Text and Photographs Nina van Schalkwyk
Text and Photographs Nina van Schalkwyk
I often wonder what the easiest route is to take through Windhoek’s CBD that would give one the best views of the city. There are certain buildings that I love, certain places that I want to show everyone who visits, so that’s why it had me thinking: what’s the best way to go when you’re on foot?
I drove around, up and down Independence Avenue, scouting for the streets that I’d follow, got out of my car and scouted around a bit. When I was still in high school, just up the road from Independence Avenue, we used to walk down to the cafés below when school came out early. I loved exploring the area back then; it was like a new city with a changing landscape. To this day, the area around Independence Avenue remains special to me. Which is why most of what I would suggest for a walking tour in Windhoek revolves around this compact area.
The simplest point to start your tour of Windhoek is, without a doubt, the corner of Independence and Fidel Castro. Enjoy the energy and livelihood of Windhoek’s main artery.
Walk past the Zoo Park on your right and notice the trees planted there many years ago and now grown to a massive size. In winter the park can seem quite plain, but it’s still a rare green zone and worthy of appreciation nonetheless!
Notice the island running down the middle of the street which is planted with bushes to conceal the fence. It is there to keep people from crossing the street illegally. You’ll notice that we locals like to cross the street at any point where we need to, not the point allocated for it!
Across the road from the Zoo Park is the Gathemann building, which I’ve written about before, and which happens to be in my favourite stretch along Independence. If you need a dose of German elegance, head up the steps and order a cool glass of lemonade, or whatever you fancy, and look down at the people as they come and go. If not, keep going with your journey along Independence Avenue.
Further along from Gathemann is a little clock tower before the entrance of a walkway that leads to Wernhil Shopping Centre. Legend has it that if you stand under the clock when the hands move, your nose will turn green. I’ve never seen evidence of it, but I keep hoping. When I was a little girl, I was coaxed into standing under it and then bam! My nose was green! Well, that’s what I was told anyway; I couldn’t see for myself because no one ever had a mirror with them. Coincidence?
You’ve just passed the main Post Office, and you’ll now see up ahead some more greenery. The hill is a bit of an incline, but it’s good exercise, so keep going! On the corner of that street and Lüderitz Street, you can see on your left a mysterious little house from back in the day, a little run down now, but as with many aged buildings in Windhoek, it is a pretty example of German colonial architecture.
Across the road to your right, you’ll catch a view of the gardens of the old presidential home. Sometimes you can see bunnies hopping along inside the fence. As you stand there, appreciate the simplicity of the location. The president has now moved to a loftier residence, but for many years this was where the most important person in Namibia lived.
Turn left (north) and head down Lüderitz Street toward Kasino Street. You’ll pass by the Public Library on your right, built in the last century, as were many of the structures in this street. As you come to the end, spot the Kudu statue on your left at the intersection. From this vantage point you can only see its back, but if you’ve got the time, make a circle around the old fellow. You might not notice it if you’re not familiar with kudu’s, but this statue is not quite as realistic as I’m sure the artist would have wanted. Not to worry, there’s much more art up ahead.
From the Kudu, go east along John Meinert Street, and you’ll notice some quaint little buildings on the left side of the street. Those are the National Theatre of Namibia’s offices. They recently gave the theatre (on the right side of the street) a facelift and made their catchphrase “Everyone is a performer”. I love that!
On the corner of John Meinert and Robert Mugabe (stop for photos with the street sign) is the National Art Gallery of Namibia. Outside the modern-era building are some artworks for you to inspect. Then head on inside and take a look around. The gallery often exhibits wonderful pieces from contemporary Namibian artists. On certain Friday nights, they open the gallery to the public after hours with the Happy Art Hour, which is a great opportunity to meet some of the creatively inclined locals who come around for culture and wine. Get the dates for Happy Art Hour here.
Now you have to make a decision. Either continue up Robert Mugabe toward the Christuskirche at the top, or continue one street east and turn up Love Street, which will bring you to the top of the hill from behind the Parliament Gardens, past the bowls club and a few pretty colonial-style houses. The latter route is my favourite, not in the least because it is quiet, but also because it gives one a better sense of the expanse of green laid out before the Parliament building.
If you choose to take Love street, follow it up the hill, south over a roundabout, turn right beyond the bowls club, and you’ll walk along the side of the Parliament building on your left, the gardens on your right. Take a moment to sit down on the steps leading up to the Parliament building and catch your breath. Look out and appreciate the beautiful view of the Christuskirche ahead.
No matter which route you chose to take, you now have the opportunity to explore the Parliament gardens. My father used to tell me when I was young that the other name of the Parliament was Tintenpalast, which is German for ink palace, because of all the ink used there, but I liked to imagine it was because it was because the surroundings are as beautiful as a drawing. During dry times, the grass can get a little patchy, but there is still always a great atmosphere in these grounds, and it’s an especially favourite place for newlyweds to pose for their photos.
Pass through the gardens to the other side and come up to street level again. You can cross the roundabout to get closer to the church in the middle or continue straight to the freshly built Independence Museum, which looms over the structures surrounding it. The restaurant on the fourth floor has a fantastic view over the city.
Take a stroll up along Robert Mugabe from the church and you’ll see ahead of you on your right the imposing structure of the Bank of Namibia building. Just to the right of the building is a road that leads down a slope toward a parking area. This is where you need to trust me, okay? Follow the road down to where it splits, turn right and you’ll find yourself facing the flank of the Supreme Court of Namibia. The architecture of this structure is one of most photographic spaces, so take your time. Enjoy it.
And when you’re done, trace your steps back and continue down the road to the Hilton. From here you can either take the lift to the top of the Hilton for a sundowner, or if you’ve had enough of all the views today (Ha! Never!), continue down the road to the intersection, cross over and at the next intersection turn left to get to the Warehouse Theatre, where there are a bar and restaurant, as well as the Craft Centre further along.
The other option is to just swivel around the Hilton and go back to where you started, which means you get to end your journey with a sweet and smooth cup of organic ice cream from Cramer’s. Perfect.