The Old Wind Wheel

August 2022

For us it was once a landmark, the old rusty wind wheel beside the channel connecting the small fishing harbour with a large lagoon, a former bight of the Baltic. The wheel was the first we saw when we approached the harbour on the new road from the west. Once the wheel drove a wooden Archimedean Screw which drained the surrounding wetlands for agricultural use. In our early years, we visited the wheel occasionally, musing how it works.

The lagoon was separated from the Baltic by a spit which was extending westward over centuries until only the small channel-like outflow was left. During the last decades I often visited the harbour at the mouth of the channel, but it was only a few years ago when I realized that the wheel is no longer visible from the road. Rusty and motionless, it is now hidden behind high trees and only to be seen from the small bridge crossing the channel.

In early summer, I took the small path (No Trespass!) through high reeds towards the wheel. I was curious if the Archimedean Screw was still in its place, possibly even workable. But there was no way through. The shaft for the inflow was totally overgrown by thick brambles, unpassable in shorts and without a machete. But a few meters away I found a new drainage ditch where an electric pump took over the wheel’s work.

For me, this wind wheel stands for all the things that changed during the last decades, in the harbour and in the old fishing village about 2 km to the east. It was by the late 1960s when we discovered the village and the harbour, surrounded by lakes, large beech woods and endless fields in the hinterland.
 

On our first visit to the village, we took the old small and curvy road leading north-eastward from the main road directly to the beach near a row of green wooden sheds. Here the fishermen stored their gear, mended their drying nets suspended between wooden poles, or repainted their boats. In the shallow bight small open fishing vessels were gently rolling at their moorings, gulls and other waterfowl soaring in the wind. We instantly fell in love with this place and for me it felt like paradise.

On both sides of the village the cliff line changes into smooth shores. In the west lies the former bight with the channel and the wheel, the spit secured by a long dike. Eastwards lies a smaller lagoon, separated from the sea by a barrier beach. It is also a former bight, connected to the sea by a small, meandering outlet. Both lagoons are surrounded by extended wetlands and reed belts, partly protected as bird reserves.

All along the coast are broad sand and pebble beaches, surrounding the shallow bight with a seabed of sandy patches, big boulders, and seagrass beds. The colour of the water changes according to the weather, offering a range from a dull steel gray over all shades of blue and green, culminating in a tropical turquoise over the sand beds on sunny days. I love especially the sunny days when cloud fields are drifting moderately over the sky, causing a pattern of continually changing water colours with different intensities.

One or two years after our first visit my father bought a holiday appartement on the backside of the cliff. Here I spent most of my leisure time for years: First school holidays and weekends, and later, with my own kids, also a lot of our vacations. Right from the beginning I loved to walk the beaches for hours at all seasons, becoming a real beachcomber, a passion I’m still following today.

However, gradually things were changing. The little harbour was enlarged and is now a marina for leisure boats, the fishery declined step by step, many houses have been renovated and enlarged, and of course new houses and hotels were built. The pub favoured by young people was closed and a spacious golf course was laid out just a few kilometers away. New green sheds were added to the old ones, hosting a sail and surf school and a cosy café. Today there are only one or two part-time fishers left who still use their sheds in the initial purpose.

The coastline changes gradually too. Due to heavy landslides after strong, eastern gales the cliff retreated meter by meter over the years, an accelerating process due to climate change with severer and more frequent storms and higher sea levels. On the other side, the local campground at the small lagoon was closed, removed and changed into a nature and bird reserve, a place we often visit to observe birds. Not all changes are bad.

The surrounding landscape changed only marginally. The lagoons are still surrounded by their broad reed belts, the large beech woods not cleared. Like a long swell on the open ocean, the seemingly endless fields are still waving over the soft moraine ridges, partly still owned by local counts. A few weeks ago, I swam together with my youngest brother out into the bight and we realized, that, compared to the last decades, from this perspective only marginal changes are recognizable. However, the locals have to make their living and must adapt to the demands of modern tourism and therefore there are more changes to come during the next years.

Some years ago, the municipality set up a couple of plates along the promenade, showing old black and white pictures of the village. They were taken in the first years of the last century, about 120 years ago. Some photos show the proper village and we recognized a few things which we could still remember, though they disappeared during the last decades. Other pictures show the old fishermen sitting together on a bench in front of a shed, smoking their pipes and looking over the bay. Other pictures show them mending the nets or processing their catches in a small smokehouse.

When we nowadays stroll through the village, occasionally times are merging. We ‘see’ how it looked like a few decades ago and how the things are today. It’s like walking in the same place simultaneously at two different times. And whenever I approach the village on the old avenue lined with mighty oaks on both sides and negotiate the narrow curves and the ups and downs of the road, when I pass the neolithic grave-mound to the right and the manor house and the wide view over the great lagoon to the left, I’m the boy once more on the day we discovered the village.