Alte Feste Fortress To Be Revitalised As A Tourist Attraction

12 Apr 2024

In a year's time, Namibia holidaymakers will have another highlight for their stay in Windhoek: the Alte Feste fortress in the centre of the country's capital. The oldest preserved building in the city is being restored and transformed into a tourist centre.

This was announced yesterday by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture (MoEAC), the Namibia Craft Centre and the US Embassy. During an official presentation of the plans, US Ambassador Randy Barry handed over a symbolic cheque to MoEAC Deputy Minister Faustina Caley. The amount: 250,000 US dollars (currently over 233,000 euros and a good 4.7 million Namibia Dollar).

A museum with stories about the historic building, shops and a training workshop for Namibian handicrafts, an art gallery with studios and a shop with handicraft materials are planned. There is also a café-restaurant. The inner courtyard of the original rectangular fort is being converted into an event venue.

The Craft Centre is the driving force behind the project. As Craft Centre Chairperson Pamela Aupindi explained to representatives of the travel industry and media, the Craft Centre must vacate its current location in the Old Breweries complex by May 2025. The owner, the Ohlthaver & List Group, wants to use the building for other purposes.

MoEAC and the Craft Centre have signed a memorandum as the basis for realising the project. Whether the ministry will also help financially is questionable due to priorities like the overwhelming demand from schools across the country.


Raising more money with a corporate breakfast


Happy about the start into a new life for the Alte Feste fortress in Windhoek: The General Manager and the Chairperson of the Namibia Craft Centre, Shareen Thude and Pamela Aupindi, the Deputy Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Faustina Caley, and US Ambassador Randy Barry at the symbolic handover of the cheque.
Photo: Sven-Eric Stender


N$ 4.7 million, said US Ambassador Barry modestly, is only "a drop in the bucket". As Craft Centre Chairperson Aupindi explained in an interview with, at least N$ 15 million is needed. "With this we could finance phase I: Renovate, replace dilapidated beams, refurbish the premises for our craft shops and art gallery. It would also include the café-restaurant, the veranda and the courtyard."

Phase II comprises the building wing at the rear of the Alte Feste. "We need at least another N$15 million for this," said Aupindi. In order to realise all the ideas, a total amount of N$ 50 million (almost 2.5 million euros; amount according to the current exchange rate, 1 N$ = 1 ZAR) would be required.

Aupindi thanked Barry for the generous contribution, which will also serve as an initial spark. "In three weeks' time, we will be inviting people to a 'Corporate Breakfast'. We hope that other institutions, organisations and companies will also support our project. The Craft Centre has already been in talks with large companies in the travel industry for some time – also in order to take the demands and needs of Namibia holidaymakers into account when planning.

Repurposing also as a way of processing the colonial past

The needs of Namibians are also taken into account. Alte Feste symbolises a dark chapter in Namibian history: the German colonial era (1884 to 1915). According to historical photographs, there was a prison camp next to the Alte Feste fortress during the colonial wars against OvaHerero and Nama (1904 to 1908). Tens of thousands of members of both cultural groups died in the course of the genocide.

This painful past is to be processed through a variety of stories surrounding the construction of the Alte Feste. By redesigning the building for a new use for arts and crafts and as a meeting place, the aim is to look towards a shared future.

Finally, the architects had the floor. Jaco Wasserfall and Jens Wiedow explained the remodelling and gave an insight into the history of the Alte Feste (also see article on Wikipeddia). It begins in 1890 with the laying of the foundations. Planned by Schutztruppe commander Curt von Francois as a fortification, the construction took years.

From 1915, the building served as the headquarters of the South African Army and later as a dormitory for the neighbouring school. In 1957, it was listed as a historical monument. In 1963, the building was completely renovated and converted into a museum. In 2014, it received a silent guest: the dismantled equestrian statue is placed in the inner courtyard.


Dismantled rider statue in the courtyard of the Alte Feste in Windhoek. Photo: Sven-Eric Stender


Since the opening of the newly built Independence Museum right next door in 2015, the Alte Feste building, which was once again in need of renovation, has been closed. When it reopens in a remodelled form, the 'rider' could also take on new roles: Instead of a symbol of colonialist rule, a memorial to the suffering inflicted during the colonial era and – looking to the future – a visitor magnet for the Namibia Craft Centre.

In a year's time, the Alte Feste is set to be revitalised. "I know that's very ambitious," admits Craft Centre Chairperson Pamela Aupindi with a smile, "but we must and will manage it. Because our artisans need a new home by April next year."

Sven-Eric Stender

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