Monument Ensemble Watermill Karoxbostel

The monument ensemble Wassermühle Karoxbostel is a cultural historic jewel in the Hamburg Metropolis region. It consists of the main building dated 1817, the Watermill (1893), the Sawmill (1900) and the nonlisted Bakehouse and former Pigsty. End of 2011 buildings were little more than ruins. Early 2012 88 women and men founded “Verein Wassermühle Karoxbostel e.V.”, a registered association, with the ambition to restore the crumbling buildings and transform the historic ensemble into a lively place of encounter and convivial meeting. Today this is reality. People of all ages, some handicapped, meet to learn, celebrate and enjoy events of culture and natural history. 

In 2016 the Mill Association was awarded the “State Prize for Preservation of historical Monuments of the Savings Banks Foundation Lower Saxony”. In September 2017 it was recognized by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs Lower Saxony as a “Place of extracurricular Learning in Education for sustainable Development.” The Karoxbostel Watermill is situated in Seevetal, Lower Saxony. First documentary mentioning of the Karoxbostel farm was in 1366. From 2012 to 2017 members of the Karoxbostel Mill Association, restored the severely derelicted estate. The monument ensemble Watermill Karoxbostel, located on a site of 2,5 hectare consists of the thatched main building, dated 1817 and erected as a traditional farmhouse, the three-storey Watermill, dated 1893 and the Sawmill dated 1900. The main building with its oak tree stands and the attached Watermill are publicly listed as protected monuments according to § 3, Abs. 2, NDSchG. and §3, Abs. 3, NDSchG., Niedersächsischen Denkmalschutzgesetz (Lower Saxony Monument Protection Act from 1978). The first documentary mentioning of the Karoxbostel Watermill was in 1438.

The Mill, until freedom of trade was introduced in 1869, was a Compulsory Mill. Like the Watermill and the farmhouse the Sawmill is a protected monument according to § 3, Abs. 2, NDSchG. and §3, Abs. 3, NDSchG., Niedersächsischen Denkmalschutzgesetz (Lower Saxony Monument Protection Act from 1978) The monument protection also covers the three Mill ponds, the Mill weir and the water outflow. Furthermore the bake house and the pigsty, dated 1920, are part of the monument ensemble, although they are not monument protected. The last major alterations at the main building go back to the year of 1895, when a wall of the cow stable was renewed and a basement was built. Apart from this, no alterations of the buildings have been made.

First documentary mention of the farm reaches back to 1366, of the Watermill to 1438. Since 1783 the Mill was worked by the Meyer-Denecke family. August-Wilhelm Denecke, last representative of the miller’s dynasty, passed away on December 1st, 2011. He left no direct heirs.

Dr. Klaus Püttmann, Head Conservator of the state authority for the preservation of monuments, Lower Saxony, assessed for the “German Foundation for Monument Protection” the value of the “historical treasure” in a written statement as follows: “The ensemble is in a bad state of repair, but in a historically minimally changed condition. During the years only minor alterations have been made, so that its state represents the time at the beginning of the 20th. century.

The historical architectural development, the history of the region and technology as well as folkloristic views yield a distinct significance, so that the preservation is of particular public importance. Due to the bad state of repair, and, according to modern standards its solely unprofitable building layout, the property presents itself as obviously uneconomic. Therefore it is a positive turnaround that through the engagement of the mill society as new owner the risk of demolition was averted. Experiences so far show the mill society striving for a high level of monument related expertise, and the coordination with the monument protection authority is ensured. Furthermore, they show that the mill society has the high resilience and creativity to carry out the unavoidably very extensive project and perform it successfully.

To carry out the total project, the mill society is reliant on financial support. Therefore a participation of the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz - DSD - is recommended. The high standard of professionalism of the project, the outstanding voluntary involvement of the engaged people and last but not least the widely positive echo from public and media would in our point of view qualify this project for DSD support.

State of conservation and use of the heritage before the project commenced

After his mother died in 1977, the last owner of the Mill managed the farm until he deceased end of 2011. The Mill was partially operational until end of the 1970s, the Sawmill had ceased operation in the 1950s. The buildings deteriorated increasingly during the years. A fallen ash tree had buried the Sawmill. In 2012, before the restoration could commence, 280 cubic meters of refuse had to be removed from the farm yard, and a further 50 cubic meters of manure from the main building. The thatched roof on the north side of the main building was severely damaged, allowing rain and snow to enter. Through all 3 floors the spire light was almost collapsing, as were the upper floor and the roof of the Mill, which had already partly collapsed. There was a large gaping hole in the outer facade. The weight bearing wooden beams in all storeys of the Mill were severely damaged and in parts non existent. The same situation was found in the flooring of the Mill. The water wheel was decayed. Rain and frost had destroyed one of the three grinding gears. The Mill’s weir and the “Teichmönch” (overflow building in the Mill pond) were inoperative. The Mill technology was largely existing, but not operational. The hayloft in the main building was not passable and partly collapsed, as well as the flooring of the “Kleine Stube” (small parlour). Only flooring fragments were found in the millers parlour and adjacent rooms. At the street facing front of the main building five windows and two horse flaps had been replaced with glass bricks. The main buildings cesspool had collapsed. The 19th Century historic paving of the farm yard was badly damaged and overgrown with a thick layer of humus, on which trees were growing. The two chimneys of the main building were broken down to the first floor. The electrical installation of the main building, the Mill and the Sawmill was either non functional or non-existing. The windows and doors were partly in a very bad condition. Functioning sanitary facilities were non-existing. In many rooms of the main building and Mill the loam- and lime-plaster were either non-existing or in severe need of renovation, and rats had undermined the tiled floor in the kitchen. The pipe supplying the main building with water from the Mill pond was defect, thus causing water to run into the masonry. The Sawmill building has collapsed completely, the Venetian Sawgate was the only structure protected by the last remains of the roof.

