Referred to by many as ‘the baron and his bride’ during the early 1900s, the couple lived in bizarre European splendour amid the harsh landscape of what was then a German colony. Duwisib (which means ‘place of the rainbow’), their castle in the boondocks, was renowned as an oasis of hospitality.
A bold and adventurous character, he lost little time in marrying Jayta and by mid-1907 had swept her across the seas to a new life halfway across the world.
They bought land among the rugged hills south-west of Maltahöhe and set about stocking their farm with cattle, sheep and horses. A passionate horseman and successful show rider, Hans-Heinrich’s plan was to import bloodstock from Europe so he could breed
horses to supply the Schutztruppe. According to one theory, the ‘wild’ horses of the Garub region of the Namib Desert today may well be descendants of his mares and stallions.
And it's as true of the home he built as it is of his personality. To create a home for his new bride, he commissioned architect Wilhelm Sander to design a 900 square-metre neo-romantic castle of local red sandstone. More than 100 years later it still stands as a monument to their love.
Complete with battlements and even a tower, Duwisib has 22 rooms arranged around a small internal courtyard, and wide, cool verandahs. The double-volume Knight’s Hall is a triumph of high ceilings and large windows. Overlooking it is a minstrel’s gallery and ‘gentlemen’s room’ extravagantly decorated with trompe-l’oeil pillars – even a ceiling painting of a Zeppelin, which was hot new technology at the time. Sadly, some of the plasterwork is crumbling, taking the frescoes with it.
Here’s the most amazing bit. Apart from sandstone quarried from a site nearby, most building materials were imported from Germany. Craftsmen, too, were hired in Europe – stonemasons from Italy and carpenters from Sweden. Richly decorated with stylish furniture, embellished fireplaces, equestrian paintings and ornamental weapons brought from Europe, the castle is rumoured to have cost an impressive DM 250 000 by the time it was completed in 1909. Transporting all the building materials and furniture was a massive undertaking that involved long journeys by ox-wagon across the Namib Desert from Lüderitz more than 300 kilometres away.
Two years later, in September 1916, he died at the Battle of the Somme in France.
Jayta never returned to Duwisib. She lived in Germany and Switzerland until after World War II, when she returned to her parents’ home in New Jersey, where she died in the early 1960s. Although she outlived her high-spirited husband by many decades, she never remarried.
Today, Duwisib castle is a museum containing many original furnishings and fittings, as well as some paintings by Adolph Jentsch, who lived and painted there before World War II. Sadly, it's a little worse for wear, but it's still one of my favourite places in Namibia, not least because of the romantic story surrounding its creation.
Visit the tiny tea-room-cum-shop in the castle grounds and order their delicious apple tart.
From Maltahöhe in Namibia, travel southwest on the C14 for 38km then turn right onto the D824. After 12km, turn left onto the D831 for 16km, then right onto the D826. Duwisib, now run by Namibian Wildlife Resorts, is 15km along this road (72km from Maltahöhe).
More about Namibia
Meet Etosha's bushbabies
Sights, sounds and smells of Etosha
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