Amongst the Netherlands’ famous icons stands the thousand of windmills. For centuries, windmills have been used to drain water and keep land dry. As about 20% of Dutch land locates below sea level, and another 50% lies less than one metre above the line, those windmills – known as polder mills – had once made it possible for the Dutch to conquer their land and even reclaim from the sea. Until now, the most famous Dutch mills are nineteen polder mills in Kinderdijk. This UNESCO site is impressive by its creative form of water management, and picturesque by sight.
Windmills convert the energy of wind into rotational energy by using sails or blades. Originally, generated energy was used for grinding grain in food production. Over the course of time, windmills’ structure and mechanism have become more and more sophisticated and their usages varies from generating electricity to pumping water and many more.
Industrial windmills cluster in farm, grow higher and larger. Schiedam of South West Netherlands is home to five largest windmills in the world. They are up to 40 metres high and used to make jenever (Dutch gin). In Zaanse Schans (just north of Amsterdam), some hundreds of mills formed the first industrial site in the world, making a variety of products from paints, mustard, oil to paper. Today, they remain as a part of history telling stories of blowing wind.
When I was at school, I learned about a beautiful country in Europe sharing borders with Germany and Belgium. There were a lot of tulips, wind mills and dams. All girls looked like ones on Dutch Lady milk packages. In English class, I was told that the Dutch Lady lived in a country called H.O.L.L.A.N.D as in Hope Our Love Long And Never Die. It’s a romance.
Years later, I find myself in Amsterdam realizing that there is no Holland. There are a North Holland and a South Holland as two of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands. Here are the rest: Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, Overijssel, Zeeland, and Ultrecht. Each province has its own flag and capital city. Haarlem won the title to be the capital city of North Holland but its neighbouring city Amsterdam won the country’s prize. Amsterdam is the official capital city of the Netherlands but it doesn’t host the government, the Netherlands’ monarch, parliament and supreme court. They all seat in Den Hagg (The Hague).
The Netherland’s border actually reaches outside Europe to three islands in the Caribbean. Boniare, Sint Eustatius, Saba islands are three cities of the Netherlands but do not belong to any of the 12 provinces. People of the three islands are Dutch and vote in election with the Dutch government. However, they don’t buy things in euros. They use dollars.
The Netherlands herself is daughter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Her siblings are another three islands in the Caribbean: Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten. The four siblings don’t share flags, currencies or governments even though their people all share a Dutch citizenship.
There are tulips, wind mills and dams in Amsterdam. However, the Dutch girls I have seen look awfully unlike ones on the Dutch Lady milk packages in my memory. I suspect the ones in the Caribbean do too. I don’t know whether it is that the milk company’s advertising and packaging departments screwed it up or simply that stereotypes are normally wrong. By the same token, there are much more about the Netherlands than the stereotypical romance of a not-even-exiting Holland.