Scope of the project: aims and objectives

At the beginning the Wassermühle Karoxbostel project was of limited local importance. The initiators were local people from neighbouring villages. But soon after the Mill Association was founded in February 2012 the situation changed. The number of members grew rapidly and continuously to 1.100 today. Thus the Wassermuehle Karoxbostel e.V. is today the largest mill association in Germany with members and sponsors originating from the whole Hamburg Metropolis region and beyond. From the beginning on it was important for the responsible persons to create a place, where people of all ages and walks of life could meet, contribute their knowledge and skills and in return earn high appreciation. Consequently, for the initiators of the association not only the restoration progress of the monument ensemble was important, but also the participation of as many people as possible. For some time now the Watermill has become a lively place of encounter, a regional centre for events of all kinds as well as a popular tourist attraction. These facts and the success in restoring the monument ensemble, visible to everyone, have established the Watermills high reputation as a flagship project for voluntary engagement.

All restoration work at the Mill Ensemble was carried out with the aim of preserving the badly damaged historical monument for future generations and transform it into a vibrant meeting place for people of all ages, whether disabled or not. In agreement (Together) with the municipal authority for the preservation of historical monuments, the association’s board decided to restore the buildings based on a museological concept. It was very important that the cultural and historical significance of the buildings should be preserved. Both objectives were achieved. During the renovation- and restoring works visitors could witness the progress being made. Since 2013 the Mill Society offers guided tours for domestic and foreign visitors as well as comprehensive programs of culture and environment on the premises. Moreover it participates on recurrent events like “Deutscher Mühlentag” (German Mill Day), the “Tag des offenen Denkmals” (Open Monument Day) and “Tag der Industriekultur am Wasser in der Metropolregion Hamburg” (Industrial Heritage on Waterside Day in the Metropolis of Hamburg). All events, e.g. author’s readings, concerts, art exhibitions, theatre performances or fairy tail events have free admission and are always well attended. At the Watermill Karoxbostel, recently recognized as a “Place of extracurricular Learning in Education for a sustainable Development” by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture, numerous education projects take place. In January 2016 the Watermill became a branch of Seevetal’s registry office. Since then, numerous couples have exchanged their wedding vows here and and also celebrated in the Mill afterwards. Also, church services of various religions are held on the premises of the Mill.

The voluntary work has been the important and deciding pillar for the restoration of the buildings. Since April 2012 every Saturday dozens of volunteer helpers meet at the Mill to help with the restoration. Their collective effort has created a strong sense of community and identification with the Mill project. Moreover many experienced experts of the “Jugendbauhütte der Deutschen Stiftung Denkmalschutz” (Youth Activists of the German Monument Protection Foundation) support the project with guidance and resources. There is also a cooperation with two disabled facilities, the local primary school, certified nature- and landscape guides, with the gamekeeper association of Hittfeld and the local group of the “Naturschutzbund Deutschland” (German Nature Protection Organization) When the restorations begun, corporate sponsors were in doubt, as to whether the ambitious work on the dilapidated could be successful. The enormous commitment and engagement of many volunteer helpers convinced the director of the Bingo Foundation, Mr. Karsten Behr, to release the initial funds.

This also encouraged numerous local firms to support the project Wassermühle Karoxbostel with generous and urgently needed contributions in material, expertise and labour. Five project steps were defined and performed to restore the building ensemble. In total 426.100 Euro of funding have been invested to restore the main building, the Watermill, the Sawmill and the reinstatement of the historical farm yard aspect. The European Union participated with € 129.000, the Federal Republic of Germany with € 48.000, the county of Lower Saxony with € 16.200, the district of Harburg with € 28.000, the community of Seevetal with € 35.000,- the German Foundation for Monument Protection with 67.000, the Bingo Environment Foundation with € 40.000, the Regional Association of Lüneburg with 27.900, the Savings Bank Foundation of Lower Saxony with € 20.000 and the Savings Bank Harburg-Buxtehude with € 15.000. The outstanding voluntary engagement of the “Mill Savers” and the cautious and skilled restoration work being carried out on the Watermill ensemble, a unique cultural historic jewel, was honoured with the “Landespreis für Denkmalpflege” (State prize for monument conservation), the most important prize awarded by the Federal Republic of Germany. We believe that it could be a role model for other European projects of monument protection.

