Windmill operators in tiny Dutch village say they're overwhelmed by tourists

Wind mill operators in the Netherlands want a cap on tourists visiting their small, picturesque Dutch village.

Town of 60 gets 600,000 visitors a year, says local miller Anja Noorlander

A windmill in Kinderdijk, a small Dutch village that is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a major tourist attraction. (Peter Paul Klapwijk/Instagram)
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Wind mill operators in the Netherlands want a cap on tourists visiting their small, picturesque Dutch village. 

Kinderdijk is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site — dotted with 19 windmills, which still work much as they did in the mid-18th century when they were built.

It attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, dwarfing in number the 60-odd Kinderdijk residents who live there and operate the windmills.

And now those millers say they've had enough. 

Anja Noorlander is one of them. Here is part of her conversation with As it Happens host Carol Off. 

What's your problem with the tourists in your town, Kinderdijk? 

Oh, we don't have any problem with the tourists. All the millers are really in love with the area and the mills. So we really understand that the rest of the world want to see the World Heritage Kinderdijk.

The problem is there is no ceiling. It's a little village. We live here with 60 people in the area. And at this moment, we get 600,000 visitors a year.

What do the visitors do when they come and see you in Kinderdijk?

They really want to see a mill on the inside. That's possible because we have one museum mill.

But they think it's [all] one big museum. So they go into gardens of people, inside other mills where people are living. So that's difficult.

And sometimes I can't even get my boat because somebody else is going away with it. They think I'm an actor. [laughs]

You wear wooden shoes, you have a boat, and you live in a windmill. So they think you're part of the props.

Yeah, they think I'm Snow White in Disneyland or something [laughs].

People skate on frozen canals in Kinderdijk's Mill Area, near Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)

I understand some people have come home to find people eating on their table, or even on their toilet.

Yes, that's true. And people are walking in our gardens, using our bikes.

That's not really a big issue. We understand that it's difficult for people to understand that we live here.

The most difficult part of it is that the foundation World Heritage Kinderdijk, and the city council and everything — they rule the area. But they don't talk with the millers.

So now they have a long-range plan for the future, and they don't talk with us.

It makes it really difficult because a lot of people are deciding how our lives get affected. I think if you have a world heritage [site], you have to take care of it for the future.

They're now building bridges and a visiting centre in the area to get more tourists over here. They're damaging the area.

How many visitors is the town council wanting to accept?

Four-hundred thousand. But they let [the cap] go a few years ago. It's always about money.

But doesn't that help you? Doesn't the area need money? These are expensive to maintain, these windmills.

We have enough money. We can manage the 19 mills with the money they already have.

What is it you like about living in a windmill?

[Laughs] Did you ever fall in love? You cannot explain it. You get a special feeling. And it's a machine. It's not only a building — it lives, if you get symbiotic with it, the mill lives because there is a miller. And the miller lives because there is a mill. It's a way of living.

And when it really storms, the mill moves a little bit like a ship. It's so special. Some people are scared about it, but I love it when I'm lying in my bed and I feel the mill going and you hear the cracking and the sounds and everything. And the wind's blowing through a little hole. I love it.

Anja Noorlander is interviewed by local Dutch television station RTV Rijnmond. (Peter Paul Klapwijk/Instagram)

All right. So you're not helping, because if you don't want more tourists to come, you're making everyone who is listening to this want to get on a plane. 

I really [hope] that everybody has the opportunity to come here. But I think the World Heritage Foundation Kinderdijk has to set a ceiling. You have to say only 600,000 can visit this year, and not more. Otherwise they make it not liveable for the people who live here.

It's so difficult, if you really love it — because I understand why people come here. Sometimes I get tears in my eyes when I wake up and I see the sun coming up and I think, "Oh my gosh, I'm so excited every day that I can be here."

Written by Ashley Mak and Kevin Ball. Interview produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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