Text and Photographs Nina van Zyl
Text and Photographs Nina van Zyl
We were driving through Tsumeb on the way back from a weekend in Etosha when we decided to stop for coffee at a place I had heard about and was curious to see for myself. A renovated theatre called Teaterhuis (“theatre house” in Afrikaans) with 535 stunning red retro seats and a massive auditorium, it had been converted into a coffee shop and boutique hotel. Where were the rooms, I wondered. Did one enjoy your cake on the stage? The possibilities flitted through my head and I couldn’t help getting a little excited. After meeting owners Theo and Suine Bekker I quickly went from impressed to awed to absolutely bowled over in a matter of minutes.
The last time I was in Tsumeb I hadn’t even ventured as far down the street as we had now, believing that the historic part of town came to an end after the second church. There it was: across from the politically correctly named United Nations Park, along Presidential Avenue. I’ll admit that I had expected something much smaller. Not this massive block that is the largest auditorium in Namibia. Yes, you read that right. Not even the National Theatre in Windhoek has as many seats. Built during the middle of the last century and known as the Van Riebeeck Teater, this theatre was the hub of Tsumeb social life during the town’s mining heyday. During that time it belonged to the mine, along with the gymnasium across the road. And while the gymnasium is still in use, it does seem a little in need of tender love and care. In contrast, Teaterhuis has that in spades.
The fact that anyone took up the challenge of renovating this amazing space is impressive enough, but then I found out that the couple, their two sons and daughter actually lived there while they were at it. Imagine staying on a building site for not just a couple of months, but two years! That’s how long it took to return the theatre into something that could generate a proper income. What must have been so exciting was finding all the little storage rooms, the little nooks and crannies, tucked away in this corner or that, above the stage, behind the projector room, rooms with seemingly no way to access them, no stairs, nothing. It was a process of discovering and converting. All of it done with lots of guts and plenty of grit.
I should mention, though, that Theo and Suine Bekker both come from the hospitality industry, so it’s not like they were newbies to the game. They were based in Oshakati, and with the kids going to school in Tsumeb there was a lot of travelling back and forth. Eventually, the distance and the long drives got to them. They needed to be closer to their children, although I wonder if they could have imagined how much closer their family would be getting.
The theatre is a hit with local couples planning to get hitched. This room is usually the bridal suite.
Take the time to enjoy a cup of coffee on the stoep.
Most of the decor items inside Teaterhuis were either gifts the couple received or found at second-hand and antique stores.
Theo and Suine Bekker outside their theatre/boutique hotel, Teaterhuis.
The theatre is not lacking in space. The mezzanine, where the projector and sound equipment was kept, was such a humongous space that it was turned into the family living quarters with four bedrooms. The boutique hotel has ten rooms of which two are luxury rooms with lovely views of the neighbouring park. The rooms are skilfully decorated, modern, yet warm and inviting. And everywhere are artworks which to my surprise were painted by Suine and her mother.
Through all the strife and sweat that comes with any business starting out, the family is enjoying their theatre house. The younger kids act out their own made-up dramas on the stage (isn’t that just every child’s dream?), and on weekend nights the family gets comfortable with duvets, pillows and blankets in the aisles and watches movies projected on a screen. Imagine the kind of movie nights they must have.
It is heartening that there are people like the Bekkers in the world. People who put their heart and soul into something quirky, something unconventional, something from our past that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Something that needs to be preserved, and needs purpose. New life in an old building is, after all, never a bad thing.
SHOWS AT THE THEATRE:
Keep an eye on Teaterhuis’ Facebook page for updates on the latest acts to grace their stage.
Address: Corner of Main Street & Ilze Schatz, Tsumeb, Namibia
Telephone: +264 81 739 8077
This article was first published in the Summer 2019/20 issue of Travel News Namibia.