Mapping German millwheels: Where is Schubert's miller girl?

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

It must be a very bad miller Who never dreamed of wandering. Let it sing, youth, let it rush, and joyfully follow its course,

There are millwheels in every clear brook.

Would that I had a thousand arms to swing,

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Would that I could turn the wheels with a roar . . .

That the pretty miller's daughter would notice my true heart.

These days, alas, Franz Schubert's lieder are no evocation of village life.The rushing, liquid accompaniments of "Die Schone Mullerin" are a longing, rather, for bygone days.

Just how bygone, writer Rudolf Braunburg decide to find out.

He began with those detailed maps of roads and trails and "beautiful outlooks" that every German Sunday afternoon walker and weekend backpacker relies on. It was no use. Most of the waterwheel mills on his charts had not existed for years. And the serendipity mills he found weren't on maps.

Even more shocking was the ignorance of old villagers. They might swear there were no mills for miles, when there was one to be discovered a stone's throw away. Or they might direct inquirers to a site that would turn out to be full of cement and pipes for some new apartment house.

Children turned out to be the best source of information. He followed as they set off on their bikes and led him to still or churning paddles.

The waterwheel mills began dying out in the 1920s. But still, some 16,500 mills survived World War II, Braunburg relates in his forthcoming photograph- and-essay book, "Waterwheel Mills in Germany." Today the number has shrunk to a few hundred.The old mills have been consumed by the encroachments of suburbia, the damming up of streams, and the disinclination of miller's sons to pursue their father's unglamorous careers.

The waterwheels are still, most of them. Apprentices come no more. Today's youths have no time for "wander years" or romantic dreaming by rushing brooks. For Braunburg, and for Germany, it's a diminished world.

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