A picnic with a view of the bush: Time for the seniors to relax



Whereas people from poor countries, many in the southern hemisphere, migrate to the rich nation in search of work, retirees move in the opposite direction—in search of sunny weather, a lower cost of living and, above all, better care when it’s needed. Namibia offers all of these

The sun dips behind the Bismarck Mountains shortly after 7 p.m. The sky turns red and the blooming fields seem to light up. Hartebeests and springboks graze among acacia and camel thorn, birds can be heard tweeting, and the vast bush country of Namibia is cloaked in a glowing light. A group of senior citizens watches the spectacular scene from an observation platform in the shade of old stink shepherd’s trees. “We keep coming back to this place,” says Werner Renz, a retired teacher from Kirchheim, Germany. “Everyone
brings whatever they happen to have at home— cold cuts, cheese, chips, crackers, and beer or gin and tonic.” Last Christmas Eve, the seniors ate sausages and potato salad.

The retirees live in the Farm Residence Sonnleiten, which is located two kilometers from Sundowner Place, where an old windmill rises up into the sky. The dozens of brown-yellow bungalows in Sonnleiten are surrounded by an electrified fence interrupted by a rolling gate. The facility features gardens with blooming sunflowers, chamomile, cactus, and agaves.

Warthogs and jackals

Lilo Renz enjoys life abroad. Every morning at 7:30 she grabs her walking stick and heads out to the bush. The brief intervals of rainfall over the last few weeks have transformed the landscape here into a Garden of Eden. The ground is full of blooming lilies, bluebells two meters high, and thorny scrub that just keeps growing. “Every day I see animals—kudu and oryx antelopes, jackals and warthogs,” says Renz, a white-haired woman who used to work for a tax accountant. “It’s like paradise here.” Lilo Renz also likes to swim some laps in the heated swimming pool before breakfast. “I’ve always liked physical activity,” she says, “but back in Germany it often rained or else it was simply too cold.” Werner Renz, who is not similarly interested in physical activity, nods in agreement as he continues to read the AZ — the German language Allgemeine Zeitung, which is published in the Namibian capital, Windhoek.

Lilo and Werner Renz, both 70, took their first vacation in Namibia 15 years ago. They visited Etosha National Park and fell in love with the country’s vast landscape. They moved into Sonnleiten in 2009. The decision to move so far away from home wasn’t easy, but their children and grandchildren were all grown up — and all of them had their own lives. “Before we left, we saw them maybe once a month,” says Werner Renz. “Now we go to Germany for four months every year to see our family and friends.” More than 70 senior citizens live in Sonnleiten, which is located around 35 kilometers from Windhoek. Most of the residents are white South Africans and German Namibians. A total of 22 residents are from Germany, three are from Austria, and two are from Switzerland. Americans and Brits have recently made inquiries as well, according to Sonnleiten’s manager, Riaan van Heerden.

»Every day we come across antelopes — it’s like paradise here«

Lilo and Werner Renz

The couple moved from Kirchheim, Germany to southwest Africa. They visit Germany for four months every year

The windmill above the residence is from the old farm that was built 100 years ago

Currywurst and sauerkraut

The senior citizen residence has 53 houses plus a reception building, a restaurant, a library, a pool, a massage room, and a medical station. In its previous incarnation, Sonnleiten was a cattle farm established by the German immigrant Erich Rust in 1900. Rust was one of the pioneers who went on to establish the German colony of Southwest Africa. Germany’s control over the colony ended with World War I, but the cultural influence of Germans has remained in Namibia to this day. There are German-language schools, German culinary specialties such as Swabian ravioli, currywurst, and sauerkraut, and German-language radio stations and newspapers. Beer in Namibia is also brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law.

“Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy familiar things, and the opportunity to do so makes living abroad easier for some people,” says Rainer Schwertfeger, an engineer who worked in many countries around the world when he was employed as a project manager for Siemens. Schwertfeger visited Namibia for the first time in 1980, shortly after he completed his studies. He’s been in love with the country ever since, and that’s why he decided to retire here.

