It was after hearing the stories from my dying mother in law that I decided to visit the old windmill. It was one of those things I’d always meant to do but never got around to and I mean it’s not as if it was far away: 10 minutes or so on my bike.
Originally built in 1738 and restored 20 years ago, the windmill was situated in the somewhat appropriately named ‘Southern Corridor Park’ (zuidelijk randpark): a long strip of land, approximately 200 meters wide and two kilometres long sandwiched between apartment blocks on one side – and the main highway from Rotterdam to Amsterdam on the other. The park had been turned into a recreational area, an oasis of green in the midst of a big city; there were open grassy areas, lines of trees, a number of small lakes, a bike trail ….and the old windmill.
For years I had regularly ridden passed it but never really gave it a second thought. Then one day, I stopped, got off my bike, and took a closer look.
It was 21 metres high – high alright – but windmills 40 high were not unusual. In 1738, there were an estimated 10,000 windmills in The Netherlands, most of them concentrated in the west of the country between Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Windmills were used to pump water out of the soggy farming land and over the dykes and into canals and rivers. But they were used for many other purposes such as milling grains, sawing planks (crucial for the shipbuilding industry) and grinding spices.
Inside the windmill, I was surprised at what I found: a complex system of shafts and cogs – like clockwork – most of them made from wood. In its time I realised this was an impressive piece of machinery: high tech.
No other visitors appeared.
I was alone inside this strange, centuries old machine. My thoughts drifted and another windmill appeared before my mind’s eye, along with the reminiscences shared by mother and daughter during their last days together …….