When railway employee Zacherias Lewala found a handful of twinkling stones in southwestern Namibia in 1908, little did he know how his discovery would transform that slice of the country, then called German South-West Africa. The stones were diamonds, and Lewala's discovery caused the city of Kolmanskop to rise from the Namibian sands [source: Kolmanskop].
Kolmanskop was created as a diamond-mining town, and in its heyday was home to 1,300, a mix of Germans and Namibians. The city featured elaborate German-styled homes, a post office, school, bakery, butcher shop and even an ice plant. The story goes that the first two buildings erected, even before the houses, were the pub and the skittle alley. Skittles, a game akin to bowling, was a popular form of recreation among the Germans. During the first six years of mining, an incredible 5 million karats of diamonds were uncovered here. Kolmanskop also became home to the first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere, as it was used to uncover diamond thefts [source: Kolmanskop].
Eventually, mine production declined, and in 1928 a much-richer diamond vein was discovered 168 miles (270 kilometers) to the south. People began leaving the city, with the last family departing in 1956. Today, Kolmanskop is a melancholy tourist site. Visitors can book a one-hour tour out of neighboring Luderitz, where they'll be able to see the ruins of residents' impressive homes and businesses, plus the restored mine captain's home, butcher shop, gym and skittle alley. You do need a permit to visit [source: Kolmanskop].