The museum was founded in 1951 by one Alfons Weber (1904-1984), a dentist who in 1931 relocated from Munich
(his city of birth) to Swakopmund. In addition to running his dental practice he became a keen collector of books, maps and other material about South West Africa and also gathered together lots of artefacts, household objects, minerals and taxidermy specimens. And this collection formed the core of the museum.
In 1968 the Swakopmund Scientific Society was founded which now runs the museum, together with the Sam Cohen Library, also under the aegis of the Alfons Weber Foundation.
The building the museum is housed in once used to be a customs building.
It claims to be the largest private museum in all of Namibia
What there is to see: quite a lot, but not everything will be of the same interest to everybody. Most people will be selective, and I definitely was when I visited this museum in August 2022.
There’s no prescribed circuit through the permanent exhibition, so I started my visit at a section with some pre-colonial artefacts and information about the various peoples/ethnicities of Namibia
. Not much within the realm of dark tourism here, really – though a sword on display that, according to the artefact’s label, was used for beheadings may be an exception.
By the way, the texts and labels in this museum are typically bilingual, in English and German, some are also in Afrikaans, but not consistently.
Next door is a jumble of old machinery, a big pump, a printing press, as well as a cabinet full of old telephones and several cabinets displaying a vast collection of toy cars.
There’s one section about naval history, with model ships and a scale diorama of the arrival of the German Navy at what was to become Lüderitz
Also a part of Namibia’s naval history are the large number of shipwrecks along its Atlantic
seashore, in particular along the aptly named Skeleton Coast (see under Namibia
). At the Swakopmund Museum this aspect is covered through the retelling of the dramatic story of the beaching of the “Dunedin Star” in the 1940s and the subsequent daring rescue operations – and its key artefact on display is a broken propeller of a plane that was lost in these operations.
Less dramatic is a life-size reconstruction of an old pharmacy from the German colonial times, complete with a cash register with which payments were processed in Mark and Pfennig, as in pre-euro Germany
A bit darker again, in a scary medical kind of way, is the reconstruction of a period dental practice – apparently all the equipment and furniture came from the original practice of the museum’s founder, Dr. Alfons Weber. Adjacent to this is also an original folding dental treatment chair, which was used for dental emergencies out “in the field” by two travelling dentists (one of them, again, Weber).
It then gets very German and “gemütlich” (that untranslatable German word that has a meaning somewhere between ‘cosy’, ‘comfortable’, ‘traditional’ and ‘kitschy’) with the reconstruction of a typical colonial-era dining room. Next door is, appropriately, a reconstruction of a period kitchen.
The coverage of the German period continues with photos and flags of various “Vereine” (‘clubs’, ‘associations’) including “Gesangsvereine” (choirs) celebrating German songs.
A dark-tourism-related display cabinet shows items, mostly wooden, carved by German POW
s during the years of the WW1
-era POW camp near Aus
between 1915 and 1919. Numerous uniforms from across the ages are on display too.
Another darkish aspect is the topic of uranium mining in Namibia
(see also under Swakopmund
). This is part of a larger geology and mineralogy section, with plenty of rocky objects/specimens on display. Also included is a remarkable “desert rose” from near Lüderitz
(desert roses are crystal clusters of gypsum incorporating sand grains – and they can indeed look a bit like roses).
In the large and airy main hall are displays of life-sized vehicles, such as horse-drawn carriages, an early colonial ox-cart and the museum founder’s own Land Rover car.
Zoology is introduced by means of a huge cluster of taxidermy animals, from a rhino and zebra to a cheetah and aardvark and from a honey badger to a brown hyena (aka “Strandwolf, ‘beach wolf’, in Namibia – cf. Elizabeth Bay
). On the spookier side is a row of jars containing various venomous snakes preserved in formaldehyde.
Finally, there is a section about beer brewing in Namibia, with a little scale model of a typical German brewery and specimens of bottles of and glasses for all the usual Namibian lager brands you still see today.
On request there are also a couple of documentary films that can be screened at certain times in one of the rooms of the museum. I opted out of this and rather concentrated on the exhibits, so I can’t say anything about those films.
There’s also a museum shop that sells a wide range of books, brochures, postcards and suchlike.
All in all
, I quite liked this museum. It’s anything but state-of-the-art modern, but I sometimes have a soft spot for that, as I’m not a great fan of an over-reliance on interactive screens and such modern multimedia approaches. Instead this is more like a jumble-room collection overspilling with a wide array of artefacts. Only a few parts of this are specifically of dark-tourism interest, though, but still. Yet the very darkest aspect of Swakopmund’s history is only hinted at within a several-part timeline panel, where it is mentioned that during the war against the Nama and Herero “captives” were kept in camps. The word concentration camp
, however, is not mentioned (which is what they were, really – see under Namibian history
and Shark Island
on the central seafront of Swakopmund
where the promenade leading to the “Mole” (‘breakwater’) meets the beach. The official address is on Strand Street, which passes behind the museum, but the entrance is at the front facing the bay and beach.
Access and costs: easy to get to; very cheap
The museum is easy enough to locate, between the landmark lighthouse and the seafront. It helps that it says “MUSEUM” in big letters on the sea-facing front facade. It’s easily walkable from anywhere within the centre of Swakopmund
Opening times: daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: a mere 30 N$, i.e. about 1.7 euros (students/pensioners 25 N$, children up to 15 years old 10 N$)
Guided tours can also be booked and cost 40 N$ per person.
Time required: between 45 minutes and two hours, depending on how deep you want to delve into every section’s subject matter and whether or not you stay to watch any of the documentary films (which I didn’t).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Swakopmund
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Swakopmund
– given the central location, most other tourist attractions can easily be reached on foot from here.
- Swakopmund Museum 01 - entrance and museum cafe
- Swakopmund Museum 02 - ancient beheading sword
- Swakopmund Museum 03 - big machinery
- Swakopmund Museum 04 - German arrival in Lüderitz
- Swakopmund Museum 05 - maritime section
- Swakopmund Museum 06 - relics from a rescue operation
- Swakopmund Museum 07 - pharmacy
- Swakopmund Museum 08 - payment in Mark and Pfennig
- Swakopmund Museum 09 - dentist practice
- Swakopmund Museum 10 - mobile dentist chair
- Swakopmund Museum 11 - German dining room
- Swakopmund Museum 12 - German kitchen
- Swakopmund Museum 13 - German song
- Swakopmund Museum 14 - early colonial carriage
- Swakopmund Museum 15 - items made by POWs at the camp near Aus
- Swakopmund Museum 16 - uniforms
- Swakopmund Museum 17 - uranium mining
- Swakopmund Museum 18 - desert rose
- Swakopmund Museum 19 - minerals
- Swakopmund Museum 20 - car of the founder of the museum
- Swakopmund Museum 21 - snakes in jars
- Swakopmund Museum 22 - plenty of taxidermy