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Mysterious Monument in Aus

Avatar of inke inke - 26. January 2018 - Discover Namibia

In former German South West Africa the emperor’s birthday was celebrated every year. (Collection W. Rusch)

Inke Stoldt

Aus is situated 125 km east of Lüderitz on the fringe of the Huib Plateau in the Namib Desert. If you make time for a closer look at this little village of 1,200 inhabitants (in 2011) you will discover a memorial stone at the riverbank next to the old railway station from German colonial times. The stone is a good two metres high, but there is no commemorative plaque... In whose honour was this monument erected? 


It is the year 1913 and Aus is a vibrant trading centre, the gateway between the coast and the interior, a Schutztruppe base with a garrison. Since the completion of the railway line from Lüderitzbucht to Aus in 1906, various hotels, cafés, shops and a post office have opened. Pieces of land around Aus have been sold off sold to traders, former Schutztruppe soldiers and whoever else was interested in setting up a farm. 

When the first diamond is found along the railway line to Lüderitz on 14 April 1908 it triggers a diamond rush to the coastal areas close to Lüderitzbucht. This holds advantages for Aus as well. Farmers from the vicinity supply Kolmanskop and other settlements in the diamond area with meat and dairy products. Karakul sheep, introduced to German South West Africa in 1907, become an important commodity. 

In 1911 a German school opens its doors in Aus. The Kubub stud farm breeds workhorses for the mines and race horses for Lüderitz. 

In 1913, the Silver Jubilee of Emperor William II, Aus is flourishing and can afford to celebrate the event in royal Kaiserweather with blue skies which is always guaranteed in sunny South West Africa. The Lüderitzbuchter Zeitung newspaper regaled its readers with this report on 27 June 1913: 

“As early as Saturday, June 14th, at half past seven in the evening, a large torchlight procession with music and led by horsemen moved through the streets of Aus to the Bahnhofshotel [Station Hotel], where the Horse Depot South had arranged an evening of music and entertainment. (...) On Monday morning at half past five the inhabitants were woken by a loud canon salute and before it was 9 o’clock the Citizens’ Association, the school, the Horse Depot, members of the police force and guests who happened to be in Aus had all gathered in the Citizens’ Park, set up by the Citizen’s Association, to attend the festivities. The school started off with the song ‘Alles schweige, jeder neige’ [All be silent, all bow]. Afterwards the acting head of the depot, Lieutenant von Oelhafen, held a pithy speech which ended in a thundering cheer of Hooray! for the emperor. Everybody sang the Emperor’s Hymn after which the chairman of the Aus Citizens’ Association, Mr Schwarzenberg, stepped forward and gave a short speech at the memorial. The veil was lifted and the memorial stone revealed. It was decorated with plenty of flowers and bore the inscription: William II 1888 – 1913.”

In Germany and the colonies no one was celebrated like the ‘Emperor of the Workers’. His birthday, Kaisers Geburtstag, on 27 January was a festive day for his subjects every year, also in German South West Africa. Folklore has it that the maize had to be planted by this date or else it wouldn’t grow properly. On his ascension to the throne William II had introduced labour protection projects and basked in the peoples’ admiration – especially during the early years of his reign.

The last Emperor of Imperial Germany and King of Prussia ascended to the throne in 1888 when he was 29 years old. It was dubbed the ‘year of the three emperors’ because William’s grandfather as well as his father, who suffered from cancer, had both died that year – his father’s reign had lasted only 99 days. William II was born with a withered left arm which is said to have had a lasting effect on his psychological development. He was infamously moody and had an intense desire to be recognised and revered. With his beefy speeches he quite often put his foot in it. His penchant for travel and especially for wearing historic costumes and officers’ uniforms from all over the world gave all but the impression of a weird character.

The 30-year-reign of the last German emperor went down in history as the Wilhelmine Era. William II was determined to establish Imperial Germany as an important political force among the world powers. He attached great importance to international prestige which he tried to attain by an arms build-up and by pushing colonial politics in Africa and the South Seas. 

In 1913 the emperor revels in his Silver Jubilee celebrations. By now his popularity has dwindled, but the people honour him with colourful processions, marching bands and flags flying everywhere. William II drives through Berlin in a car decked out in flowers while the dark clouds of the Great War start to gather over Europe.

Some 11,000 kilometres away, the small community of Aus proudly joins the celebrations. During the Silver Jubilee festivities hardly anyone around here would believe that two years later the good life will grind to a halt. The economic collapse of Aus starts with the outbreak of the First World War. Only now, almost a hundred year later, Aus is awakening from its Sleeping Beauty slumber. 

The memorial in honour of Emperor William II is still there. The copper commemorative plaque, however, mysteriously disappeared many years ago.

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