On a grey and rainy February morning I packed my trusty Nikon camera, H4N Zoom audio recorder, red notebook, and camera stand to catch a train to Utrecht. It’s that time again, to meet with Iris and check out a potential windmill for performance. In the past we have performed in the provinces of South Holland and South Limburg with water or grain mills. This time we were heading to a whole other beast: the saw mill, wind powered.
A short walk from the central station in Utrecht along a canal lined with cute Dutch houses on one side and utilitarian apartments on the other we could see the black sales turning. Wind from the southwest. We crossed a white narrow draw-bridge one by one, passed a dog walker and a jogger, and walked around the large barn that forms the base of the windmill. The historical part of this wood-cutting business is the barn, and the grassy courtyard surrounded by low houses where animals were kept and the “knecht” servants slept. Now this windmill “De Ster” (The Star) is a commercial venue with a cute cafe/bar (delicious pie and cappucchino), venue for weddings and concerts, and even a kindergarden on the property.
But Saturdays is the day the millers come and release the wings to the wind. This one boasts a group of five millers, self-described as an “anarchistic” group, and one can expect to meet 3 to 5 of them on these days, maintaining the mill and woodworking in the shed. A sixth miller is there in training. For them, Saturdays are holy, as they listen for the rhythm of the saws (wind-powered or electric), monitor the clouds, and close up shop with beer and sausage. It’s not very warm inside, but the smell of freshly cut wood is wonderful.
At De Ster are multiple tour guides climbing multiple levels of the wooden stairs and we went with two families with kids to discover more about the history and mechanics of this sawmill. It turns out the windmill had been torn down for several decades. Originally built in 1793, it was an industrial powerhouse in the wood trade, and in the hands of several generations of the “van de Starren” and “de Wit” families. The actual wood was imported from Scandinavia and quarter of the Black Forest in Germany were cut down for the hungry Dutch saw blades. Natural and commercial foresting had not been part of the Netherlands originally. The wood was brought in over the waterways, and even the massive trunks would be kept in the water to soften them for a year before they were slowly pulled into the workshop with wind power and since the early 1900s by electricity. In 1911 the windmill part was torn down, and in 1982 the books officially closed on wood trade. Between 1996-1998 it was reconstructed, with wood frame and 20-cm thick reed cover, nice and light for the spongy terrain here.
After the tour we had a chance to speak at length with two of the millers about our “De stem van de molen/The voice of the windmill” performance and find out more of their involvement at this location. Since the wind was to weak the saws were not activated, we could only imagine the sighing of the machine based on their descriptions and get a preview from phone videos. Suddenly I realized “sawing logs” probably has a much stronger sonic connection to snoring than I had thought. We will have to return on a windier day!
Regardless whether or not we will perform here, it was a fascinating trip!
Photos by Yvonne Freckmann (c) 2018
Caspar, our tour guide and molenaars Piet and Henk
De Ster Windmill: https://www.molendester.nu
Windmill Database: http://www.molendatabase.org/molendb.php