The guide at the Britz Windmill tightens a rope hanging from a beam and then shows how the mechanics work to make the mill grind a little finer. “A professional miller would be able to hear and feel the wind quality, and know immediately how tight to fix the millstones,” he sighs. “But here, all of us are just hobby millers. We have to check the milled flour every so often and then adjust the stones.”
The historic smock mill in the South of Berlin was built by a miller called Stechhan in 1865. It was a family-run grain mill until the 1930s but was partly destroyed in World War II. For decades, nobody cared about the old mill in the suburbs of then West Berlin, until it was restored for a horticultural show in 1985.
Since then, interest in the mill has grown, and these days there is a voluntary association for the maintenance of the mill, which also offers guided tours for tourists and weddings in the mill.
“The Britz Mill is by far not the oldest or largest mill in the country,” our tourist guide admits, “nor does it have a very special history or technology. But we are proud to be the only mill in Germany offering training courses for millers.” Even a professional milling process technician took the course recently, just to get an idea how food technology worked in former times. The hobby millers actually use the mill to produce flour, and yes, they do bake bread from it for the visitors.
Indeed, the technology of the smock mill itself is not very old – invented in the Netherlands in the 16th century, only the upper part of the mill had to move with the wind. Before that, with the earlier post mills, the miller (and his family) had to turn around the whole mill building whenever the wind changed direction. That wasn’t a very convenient system and so post mills are relatively rare – in the course of our travels we have come across several old post mills a few years ago on a cycling tour along the Elbe River.
Interestingly, most of the windmills we have seen (mostly travelling in the Northern part of Germany, or on windy islands and coasts) seem to have been used to mill grains.
In more mountainous areas (but also some others), water mills were more popular – and these were often used for all kinds of technologies such as forging and sawing, grinding and polishing, or just fetching water. Water energy was more consistently available, so professions who needed constant energy preferred to travel to and settle in areas where they could build watermills.
Have you visited a working windmill, perhaps one accessible for sightseeing? And which do you like more, windmills, or watermills?
***Note: We did not receive payment or sponsoring for this article from any of the above mentioned places.***