Station: [17] Display Case & Diorama / The Language of Mills

What’s the miller trying to say? 

Millers were able to transmit messages via the position of the windmill’s stationary sails. Since the windmill was one of the tallest buildings in any given area, that windmill code could be read over great distances. Like any other language, the windmill code varied considerably in different countries and regions. In some areas, it even mattered whether the sails were spread with sailcloth or not. But we’re only going to focus on the position of the sails.

In our diorama, the mill with the reefing stage and the open trestle post mill are sending out different signals. The sails of the former are arranged like a cross of St. Andrew. The miller’s message is "Taking a short break". The open trestle post mill, on the other hand, which has its sails at one o’clock, four, seven and ten o’clock, is announcing a wedding or the birth of a child. This sails arrangement was known as “die Freudenschere” – shears of joy. 

If there was a bereavement in the family, the sweep would be set to “shears of mourning”, which has the sails at two o’clock, five, eight and eleven o’clock. That’s the arrangement you see on the sawmill in the display case. In a vertical position, in other words, arranged like the cross of St George, the sails proclaim far and wide: time to quit, the day's work is done. Unfortunately, we can’t show you an example of that arrangement.

Photos: © Dagmar Trüpschuch und Förderkreis Alte Mühle Donsbrüggen