Living in Swakopmund - Germany on the South Atlantic
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
After the Luderitz trip, we spent another few days in our “Windhoek basecamp.” For many travelers, Swakopmund - Namibia’s German-style beach city on the South Atlantic - serves as a one- or two-night stop. We fortunately had the time to take a more extended trip. Rather than swing through for a couple days, we packed up in Windhoek, rented a car, and leased an apartment to live in Swakopmund for the next two weeks - great way to see the area!
More Dried Meat Deliciousness and a Swakopmund Overview
We checked out of our apartment in Windhoek and picked up the new rental car. Unlike our last month’s weekend adventures, we wouldn’t need a pick-up truck for this trip - back to the European-style small cars.
To take main highways from Windhoek to Swakopmund, you head north for an hour or so out of the capital, hook left and follow the highway west for a while, then angle southwest for the final stretch. All in, it’s about three and a half hours of driving that, looking at the map, takes you on a looping route up to the north before diving back south towards Swakopmund on the coast - at basically the same latitude as Windhoek.
While somewhat circuitous, this route does have the major advantage of taking you past the Wilhemstal Farm Stall, home to some of the best biltong and droewors in southern Africa (to many - the best). Like The Windmills pies in South Africa, Wilhemstal is an absolute institution in Namibia. If you’re driving to the coast for a beach weekend (or returning to the capital), you stop and load up on dried meat deliciousness. We did - both ways.
With more snacks than we needed, we continued on to our coastal destination. Located on the Atlantic Ocean just above the Namib Desert and below the Skeleton Coast, Germans founded Swakopmund in 1892 as the primary port for colonial South West Africa. And, the name has its origin in the city’s location. Just south of town, the Swakop River dumps into the Atlantic (that is, when it’s flowing in the rainy season). In German, Swakopmund actually means “Mouth of the Swakop.”
In the 20th century, port operations shifted an hour south to the more industrial-feeling town of Walvis Bay (of the eponymous oyster fame!). Now, Swakopmund has much more of a beach resort feel than industrial one.
Similar to its colonial counterpart Luderitz, you can’t miss the German influence in Swakopmund. The city’s streets - still called “Straßen” - are lined with German colonial architecture. But, efficient irrigation and the nearby river provide for a far lusher feel than the arid moonscape of Luderitz. Instead, Swakopmund seems part Bavaria, part Carlsbad Village in southern California.
The Swakopmund Brauhaus - “Ziggy, Zaggy, Ziggy, Zaggy, Oi! Oi! Oi!”
We rented an apartment two blocks from the beach on - continuing the German theme - Bismarck Straße. Centrally located, it would be a great launchpad for exploring the relatively small city. At only around 50,000 people, you can explore most of Swakopmund’s city center and beachfront pretty easily on foot.
Diving headfirst into its German roots, we opted for night one dinner and drinks at the Swakopmund Brauhaus. Walking into this dark beer hall, if you didn’t know better, you’d assume you were right in the middle of Munich.
Our server was an old German lady who, quite possibly, was the sternest person we’d ever met. If you think of the most stereotypical caricature of a strict German woman, double it, and you might approach our reality.
Clearly immune to Chipp’s lame attempts at humor, we got down to business, ordering big German beers, Jaigermeister, and schnitzel - when in Rome… And, several of those beverages later, we really felt transported to Bavaria. In a corner of the Brauhaus, a dozen or so older German guys sat around a table. Thoroughly lubricated, they all stood with their beers, sang “Ein Prosit,” and finished with a “Ziggy, Zaggy, Ziggy, Zaggy, Oi! Oi! Oi!” toast that would do Oktoberfest (and The Man Show) proud!
Unrelated to the German drinking antics, we met a professional guide that night at the Brauhaus. Technically speaking, you can drive directly from Luderitz in the south to Swakopmund on Namibia’s central coast. Yes, this route takes you directly through the Namib Desert, its massive dunes, and a complete lack of roads. But, for the adventure seekers, you can join a convoy of 4x4s on a multi-day, dune-driving excursion through the Namib, an apparently hair-raisingly scary trip bombing up and down staggeringly tall dunes. Bucket list item!
Daily Life in Swakopmund and Feeling Like Regulars
During our weekdays in Swakopmund, we worked - Chipp at a coworking space and Jenna in our apartment. But, we also settled into a routine a lot like our time back in Marmaris on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast. We’d work through early afternoon then head out for a late lunch / early dinner somewhere in town - and, on particularly hot days, take a dip in the Atlantic at one of Swakopmund’s beautiful beaches.
The city embraces this beachfront, tropical feel. A palm-lined strand parallels the wide beaches - perfect for evening strolls - and there are countless places to enjoy outdoor meals and sundowners.
Loving the hey-we-know-you feel of being regulars somewhere - we settled on a local watering hole. A streetside cafe around the corner from our apartment, Bar Zonder Naam (“bar without a name”) made for the perfect place for cocktails, delicious cheese boards, and taking in dusk in Swakopmund. During our two weeks in town, we logged a lot of time there, generating quite a sense of nostalgia looking back.
We also lucked out with the timing of our visit. The middle weekend, the city hosted a big street festival - tons of food, drink, and craft stalls - just off the beach. Between Namibian-style gin and tonics, big beers at the Swakopmund Brewing Co, and tons of dense, high-calorie street snacks, we had quite the gluttonous afternoon!
The Desert Tavern and Getting “Kidnapped” by Locals
We’d be remiss not to mention another Swakopmund highlight - the Desert Tavern. A bit south of the city center and somewhat off the beaten path, this is the place to go if you’re looking to tie one on here.
Somehow or another, we ended up here on our first weekend in town and immediately felt like locals - hung around the outdoor fire, took too many shots of Jaigermaiester, and got to know the regulars. And, with dozens of bras hanging above the bar, it was fairly apparent that people liked to party.
At the end of our first Desert Tavern night, we made that oh-so-common drunken promise to return. Fast forward a couple weeks, and we made good on that promise our last night in town. With the same crew from the first night, we, well, enjoyed the night. Like merrymakers the world over, our new friends wouldn’t accept a “hey we think we’ll call it a night,” instead seemingly taking us all over Swakopmund - some club with live music, the bar at a German sports club, and a variety of other foggy destinations.
The next morning as we were - very slowly - getting ready to leave, we bumped into some of these guys on the street. Quite spry, they cheerfully asked if we wanted to join them for beers and a braai down at the river.
Not wanting to even think about drinking a beer, we politely declined, chalking the situation up to one of two scenarios: 1) Swakopmund got the better of us, or 2) we’re getting old… Likely a little of column A, a little of column B!