Music history regards 1982 as the year American rock band Toto achieved its greatest success. Mainstream radio saturated airwaves with Top 100 Toto hits – Roseanna, Hold the Line and Africa. You didn’t have to like Toto, I changed the station when they aired but still knew every word by heart. Toto hits were a fact of life, songs destined to occupy supermarkets and customer service hold lines 30 years later.
Fast forward to the continent of Africa, Namibia to be precise. Namibian artist Max Siedentopf recently created an ode to Africa in his nation’s desert. Seven stark white pedestals, each with a solar powered mp3 player constantly looping Toto’s Africa. Siedentopf freely admits that despite using the most durable materials available, his dream of Africa looping for all eternity could be stymied by harsh desert conditions.
I have a thing for abandoned places – sprinkled in unfathomable corners of the world, tattered testaments to hope and tenacity. Exquisite reminders of the human condition, posters for what defines mankind. Places cementing the essence of optimism, enterprise and good old fashioned delusion.
Places like Fordlandia (Henry Ford purchasing 25,000 acres of the Amazon jungle in Brazil, 1929. Attempting to create a model American town, populated with a workforce Ford imagined could fulfill his ambition to corner the rubber market – see link below)
Kolmanskop in southern Namibia, another decaying remnant of abandoned dreams. In 1908, a German railway worker found a diamond a few kilometers from the port of Luderitz in Namibia. He showed his supervisor – a decision leading to the German government declaring the area “sperrgebiet” or “prohibited area”. (At the time Namibia was part of the German colony of south west Africa). Miners moved in, building Kolmanskop in the image of German towns. Hospitals, theaters, bowling alleys, power station, ice factory, the first tram in Africa, and a rail link to Luderitz. The first world war wreaked havoc on German interests in Africa. Ultimately the diamonds ran out – the town was abandoned in 1954.
Kolmanskop, abandoned for over 50 years, waits to be reclaimed by the desert. Pondering abandoned places – history’s way of telling us what it is to be human.