Washed-out railway embankment between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz, German South West Africa (present-day Namibia)

From the photo album of Liddy Forkelaround 1910

German Historical Museum

German Historical Museum
Berlin, Germany

The embankment at Feldschuhhorn was built by colonial Germany between 1906 and 1907 for the railway line that would connect Keetmanshoop, in the south of the German South West Africa colony, with the port at Lüderitz. Railways played a special role in the infrastructural penetration of the colonies. Their advocates invoked the construction of railway routes as a symbol of progress, while critics rejected it as utopian.

This photograph, taken just a few years after the embankment was built, shows a soldier of the ‘protection force’ (Schutztruppe) crouching on the washed-out tracks in a pose that is anything but heroic. This glimpse of failure is why the snapshot was chosen as the key image for the exhibition German Colonialism – Fragments Past and Present. What the picture does not show is the history
of the railway line’s construction, which is directly linked to the genocide against
the Herero and Nama people.

This swiftly built section of the line was intended to enable the direct supply of provisions to the German colonial troops, and in the long term to secure military domination of the colony’s southern parts. For the construction work, prisoners of war were brought in from the concentration camp
on Shark Island, Lüderitz. Statistics collected by the German colonial administration show that of the 2014 prisoners put to work between January 1906 and June 1907, 1359 died during the construction.


  • Title: Washed-out railway embankment between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz, German South West Africa (present-day Namibia)
  • Creator: From the photo album of Liddy Forkel
  • Date Created: around 1910
  • Location: Keetmanshoop
  • Subject Keywords: Colonialism
  • Type: Photography
  • Rights: Deutsches Historisches Museum; Text: Sebastian Gottschalk, Heike Hartmann, Stefanie Müller
  • External Link: DHM collection database
  • Inventory no.: Do2 2003/1139

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