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Hermann Deckert - Grootfontein’s famous cartwright

Avatar of inke inke - 01. April 2016 - Discover Namibia

August Deckert at the hand-operated saw, 1975. (Photo: Die Suidwester, 30.4. 1975)

Older residents of Grootfontein still hold fond memories of the carpentry and blacksmith workshop of Hermann and August Deckert, which closed its doors for business thirty years ago. It was situated in the heart of the town and was the place to visit when a sturdy wagon or any spare part for the farm was needed or when a broken wagon wheel had to be mended. The workshop was also a popular meeting place for farmers where they could sit in cozy corners and catch up on the latest news events.

The history of the Deckerts and their wagon-building workshop dates back to the early days of Grootfontein. In June 1907, Hermann Deckert, who was born in 1879, landed at Swakopmund on board the ship Admiral. He had followed the call of his two brothers August and Heinrich, who had joined the Schutztruppe for German South West Africa in the 1890s and had later purchased the farms Lähn and Rothof in the Grootfontein District.

The year 1908 was to become of special importance for the history of Grootfontein. The new building extensions of Hotel Rothe and Hagen were inaugurated on 27 January and the first narrow-gauge train steamed into Grootfontein in March. Shortly afterwards Hermann Deckert as a qualified blacksmith and wagon-builder also founded his business in the town. He acquired the site opposite the Hotel Rothe and Hagen where he built a smithy workshop and a dwelling house of corrugated iron sheets. Hermann Deckert constructed a hand-operated saw and he also had his own water supply, which was pumped from a well situated next to his workshop. He also made all the furniture for the house.

In 1912, Hermann Deckert married Martha Hannebohn. Their first child, a daughter whom they named Charlotte, was born in early 1914 but sadly, she died six months later. After the outbreak of World War I, Hermann Deckert joined the Schutztruppe. However, soon after hostilities had ended he was allowed to return home where meanwhile his son Hermann had been born in May 1915. Other children that followed were Rudolf, Cäcilie, August, Ingeborg and Helga. A tragic loss for the parents was when their eldest son Hermann joined the German troops during the Second World War and did not return.

By 1927, the business was thriving and a Chevrolet truck was purchased. It served the Deckert family for many years and was still in good running condition in 1975.

In 1939, son August joined his father in business. Together they built all the wagons and carts that were needed in the entire north of the country. They were also very handy when it came to the making of spare parts for ploughs, cars, windmills and other equipment. In addition, Hermann Deckert was a master in manufacturing decorative wrought-iron articles; an example of his special craftsmanship is the entrance gate to the Grootfontein cemetery, which he made during the early 1930s. Later when wagons were increasingly substituted by cars, the Deckert’s main business focused on Ovamboland where they sold hundreds of carts. Hermann Deckert’s carts were most desired as they had iron wheels and wooden spokes.

Closely related to the Deckerts is the story of the six million gold Reichsmark pieces that were deposited by the German government in Hermann Deckert’s smithy shop for more than 20 years. As he was an honest man not a single piece was missing when they were collected in 1937. Although he was promised a reward, he never received it. Many years later some people were still intrigued by the treasure and went on searching for it in the district.

During the 1980s, after both Hermann and August Deckert had passed away, the family donated all the equipment from the workshop to the Grootfontein Museum, where it can still be viewed today.

The names of the famous wagon-builder pioneer Hermann Deckert, who followed his guild until he was 92 years old and died in 1971, and his son August, will always be held in fond memory.

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