A trip to the Carlton Centre is like a real blast from the past. I remember trips to town with my mother and my grandmother when I was a little girl, and a real treat was to be taken up to the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre. I remember the first time my best friend and I were allowed to watch a movie on our own, when we were about 11, and her dad dropped us at the movies in the Carlton. My friends played ice-hockey at the Sky Rink when I was a teenager. As a youth, I used to play in this area – often parking in the Carlton Centre and clubbing in the surrounds. A friend trained to be a chef at the Carlton Hotel, which was incredibly prestigious, and we’d meet him after work to trawl the streets of downtown Johannesburg in search of a party.
The Carlton Centre was opened in 1973 and established itself as the tallest building in Johannesburg – indeed, the tallest building in Africa – at 223 meters. Surprisingly, 41 years later, it still holds that title. Despite the ups and downs Johannesburg has experienced, and despite suffering through the most recent international financial crisis (or “economic downturn”), the Carlton Centre is still a thriving shopping mall and business centre. Sadly, the illustrious Carlton Hotel, which once hosted the Rolling Stones, the late Whitney Houston, as well as several international statesmen and women, closed its doors in 1997 when Johannesburg was at her most dangerous. Thankfully, and with much effort from investors, NGOs, and government departments, Johannesburg has had a miraculous turn around, and there is even talk that investors are looking at re-opening the Carlton Hotel.
In the mean time, the Carlton Centre is a vibrant hub of activity. There are a number of fast food take away restaurants, clothing shops galore – both larger retail chains and designer stores, and some that definitely sell one-of-a-kind specials like the suit below! There are gift shops, luggage shops, cell phone accessory stores, and plenty of beauty salons. You can still catch a movie at the Ster Kinekor cinema there and although the Carlton Sky Rink no longer functions as an ice-rink, it now serves as a live events venue. There is a gym and even doctors’ rooms. You will find just about anything you are looking for in the Carlton Centre.
But for me the real treat of visiting the Carlton Centre is still to take the same old lift – the one I caught as a child – to the Top of Africa, the 50th floor. The trip to the top costs a mere R15 for adults and R10 for children under the age of 12. Once you’ve landed, you will be astounded by panoramic views of Johannesburg, which really put the city into perspective. From here you can see just how much development and construction is going on around the city. You can see the active industrial areas, the high-rise apartments, the banking district. You can see the thriving, up-and-coming hipster hangouts at the Maboneng district and Braamfontein, home of the Neighbourhood Goods Market and the iconic Nelson Mandela Bridge. You can see The Ponte, the round high-rise that is so symbolic of Johannesburg’s rise and fall and rise again. You will see the old colonial buildings juxtaposed with more modern ones.
You can enjoy tea at the top, if that tickles your fancy, and you can follow the story of the Carlton that sits on information boards, but mostly you will try to catch your breath at the spectacular views that Johannesburg will put on for you.