Gathemann Building Restored To Enhance City Centre

20 Dec 2017 16:30pm
By Francois Lottering

WINDHOEK, 20 DEC (NAMPA) – Buying a suit in the former South West Africa, now Namibia, during the 1930s was more than just going to a shop; it was a lengthy process once the order was placed with the travelling merchant.
Orders took up to eight months to arrive via ship from Europe, and dispatching it to clients another few weeks. To top it all off, customers had to hope the suit fits once they receive it.
“My grandfather used to have an old truck, crisscrossing the country with material and samples, taking orders for suits, shirts and other garments that were manufactured and ordered from overseas,” narrates Mathias Muir, the great grandson of the very first owner of Otto Muir, one of the oldest men’s outfitters in the country.
The Otto Muir shop opened in the Gathemann building in 1934 along Windhoek’s Kaiser Wilhelm Street – today known as Independence Avenue – when the road was still a single-lane dirt road and transport was not as advanced as today.
Architect Rynand Mudge, owner of the Gathemann building and the adjacent Erkrath building, said the two buildings are more than just property, “it is a legacy and part of Namibia’s heritage”.
They were designed and built with the same construction materials to ensure they blend in with each other, says Mudge.
Up to today, many people hardly notice that these are actually two different buildings with separate names.
The buildings belonged to the Gathemann and Erkrath families.
Mudge narrates that the Erkrath Building was constructed as a residence and business premises for the firm ‘Ein- und Verkauffsgenossenschaft GmbH’ – a German sales cooperative.
One of the businesses in the building was a butchery with a meat processing room and the upper storeys served as grand accommodation for some employees.
The Gathemann building changed owners for the first time in 1994 to the Mudge family and then during 2000, the family acquired the adjacent building from the Erkrath descendants.
Mudge says this sale in the real estate business left an uneasy feeling among the German business community, who feared that the new and young architect might change the whole facade of the buildings, and therefore destroy a part of their rich heritage, culture and the face of pre- and post independent Namibia.
“I made a pledge in the presence of Mayor Björn Von Finckenstein at that time, that I will take care of the buildings and tenants,” Mudge says, adding he assured them that the German architecture will not go to waste.
Despite difficult economic times, Mudge tasked a local renovation company, Unique Construction, to upgrade and enhance the facade of the two buildings without compromising its original look.
The shop fronts were replaced with modern window and door frames, the old canopies that darkened the shops were replaced with a modern glass canopy to ensure natural light while at the same time protecting pedestrians and clients from the elements.
The renovations were celebrated on 01 December 2017.
“In a way, it was to honour the commitment that I made in 1994, and the buildings were restored to its original glory the way architect Wilhelm ‘Willi’ Sander designed them in 1910 and 1913,” Mudge says.
Another business, Luisen Pharmacy, opened its doors in the Gathemann building in 1913.
Current owner and pharmacist, Ulrich Ritter, told Nampa it was not a smooth ride for the very first owner, a certain Herr (Mr) Hertzog, to open the pharmacy.
He needed the permission of the German Kaiser to open his pharmacy and to obtain this papers, Hertzog had to travel by boat to Germany to get his documentation in order, and only in 1910 did Luisen open its doors opposite where the Hilton Hotel is now situated.
Those years the pharmacist had to mix the medicine for almost every patient, unlike today where medicine is manufactured by pharmaceutical companies.
This, said Ritter, created a kind of bond between the pharmacist and his patients.
Most of the businesses, with the exception of Namibia Wildlife Resorts, are tenants with roots dating back to 1913, while other businesses like Bock Jewellers are now third generation tenants, soon to celebrate trading 85 years in the Erkrath building.