by Ron Swilling
Having survived (in essence) since 1906 when the railway line, or Eisenbahnlinie, was built between Lüderitz and Aus, the Bahnhof Hotel has witnessed more than a century of history pass its doorstep.
People flocked to the south-western corner of the country when diamonds were discovered in 1908, providing opportunity at the small trading post of Aus for enterprise and expansion.
At the time of World War I, in 1915, Aus was a strategic German stronghold, with a radio mast, two planes bombing the South African bases intermittently, and a series of entrenchments running through the hills. The water from the springs, which had initially attracted the first hunter-gatherers to the area, and the hilly terrain, made Aus an ideal place to make a stand.
However, besides the odd skirmish, the troops were never given the chance to test their fine fortifications, as they were hopelessly outnumbered, and with news of South African troops approaching from multiple directions, they were forced to evacuate the area without firing a single shot. At the end of the campaign, a prisoner-of-war camp was erected on the outskirts of Aus to house non-commissioned officers. The camp was used until the end of the war. Its rubble is still visible today. When the turmoil of war had settled, people began to farm in the vicinity. Aus remained a small dorpie (town), influenced over the years by the rise and decline of karakul farming in the area.
The first Bahnhof Hotel, a wooden structure, burnt down in 1949, and was rebuilt the following year. Black-and-white photographs of the original building are dispayed on the walls of the quaint old bar. The hotel had a succession of owners and leaseholders until four partners bought it in 2006, spending a year modernising the establishment before re-opening its doors.
Owner-managers Bernd and Lela Roemer were attracted to the area by its wide-open spaces, described by Bernd as ‘something for the soul’. In 2010 they added a curio shop and additional rooms to the hotel, which now offers 21 units, allowing the Roemers to cater for larger groups.
The units include a wheelchair-friendly room and a family room. An adjoining house was converted into a second dining area, which doubles as a conference facility that seats up to 50 people. Wireless Internet is available for guests and conference dele-gates. Bernd and Lela also gave the road into Aus a facelift by planting river reeds and 40 young palm trees.
Today, the brightly painted buildings, palms, outside deck with wooden benches and tables, and a row of international flags, make the Bahnhof an attractive stopover when passing through Aus. The spotless rooms lead off a passageway decorated with beloved photographs of landscapes and quiver trees. Guests have a choice of relaxing in the lounge, bar, dining room, beer garden or on the sundeck, while secure parking behind the hotel ensures peace of mind. A nearby airstrip is available for fly-in guests and the Bahnhof conveniently stocks aviation fuel.
Abundance of activities
An extensive à-la-carte menu is available to passersby and prebooked buffet dinners are offered for tour groups. Bread and a selection of mouth-watering cakes are baked at the Bahnhof, a treat which visitors may be surprised to find in such a small settlement.
Aus is known for its unpredictable weather. It is possible to experience all four seasons in a day or to sit by the fireside in mid-December, so guests are advised to pack a warm sweater when visiting the region, even in the summer months. As water is scarce, the hotel makes use of its grey water to keep the garden watered.
Bernd, owner of Aus Desert Tours, offers excursions to view the commonwealth graves from the war period; the older Schutztruppe graves; and the remnants of the prisoner-of-war camp, as well as scenic day trips into the area and sundowner drives. Guests also have the option of visiting the old diamond-mining town of Kolmanskop 10 km east from the coastal town of Lüderitz, stopping en route to view the wild horses of the Namib at the Garub viewpoint.
When driving into Aus to refuel, keep your eyes open for the Bahnhof on your right. The hotel will provide a tasty meal, draught beer, a slice of black-forest cake, a convenient overnight stay, and a good helping of history.
This article appeared in the April/ May 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.