Many people all over the world are aware of the Dutch windmill’s importance. They know it as an inseparable element in the Netherlands’ landscape. Tourists from many different countries find a visit to one of the Dutch windmills to be an indispensable part of their Holland experience. One of Holland’s most important and famous windmills sites is Zaanse Schans, in close proximity to the country’s capital, Amsterdam. This is where the ‘Amsterdam Windmill Tour’ takes you.
A number of windmills there, accessible to the public all year round, is reminiscent of Europe’s largest industrial area in the 18th century. In fact, during that period, there were at least 600 industrial windmills active simultaneously near the ‘Zaan’ river. In total Zaanse Schans area had more than 1200 windmills upright and working in its rich and fascinating past. Those were counted among more than 10.000 windmills that operated in Holland for centuries. Part of them, like the ‘Zaan’ windmills, had an industrial function. These were wind driven machines in which products of great variety were manufactured: flour for bread, paint, oil, mustard, chalk, spices, paper etc. etc. Other windmills in Holland were used as drainage mills. They pumped redundant waters out of low areas below sea level, into canals through which these waters could flow into the sea.
By the end of the 19th century, the vast majority of those historic windmills fell into disuse. They were replaced, first by steam driven- and later by electronic machines. These were much more reliable and at disposal 24/7, unlike the windmills that depended on the wind power and could only be used 200 days a year on average.
In 1923, the “Dutch Windmill Foundation” was established. It aimed to stop the largescale demolition of the archaic Dutch windmills and to safeguard their iconic value. Today, the foundation’s members pride themselves on having some 1200 existing historic windmills in their database that still beautify the Dutch landscape. The foundation attempts to render these old windmills operational and to maintain them in an active state. This is necessary because an inactive windmill is liable to deteriorate. The wooden gears and beams inside of the windmill require frequent operation. This to guarantee sufficient ventilation, to prevent the timber’s rotting or damage by pests.
Furthermore, the windmill’s biotope or direct environment needs to be protected and cleared from obstacles. The dominant position of the windmill in it must be warranted. This not only to optimize the object’s visibility. But also to make sure the mill can be easily reached by the wind.
The Dutch Windmill Foundation provides a training for those who want to become a miller. Today some 200 millers are active in the Netherlands. Together with approximately 5000 volunteers, they operate hundreds of the old windmills. They obtain funds and subsidies from the government and private organizations, around €20 million Euros per year, for necessary refurbishment and maintenance works of old windmills.
However, the future funding for windmills seems worrisome. Therefore, many of the old Dutch windmills have got a new destination. Several of them have been converted into bed & breakfasts, cafés or restaurants, museums, wedding locations, residences or offices. The redevelopment solution is an excellent way to generate extra income to complement the ever less accessible subsidies.
Hopefully the future of the quaint and authentic windmills is secured and they will continue to embellish our country. May locals and foreigners enjoy the windmills for many generations to come.