of the first images that comes to mind when people think of Holland, no matter
where they are from, is a windmill. Funny enough, windmills are not a Dutch
invention at all. So how come they ended up as an icon for everything Dutch?
The first windmills were probably invented by the Greek. We know that the
Greek Tesibius, who lived from 285 to 222 BC, was probably the first who experimented
with the idea of using wind instead of water to drive a mill.
We also know that the Persians had windmills for grinding grain, during the
940s, although historians suspect that they may have existed in the area already
in the 700s. These were fixed mills that could not turn to follow changing winds.
Only if the wind was blowing from a certain direction the mills could be used.
Windmills first pop up in Europe during the 1000s and 1100s in Flanders and
Normandy. These were also fixed mills and mainly used for grinding grain.
Around 1180, we find the first documented rotating windmills in Flanders, also
known as post mills. These mills were a technical revolution because they allowed
the miller to follow the wind by turning the upper part of the mill, hence making
more and better use of it. During the 1200s and 1300s, the post mill spread
around Europe and could be found from Scandinavia in the North to Bulgaria and
Turkey in the South.
By the 1400s, post mills were a very common sight in almost every part of Europe.
So what happened that nowadays people associate windmills so specifically with
the Netherlands? Cynics may say that this is mostly the result of the promotional
efforts of the Dutch Bureau for Tourism. And although they have put a lot of
effort in promoting an image of tulips, cheese and windmills overseas, they
did not invent these icons. They merely took and emphasized icons that were
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If windmills are such a common thing in daily life it is no surprise that
they pop up in many Dutch sayings. A few to entertain you:
"Hij loopt met molentjes" He walks with windmills,
meaning he is insane.
"Hij heeft een klap van the molen gehad" He
was hit by the mill, meaning he is insane.
"Wie het eerst komt, die het eerst maalt" He who comes first, grinds first,
meaning the person who shows up first is the first to be served / get some
kind of profit.
"Twee harde stenen malen zelden fijn" Two hard stones rarely grind well,
meaning that two stubborn people usually are unable to cooperate.
"Je rommelt als een molen maar ik zie nog geen meel" You
rumble like a mill, but still I see no flour, meaning you are making a lot
of fuzz but you aren't getting anything done.
"De molen is door de vang" The windmill missed
the brakes, meaning that something has become a total disaster.
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