedly one of the capital’s gems. Situated on the slopes of a hill that forms a natural divide between the city centre and the suburb of Klein Windhoek, it was proclaimed a nature conservation area in 1969, but the garden gradually fell into disrepair. It received attention again in 1990, when the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) moved to the site above the garden.
Since then the Botanical Garden has become a versatile paradise of greenery and flowers, providing sanctuary to many small creatures and birds. Wandering along the paths you can learn about plants from Namibia’s other regions, identifying them by their nametags, and rest on a bench while enjoying the peace and watching visitors to the birdbaths.
Especially conspicuous are the mountain aloe, Aloe littoralis, symbol of the City of Windhoek, which flowers in flaming orange-red in April and May; the distinctive quiver tree, Aloe dichotoma, symbol of the arid south; the bottle tree, Pachypodium lealii, and the highly poisonous candelabra euphorbia, Euphorbia virosa, from the hilly north-western region.
A new section for desert plants was recently opened at the NBRI to house 200 species of rare and protected species from the southern and central Namib Desert and the Sperrgebiet.
The entrance to the grounds is at the NBRI, 8 Orban Street. The garden is open on weekdays during office hours (8:00 to 17:00). A tour is conducted on the first Saturday of each month by a member of the Botanical Society of Namibia, Tel (++264 61) 239 4145. The tour starts at 8:00 during winter and at 7:00 during summer.
Art and culture Windhoek has an active and lively community of art and crafts people. Galleries where exhibitions are held regularly and art can be viewed and purchased are the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) on the corner of John Meinert Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue and the Katutura Community Art Centre (KCAC), which houses the John Muafangejo Art Centre (JMAC). KCAC offers courses in basic and advanced printmaking, basic and live drawing and ceramics. The NAGN’s Permanent Collection is well worth viewing, as it contains a wide spectrum of historical and contemporary Namibian art and crafts.
The Bank Windhoek Triennale, the major art event in Namibia, and biggest art competition for local artists, took place for the first time in 2008.
Commercial galleries that display and sell local art and crafts are Atelier Kendzia at 14 Volans Street in Windhoek West, House of Art in the Maerua Mall shopping complex, and the Omba Gallery in the Namibia Craft Centre in the Old Breweries Building in Tal Street, where a large number of curio shops stock local crafts.
The National Library of Namibia has a wide selection of reference books on the history and other aspects of the country. The Namibia Scientific Society also has a well-stocked library for specialised reading, as well as the full range of its own publications, which can be purchased at a modest price. A special service performed by the National Archives of Namibia is the compilation of source publications on various aspects of the country. These can also be purchased. The Windhoek Public Library offers special lending facilities for visitors. Tel (++264 61) 293 5305, Fax (++264 61) 293 5308
The Warehouse in the historical Old Breweries Building is an avant-garde theatre that presents plays and live music, including jazz, blues and cabaret. Performances by the Windhoek Symphony Orchestra, as well as ballet, opera and theatre, also from South Africa, are staged by the National Theatre of Namibia at the NTN theatre in Robert Mugabe Avenue (email@example.com).
The NTN collaborates closely with the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre, which imports internationally acclaimed theatrical productions from other African countries, Europe and the island of Reunion. The College for the Arts and the Performing Arts Department of the University of Namibia (UNAM) present programmes ranging from music recitals to art, drama, ballet and experimental theatre (www.fncc.org.na, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The annual Bank Windhoek Arts Festival and /Ae//Gams Arts and Cultural Festival offer a wide variety of live perfomances by local performers to the public.
Windhoek has numerous bars and nightspots where music is played until all hours of the morning. For film enthusiasts, the Ster Kinekor complex at Maerua Park has five small auditoriums. Also at Maerua Park is an entertainment centre for children, a video outlet, several restaurants and Virgin Active, with its squash courts, fully equipped gymnasium and heated indoor swimming pool.
In Sam Nujoma Drive in Klein Windhoek is a new shopping complex, Bougain Villas, that offers much to the art lover. The invention of Jenny and Johan Steenkamp, owners of Jenny’s Place & Blue Plate Restaurant and Pension Bougainvilla, Bougain Villas is a stylish complex that consists solely of leisure and boutique shops. It has a total of 22 outlets, with the largest being Jenny’s Place Art & Crafts emporium with its wide array of merchandise, from beads and buttons to a most substantial selection of basic art supplies, wrapping paper, haberdashery, candles, greeting cards, stationery and a surprisingly imaginative range of party gear.
Bank Windhoek Arts Festival The original Windhoek Arts Festival initiated in 2003, became the Bank Windhoek Arts Festival in 2006, the focus shifted to give it a stronger Namibian flavour, boasting hundreds of Namibian amateur and professional productions and art exhibitions. As one of Namibia’s most knowledgeable arts fundis, legendary Namibian playwright and actor Professor Aldo Behrens, formerly of the Faculty of Performing Arts at the University of Namibia, has been co-ordinating the Festival on behalf of Bank Windhoek since 2006. Rather than confining the event to a month of frenzied cultural activity, events are now spread throughout the year, usually culminating in September.
Professor Behrens has guided the Festival towards a true integration of the Namibian arts – from poetry, writing, composition, choir, theatre, choreography and dance through to fashion and costume design, pottery and visual arts. /Ae//Gams Arts and Cultural Festival A creative treat for locals and visitors – the best of local arts and culture – is on offer during the City of Windhoek’s four-day annual /Ae //Gams Arts and Cultural Festival. The festival showcases Namibia's artistic diversity through its music, cuisine, traditional dances, crafts, paintings and poetry at various venues throughout the city. The main objective of the festival is to make the City of Windhoek a vibrant cultural and tourist destination in Africa. The platform serves as a means of exposing local talent both to local people and to the international community. There are sub-venues around the city, such as Katutura and Khomasdal, where additional events are staged. The festival also sees the crowning of the winners of the ‘Proud To Be Namibian’ competition in which locals are invited to participate by dressing up in their traditional garb at the opening ceremony. Visitors can enjoy live music and other performances by cultural groups in the city centre parking lot until late at night. All music performances are free.