Nestling among hills that turn green in summer and gold in winter, Namibia’s vibrant and cosmopolitan capital city Windhoek comes as a surprise in a country as vast, still and sparsely populated as this.
Located right in the geographical centre of the country, this thoroughly modern African city is the ideal place to begin your Namibian adventure. The incongruity of bustling pavements overflowing with African masks, wooden drums and brightly painted African fabrics juxtaposed with high-rise buildings, European café culture and German neo-romanesque and neo-baroque architecture is striking.
Windhoek has a pleasant climate thanks to its 1 680m elevation, and strolling around the wide, clean streets in this well-laid-out city, with pockets of neat green parks to rest your eyes on, is the perfect, gentle introduction to your African safari.
Sit in the shade of a palm tree and observe the rich diversity of people in this multicultural metropolis or visit Christuskirche, Windhoek’s architectural icon. The evangelical Lutheran church built between 1907 and 1910 incorporates an odd but strangely beautiful mix of architectural styles. The church expresses an interesting history in its form and the materials from which it is built. The marble came from Italy, the clock and part of the roof from Germany, and quartz sandstone was sourced from a Namibian mine. The church was erected following the wars between the Germans and the Khoikhoi, Herero and Ovambo, and was originally known, ironically, as the church of peace.
The early 20th-century German architect Gotttlieb Redeckar was a busy man. Five minutes’ walk from the church is another creation of his – the Tinternpalast – which translates as the ‘ink palace’, a reference to all the writing and legislating that was done within its walls. Tinternpalast is the seat of Namibia’s parliament and its gardens and bronze-cast statue of Herero chief Hosea Kutako, known for his vehement resistant to South African rule, are worth a visit.
If these visits evoke more interest in Namibia’s past, time spent at the ultramodern Independence Memorial Museum exploring the jubilant highs and tragic lows of Namibia’s path to independence will be enlightening and provide a greater depth of understanding into the psyche of the country.
And of course there is shopping! A wide range of sophisticated shops line the streets here: exquisite Namibian gemstone jewellery and luxurious bath products using local organic ingredients are just some of the luxury items on offer. Post Street Mall, packed with craft vendors, and the Old Breweries Craft Market, with its fine range of hand-picked crafts, African decor and fabrics, buzz with the energy of trade. Lively cafés and bars, many with a distinctive German flavour that will have you wondering if you really have arrived in Africa, provide sanctuary from shopping fatigue.
For those looking for a quieter pursuit, an excursion to the National Botanical Gardens right in the heart of the city will give you an introduction to the fascinating flora of Namibia, like the quivertree, and a small preview of the wonders to come on your African adventure.