I hate the word charming. I’ve always felt that it doesn’t really tell you anything. But as I walked along the narrow paths of Kinderdijk next to the two canals, dug by hand in the 14th century to discharge excess water into the Lek river admiring the windmill dotted landscape, charming is the word that continually came to mind. Add to the mix a grounds keepers riding by on an omafiets wearing wooden shoes, and the charm quotient shoots up even more!
Picturesque but functional, Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, symbolizes the Dutch struggle against the encroaching water. One of the windmills operates daily and is open to visitors from March through October.
While Kinderdijk has the largest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands there are close to 1200 more throughout the country, mostly in Zuid-Holland. Initially used to drain water from polders that are below sea level, wind power was later used as an energy source for many other purposes, most notably as sawmills that facilitated the building of ships and helped establish a large merchant navy involved in overseas trade thus boosting the Dutch economy.
I love how the typically Dutch windmills, which were originally used to keep the country from drowning basically, lead to the production of other typically Dutch things that were, and in some cases still are, important to the country’s economy. Not only was wind energy used in earlier times for sawmills to make boats, but also for mills used to crush hemp for making rope and sailcloth; and we all know how hemp relates to the culture now.
Then there’s the ground grain that was made into flour for bread and ground malt for Jenever, the liquor you find in the little ceramic Dutch houses in the business class of the Dutch airline, KLM. Dutch cocoa, paint and cloth from the mills in Leiden, once the center of the Dutch textile industry.
And because I like finding American history in Holland, here’s a bonus: it’s believed that the Declaration of Independence was written on a piece of parchment from “De Schoolmeester” windmill in Zaanse Schans, the world’s last paper windmill.
How charming is that?