by Amy Schoeman
What is it about this hotel that has triggered the enthusiasm of so many people over such a long period of time? “The hotel has a soul,” says Stephan Wacker, the establishment’s manager, with conviction. “It is an oasis in the desert. From whichever direction you approach it, you have to cross many kilometres of dust, sand and rocks, and you start longing for a cheerful welcome at the end of the road. This is when the Hansa Hotel opens its arms to you.”
Selected guests and clientele of the oldest hotel in Namibia converged on Swakopmund on Saturday 4 June 2005 to celebrate the Hansa’s first century. Guests were invited to overnight in the hotel and join the owners, management and staff for a splendid six-course dinner and historical presentation hosted in the Hansa’s elegant dining room.
About seventy guests were held spellbound by the recounting, between the six courses, of the hotel’s colourful history, augmented by a slideshow of some 120 historical photographs, not only of the Hansa, but also of several other traditional hotels in Namibia. The presentation was done by Günther Kesselmann, Chairman of the Swakopmund Arts Association, while donning different hats relevant to each historical period – from the traditional felt hat worn by the German Schutztruppe with its brim turned up on the one side to a classic white colonial pith helmet, tall airy chef’s hat and sporting golf cap. These he took with a flourish from a hat stand behind him, much to the mirth of his decidedly captive audience. The Hansa’s general manager, Stephan Wacker, made a short speech, highlighting the special qualities of this flagship establishment in Namibia’s hospitality industry. This was followed by an informal albeit spirited few comments by major Hansa shareholder, Eric Lang.
Needless to say the menu for the 100 Year Celebration was spectacular. It consisted of no less that six courses, starting with a generous portion of Crayfish Cocktail, followed by a delectable Kalahari Truffle Cappuccino, a Sorbet Extravaganza to refresh the taste buds before the main course, which was Medallions of Springbok Loin on a morrel boletus mushroom cream sauce, garnished with potato and leek straw and served with green Swakopmund asparagus and Pommes Gratin. Although by this time most of the guests felt fairly replete, few could resist one the of Hansa’s all-time greats – Rote Grütze with vanilla source – followed by Coffee and Petits Fours.
Different wines were served as the courses came up – starting with a 1990 JC Le Touz Pinot Noir Sparkling Wine, followed by a 2003 Villiera Cellar Door Chenin Blanc, a 1997 Steenberg Cabernet Sauvignon (with the main course) and a 2000 Avontuur Above Royalty Noble Late Harvest to wash down those delicious berries.
The Hansa’s 100-year rise to fame
A hundred years ago, on 5 July 1905, the master hairdresser Paul Miersch announced to his valued customers by means of a large advertising poster that he had moved his business to a new double-storey building next to the Woermann Agency in Schlucht Street opposite to the terminal.
This new double-storey building turned out to have so many rooms that he gladly rented some of them to travellers, and so the Hansa Hotel was born. For a period of several years the history of the hotel more or less disappears into the mists of time. The next players to enter the stage are the Rummels, and the hotel emerges from obscurity in 1954. This is no wonder, since Sebastian Rummel was a highly skilled chef and Elisabeth a talented interior decorator. Very rapidly the energetic couple activated the Hansa’s meteoric rise to its current status of a luxury establishment.
It was the Rummels who created the Hansa’s unique atmosphere, one that persists to this day, resulting in its fame spreading far beyond Namibia’s borders. They renovated and expanded the existing structure and laid the foundations for the strict standards the staff and management still set themselves today.
When they took over, the Rummels had inherited a small hotel based on the two-storey house built originally by Paul Miersch. Although it had been expanded to include some of the neighbouring buildings and had been renovated and remodelled several times, the present-day Hansa Hotel was then just a glimmer in the Rummels’ eyes. Unfortunately, Sebastian Rummel died in a plane crash in 1968, just before his dreams of the expansion and renovation could come to fruition.
But his wife Elisabeth persevered, and ultimately realised those dreams for him. From 1970 onwards she managed the hotel with her second husband, Hans-Joachim Scheithauer. The hotel had already become a magnet for travellers from all over the world, and now it truly reaped international acclaim. As in the past, this success story still rests on two pillars: a carefully selected and professional staff that identifies intimately with the hotel and its guests, and its excellent cuisine.
The Hansa today
In 1988 Elisabeth Rummel-Scheithauer sold the Hansa to Messrs Kühle & Neubert, who managed it until 1992 and then sold it to the Hansa Trust, of which well-known Swakopmund businessman Eric Lang is the main shareholder. Quite atypically for a hotel, the Hansa’s staff members have remained faithful for many years. They consider it an honour to be working there. Management, in turn, is continuously updating the service standards with follow-up and advanced training.
A forty–year veteran, Reinhold Mertens (Cheffie), has placed his indelible stamp on the kitchen and the exquisite dishes it turned out over the years. He found a worthy successor in Sven Höritzauer. The principles that governed the preparation of the items on the by now famous menu remain the same – using only fresh and local ingredients. In the final analysis, it is the people who work there that make the Hansa what it is, not the furniture and fittings, no matter how tastefully these have been selected. They are the reason why guests from all over the world feel at home in this elegant little haven on Namibia’s coast. At the Hansa great value is placed on individuality. Thus every room has its own carefully selected décor. What remains unchanged is the establishment’s overall ambience. In the final analysis it is one of traditional elegance, cosmopolitan charm and classical luxury.
The name Hansa Hotel is derived from the Old High-German word for group or team. It changed to Hansa in the middle-ages and after 1358 became the common term for a powerful association of German traders who traded with the rest of the world. When Germany joined the colonial era of the European powers, ‘Hanse’ or ‘Hansa’ began to mean a meeting place for travellers overseas, like the harbour of Swakopmund in the German colony of German South West Africa – the colonial name of present-day Namibia.
This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.