“Is this Yurp? Are these Yurpians?”

Lower Saxony appears to be good windmill country. No matter where you are (although the top of Gifhorn’s Wasserturmcafe – small picturesque cafe built on top of large picturesque water tower, German being pretty big on literal names – was exceptionally good), as long as you’re underneath the open sky and you look hard enough at the horizon, you can find a few wind turbines. Some are mounted on the smooth white towers I’m used to, some on metal lattices that look like stripped-down pylons, some of each with red stripes on the blades toward the tips (everyone knows da red wunz go fasta).

However, the Muhlenmuseum is something else. The mad dream of a mad German windmill enthusiast, it features around a dozen genuine full-size historic windmills apparently brought here stone by stone, plank by plank, thatch by… thatch? It’s also home to models of every wind-powered pre-1900 machine known to man, from mad vertical-sail mills I thought only existed in Age of Empires to a weird Cretan construction looking like a cross between a penny-whirligig and a whitewashed WW2 gun emplacement… and a few other things besides. There was a replica of a German waterwheel boat (I didn’t understand at first, either) and an imported Korean overshot waterwheel complete with odd gargoyle face spitting water, which wasn’t quite balanced and paused every so often before suddenly gushing and spinning. Millstones were everywhere. There was an English post mill, a Spanish mill (to tilt at), Dutch mills, German mills, a Ukrainian mill… I like windmills. As you can imagine, I had a good time.

The place also contained, for somewhat poorly defined reasons: a large German bakery, a selection of very large bells hanging some distance above benches, freakish statues which may also have been from Korea, and two Eastern Orthodox churches. This being my first actual contact with the sect, I found the wooden, onion-domed structure (we only visited one, they charged admission) and its garishly pimped-out interior somewhat endearing. Though men of the cloth from closer to home are certainly capable of looking chill and forbidding, I find it utterly impossible to find Orthodox priests intimidating, looking as they do like rather swankily dressed Father Christmas clones. The sheer amount of bling that one tiny church had in it, though…

We saw a monumental monument to Kaiser Wilhelm (the first), a dark bronze giant (his sideburns alone could have been recast into a life-size statue of a lesser man) with an expression of glorious contempt. He stood underneath a roof you could put on a cathedral, reached by flights of steps that would have done well in Battleship Potemkin. There was a big bronze plaque giving its date of completion (sometime in 1892), cost of construction (833,000 gold marks) and exact dimensions (I can’t remember the numbers, but bloody huge), which was unexpected and somewhat amusing. In England, you have a plaque saying which aristocrat cut the ribbon. Here, you have a receipt.

It was imposing, standing near the crown of a hill, and built of coarse, hard stone in red and grey. Sing about dust in the wind, but this man died one hundred and twenty years ago, and the name endures, the monument stands, cold and grand as the day it was unveiled. It’s nothing on the “long enough timescale”. It’s (generic cliche short time analogy, possibly “blink of an eye” or “heartbeat”) even in the history of Europe. But it’s there, and it’ll still be there when I’m dead and buried in the cold earth.

(I met a traveller from Allemagne/Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of bronze…)


“hier bent u”

We had no chance to refuel the car our ourselves in Harwich, but the huge, half-empty car ferry taking us to Hoek van Holland did a credible midnight sausage roll to supplement the excellent chicken-based supper Catherine provided us with. As ever, it was good to see Eli and family; this visit had a little less comicking/conventioning than the usual, a little more strolling (excellent weather) and a lot more Stand Alone Complex and The Man Who Would Be King.

I like travelling by sea. There’s just something about being on a vast metal box*, a great, powerful machine built by the skill and hard work of people; it gives me a weird kind of pride in being human, and a sense of comfort which has nothing to do with actual safety (OH CHRIST THERE’S NOTHING BUT WATER FOR MILES AROUND AND I CAN’T SWIM). I watched the docks and cranes of Harwich shrink, first to a thin line of orange lights and then to nothing at all. I slept on deck for part of the night, near enough to the funnel to keep me warm, listening to the distant rumble of the engines

I dropped a few texts while still in English waters, where they were supposed to be cheap, and as a reward got (among other things) a message back telling me that I’d left my mobile charger at Eli’s… dammit. However, given that I now have 77p left on my phone (either texts suddenly became £1 each or I had a lot less credit than I thought I had) it may turn out to be academic…

We arrived at the Hook early in the morning, and enjoyed the strange feelings of driving on the right, vast tomato-growing greenhouse complexes, wind turbines everywhere and no hills whatsoever. Dutch is a wonderful language to listen to, even if (like me) you know about three words of Dutch and all of them are to do with pking – you can really feel the double vowels.

Breakfast was, as expected, cheese and ham. The cheese came in both normal and shot-through-with-cumin, which with dreadful cod-Hindi I dubbed “cheese jeera”. The bread was coated in delicious poppyseeds, and the five hours of driving interspersed with three hours of wandering around in the Dutch (and later German) countryside that took us to Gifhorn were altogether highly agreeable.