After your tour of Europe, how about a short break in the Lower Rhine region. With its rivers, streams, fertile meadows and fields, this part of North Rhine-Westphalia has a landscape not unlike that of the neighbouring Netherlands, which was famous historically for its windmills. Unsurprisingly, windmills soon started operating in the German border region – to mill grain and grind oil-bearing seeds. Every village and town had at least one mill. In the late 19th century, the Cologne and Düsseldorf administrative districts had some 300 windmills twirling their sails in the wind.
The oldest windmill on the Lower Rhine is Steprath mill in the Walbeck quarter of Geldern, about 40 kilometres or 25 miles from here. There’s a photograph in the bottom row, on the right. It was built in around 1500 and is Germany’s oldest working windmill. Locally, it’s nicknamed Bärenmühle, Bear Mill, because of its vaguely military air. It’s a tower mill with a tail pole. The tower is 19 metres tall, and the sails are 28 metres in diameter – equivalent to 62 and 92 feet respectively. The mill was extensively renovated and started operating again in 1995.
Almost all working windmills in the Lower Rhine region had stopped working by 1970, no longer able to compete with the industrial mills. Only a small number of windmills – in Selfkant and Heinsberg, for example – were kept working by their idealistic owners.
Some of those mothballed mills have gradually been restored and put back into use by non-profit friends’ groups. The first of them was our own Old Mill in Donsbrüggen.
Photos: © Dagmar Trüpschuch und Förderkreis Alte Mühle Donsbrüggen