A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Leiden is a curious beast. The city and surrounding suburbs have a population of 332,000, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the Netherlands, and yet Leiden still enjoys all the calm and inclusivity of a small town. It hosts the headquarters of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company and an internationally renowned bio science park, but wandering the quaint, cobbled streets between austerely geometric buildings it seems perfectly conceivable that you have somehow meandered into the 17th century. And here, in this same city where one can visit CORPUS and take an interactive tour inside a human body over 30 metres tall, it is also possible to immerse oneself in the charms of the Molenmuseum De Valk, the municipal windmill museum.
On Saturday I pried myself away from my apparently self-replenishing mountain of work and went on an outing to this enchanting little attraction. The €3 entrance fee was not too abhorrent to my already overstretched student budget, and my aching brain was crying out in protest at the alternative suggestion, an exhibition on mathematics. Compared with that option, learning about windmills promised to be a mental bubble-bath.
De Valk is a stellingkorenmolen, or ‘tower mill’, dating back to 1743. It has seven floors, all of which are open to the public. On the ground floor you can see how the miller and his family would have lived in the early 1900s; the kitchen, living room and dining room are all replete with original furnishings. The next three floors have been converted into exhibition rooms, while the top three floors house the equipment for funnelling grain and grinding it into flour. On these dimly lit upper levels, as you manoeuvre your way past giant cogs and duck under dangling lengths of rope, you can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to labour in the mill, hauling sacks of flour through the gloom, surrounded by the raucous whir and clatter of machinery.
As can be seen from the photo below, De Valk is not the most technologically advanced of attractions. The single attempt to be ‘hi-tech’ is a power-point style presentation displayed on an old television set, accompanied by an audio track on which a Dutch lady with a rather too polished English accent recounts the entire 1200 year history of windmill development.
Pointing out this lack of technology is by no means a criticism. In fact, it adds to the general appeal of the place – visiting this museum is like paying a visit to your grandma’s house; it smells a little musty and everything feels slightly aged and past its best, and still you can’t help but feel fondness toward it. The windmill museum is low-budget, unrefined, but inherently charming.
Even if the prospect of windmill education doesn’t thrill you, I strongly recommend a trip to De Valk. In the absence of a great many natural vantage points, the view from the top of the Molenmuseum is probably one of the most spectacular in Leiden.