He paid just under €100,000 for a 130-square-meter house, which he moved into at the end of 2012. “For that price I could have only gotten a room with a bathroom on
Fuerteventura,” says Schwertfeger, 62, who hails from Ludwigsburg, Germany and is actually lucky to be alive, as he was in both Kuwait and New York when terror attacks occurred in those places. “I breathed in the toxic dust from the World Trade Center after 9/11; we had our offices down there and I still suffer from shortness of breath today,” Schwertfeger explains. “But I survived.”

Anyone who has been frequently exposed to danger appreciates the safety and stability of Namibia. The crime rate is low here, the political system works well, the country has good infrastructure, and there’s electricity and running water 24 hours a day. “Namibia offers all the advantages of Africa—but hardly any of the drawbacks,” says Schwertfeger. “You don’t need to get vaccinated, the clinics and hospitals are good, and most of the doctors even speak German. There’s also no air pollution here, and the groundwater in Sonnleiten is so clean that it doesn’t even need to purified. Where else are you going to find all that?” Only one thing is missing to complete Schwertfeger’s happiness: a woman.

A high and affordable standard of living

The seniors at Sonnleiten are a tight-knit community. They meet once a week to play boules in a small area between acacia and stink shepherd’s trees. They also do gymnastics twice a week. The physiotherapist Birte Burmeister visits the residence from Windhoek to offer massages, physiotherapy, and muscle-training sessions.

A hairdresser drops by occasionally, as does a cosmetician who offers medical pedicures. The seniors pay a lot of attention to their appearance, and most of them are in good shape. However, there are also a few who are in need of care. The residence therefore also houses a care unit staffed by two nurses 24 hours a day. Every house in Sonnleiten also has an emergency call button.

Sonnleiten has more than 20 employees who take care of the gardens, guard the facility, cook and serve meals, clean the houses, do laundry and iron clothes. “It’s virtually impossible to be able to afford such a standard of living in Germany,” says Schwertfeger. The fixed ancillary costs in Sonnleiten amount to €2.50 per square meter and month. A complete lunch, which often includes German specialties, can be had for less than four euros here—dessert included.

»No air pollution — where else are you going to find that?«

Rainer Schwertfeger

He traveled the world as an engineer. He liked Namibia best, so he decided to stay

Respect and appreciation

Still, living in Namibia is about more than just money. “People are always complaining about seniors in Germany,” says Hannes von Holtz, 78. “In Namibia, seniors are treated with a great deal of respect, regardless of whether they’re black or white. Whenever I come upon a long line, everyone immediately waves me forward to the front.” What’s more, Super-Spar, the most popular supermarket among German seniors in Windhoek, offers retirees a five percent discount on all products every Wednesday, while Namibian banks offer seniors one percent higher interest on their savings accounts. “Things like that are simply nice,” says von Holtz. “It’s a sign of respect and appreciation.” Three of his four children live in Germany. They’ve wanted to take me back to Germany many times,” says von Holtz, a big man with
snow-white hair. “But do they really expect me to live in a cramped retirement home there?”

Still some adventures to be lived

Von Holtz is wearing shorts and sandals. He’s sitting on a terrace and looking out at the Bismarck Mountains. His young dog, Reyka, has been keeping him company since his wife died two years ago. Von Holtz’ apartment is filled with large animal figures carved from African hardwood. “Everything’s much too hectic in Germany,” he says. “I’d rather stay here.”

After a lifetime of working in Germany, it takes some time to calm down, so to speak. After all, these seniors didn’t come to Africa to die; they simply want to enjoy their twilight years. They are agile—when they’re not visiting Germany they like to drive around Namibia. “You can do everything here that you like to do in Germany — you can read, listen to music, and even go to the theater,” says Ute Bräunig, 64, who moved into Sonnleiten last year with her husband, Günther, who is four years older. “However, you can experience some adventures as well.”

The Bräunigs had also considered retiring in Thailand. “The climate here in Namibia is better for my rheumatism, however,” says Ute Bräunig, who also likes the way everyone is helpful in Namibia: “Whether you’ve had a car breakdown or you need a job—people in Namibia are happy to help others without asking a bunch of questions.” What more could one ask for?

Andrzej Rybak

has been traveling around Africa for 20 years. What he especially likes about Namibia are its vast countryside, its rich animal life, and its traditional tribal cultures

»No air pollution — where else are you going to find that?«

Rainer Schwertfeger

He traveled the world as an engineer. He liked Namibia best, so he decided to stay