Day Trip to Zaanse Schans Open Air Windmill Museum22 April, 2012
Most people associate windmills with Holland/The Netherlands – however with modern technology and electricity, windmills had gradually lost its importance for industrial production of goods. Around 1920 there were only about 50 windmills left of the 1000 that had made the Zaan district in the Netherlands the oldest industrial area of the world. Thankfully, in 1925, a windmill society De Zaansche Molen was founded to preserve the mills for future generations. To see Holland’s windmills in their former glory, we headed to Zaanse Schans – an open-air museum of not just windmills but also various traditional Dutch crafts and architecture.
Zaanse Schans is essentially a town filled with very well preserved Dutch architecture and traditions – while crowded with tourists, you won’t get the feeling that everything is staged and get hit by expensive food and souvenirs which are commonly associated with attractions that are too touristy. You actually get to learn about Dutch culture through a visit to Zaanse Schans and the hands-on immersive approach of stepping into windmills and traditional houses make it a fun and informative day trip.
At our time of visit, there are 3 main working windmills in Zaanse Schans – De Kat (The Cat) Dye mill, De Zoeker Oil mill and Het Jonge Schaap Saw mill. These windmills date as far back as 1676 – the De Zoeker oil mill being one of the oldest. One feature of oil mills is their colossal millstones, which turn relentlessly to crush oil-bearing seeds or nuts under their weight (see picture below). These are known as edge runner stones as they roll on their edges and there are 2 of these stones which together weigh about 5000 kilograms. These heavy stones are driven by the mechanism of the mill powered by the wind.
When visiting the oil mill, you will hear a constant pounding from the repeated ramming of the seeds/beans for oil and experience a sweet smell which arose from the crushed beans/seeds – you actually experience what the working environment was like for mill workers more than 300 years ago.
The cap winder sawmill Het Jonge Schaap is the latest addition to Zaanse Schans’ windmill collection. Unlike the De Zoeker oil mill which was shifted piece by piece to Zaanse Schans in 1968, the Het Jonge Schaap sawmill was completely rebuilt based on detailed drawings of the original mill which was demolished in 1942.
The most important aspect of the sawmill is the rising and falling of saw-frames as they saw beams or tree trunks into planks. The gear wheels high up in the mill convert wind power into usable energy to power these saw-frames and other parts of the mill e.g. to hoist beams or tree trunks off the ground. Upon entrance into the sawmill, you are guided to a room where a video is played to demonstrate how this sawmill works and provides an overview of the history of this mill and the industry in general.
Besides seeing the internal workings of each windmill mechanism, we also got the opportunity to climb up to the top of the windmill where we got up close to the sails which turn with the wind to power the respective mechanisms below – be it to saw timber or crush oil seeds. You will have to steer clear of the sails though as they rotate at quite a rapid rate – the forbidden areas are clearly marked. It is also from the top of the windmill that you can enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding Zaanse Schans area.
What’s amazing about these windmills is that the sails can be turned to face the wind so that the mill can continue its operations throughout the day – this is done by turning the cap where the sails are attached to. Think of a windmill as a mushroom and the sails attached to the mushroom head; to face the wind, only the mushroom head is turned – you will get a better picture this way 🙂
For a quick aural and visual experience of the Zaanse Schans windmill, check out our video below:
Of course, there is more to Zaanse Schans than windmills – you can stroll around the traditional Dutch houses and check out clog-making demonstrations and sample some Dutch cheese at the dairy and cheese farm. Entry to the Zaanse Schans open-air museum is free – however there are admission fees to each of the windmills and other museums in the area. You can consider buying a Zaanse Schans card (€10) which gives you access to the Zaans Museum & Verkade Pavilion, Coopery and one of the following windmills: Dye mill De Kat, Saw mill Het Jonge Schaap or Oil mill De Zoeker.
Another alternative to consider if you would like to explore all the windmills and also at the same time check out some attractions in Amsterdam, is to get the I amsterdam card where for as little as €40, you get a 24-hour public transport pass around Amsterdam (train ticket to Zaanse Schans not included), free entrance to 36 museums in Amsterdam and free entrance to all 3 windmills in Zaanse Schans!
How to Get to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam
By bus – Line 91 runs twice hourly from Amsterdam Central Station, and takes approximately 45 minutes to reach Zaanse Schans. See the Connexxion bus company web site for exact schedule information.
By train – From Amsterdam Central Station, take the Alkmaar-bound train to Koog-Zandijk (approximately 20 minutes); Zaanse Schans is ten minutes from the station by foot. See the National Railway (NS) web site for schedule and fare information. For more information on the walking route from Koog-Zandijk train station to Zaanse Schans, see map below.
For more info on opening hours and attractions at Zaanse Schans, please see: http://www.zaanseschans.nl/