Historical and technical research

The historical sources of the Karoxbostel Watermill, first documentarily mentioned in 1438, have been recorded in detail and very well. They were known to the initiators of the project. Some of the initiators were already experienced in monument protection projects and thus had contacts to conservation authorities and responsible people on municipal level. The original blueprints and design drawings of the Mill, dated 1893, the original blueprint of the Sawmill, dated 1900 and the conversion plan of the main building, dated 1895 were found during the initial cleanup of the main building. The restoration work was carried out according to these plans. The master miller Franz Rosenkranz and the mill manufacturer Pätzmann of Winsen / Luhe were responsible for the restoration of the milling technology. Pätzmann is the company who erected the Mill in 1893. 


Due to the extremely bad state of repair and to prevent the complete loss of the ensemble the restoration works had to start quickly. Therefore the order of restoration was sequenced according to the condition of individual building parts. The monument protection authorities supported the swift start of the work and accompanied the restoration steps continuously.

A structural engineer, several architects and a pest control expert were contracted at the beginning of the works. Moreover, a certified conservator guided the restoration from the very beginning. She instructed the volunteer helpers in performing the work professionally. For some work a graduated restorer supported the Youth Mason’s Guild of the German Monument Protection Foundation carrying out work at the Mill.

As an increasing number of buildings with regional identity in the district of Harburg were beingdemolished, the conservation of the Watermill is of utmost importance to the initiators of the Mill project. The Mill has been a central site (key place) of the (entire) region and this should be brought back to life again.

Before the restoration commenced, the technical problems appeared to be immense. Due to the excellent cooperation of monument conservators, craftsmen and -women, restorers and volunteer “Millhelpers” all problems were quickly resolved. For example: Prior to erecting the scaffolding to restore the roof of the main building and the Watermill, the former cesspool had to be closed and fallen trees removed.

To preserve as much as possible of the original substance of the buildings, the restoration work was carried out with great care. Traditional skills and crafts were utilized for the necessary completion and repair work, e.g. traditional wooden joints, loam plaster and painting using casein paint or linseed oil.

Traditional craft skills were utilized in the restoration. Many experienced craftsmen and -women, master craftsmen and -women, among them masons, painters, carpenters, cabinetmakers, gardeners, roofers, pavers, electricians, metal workers, plumbers, stove fitters, heating installers and many farmers have been working voluntarily at the Watermill for many years now. In addition, graduate engineers and architects provide assistance and advice. An indispensible component in the restoration and maintenance of the Mill and Sawmill technology was the expertise of a very experienced master miller and master metalworker (locksmith). In 2016 15 “Volunteer Millers” were trained at the Mill and successfully passed an examination by the “Mühlenvereinigung Niedersachsen-Bremen”. The certificate awarded herewith is the mandatory requirement to operate and maintain the historical milling gear and the entire machinery.

During the restoration work special care was taken to largely use historic building materials e.g. loam, chalk, wood and bricks in historical “Reichsformat”, a standard established in 1872. The only exception was made for materials of the new sanitary tract to comply with current hygienic standards.

Results achieved

Due to the careful restoration of the monument ensemble, the authenticity and historical values have been preserved to the greatest possible extent, even though they can be used for a wide variety of events. In recognition of the highly skilled restoration work, the Watermill Association was honoured with the Federal Republic of Germany’s most important monument preservation prize, the “Landespreis 2016 / 2017 für Denkmalpflege”. Moreover, in September 2017 the Karoxbostel Mill Association was recognized by the Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium (Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture) as “Außerschulischer Lernstandort in einer Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung” (Place of extracurricular learning within an education for sustainable development) As the final step in the restoration of the monument ensemble the thatched roof on the south side of the main building was renewed. Together with the alteration of the former pigsty being finished at the same time, the Mill Association is proud to present buildings and farmyard in their original historical appearance and uniqueness.

Provisions for future use and maintenance

The cultural-historic jewel is open for all interested individuals and parties for collaborative work, sightseeing, cultural events, projects of nature and environment, celebrations and weddings. With the restoration of the building ensemble being completed, the next objective is the creation of a culture- and adventure garden on the area of the former kitchen garden and farm pasture land. The meadow orchard, already planted in 2013, a farm garden with a herbal spiral and beehives are integrated parts of the new project. Altogether this will be populated by the Mill’s free range chickens living in the farm yard since 2015. As an example for the future, visitors, in particular children, should be able to experience grain farming in all stages: From “Who will reap must sow” to milling the grain and baking whole meal bread. As in the Mill’s wood, where numerous wooden sculptures and giant trees stimulate the fantasy of people of all ages, the new garden is meant to be a special place, where they can take part, discover, experiment and learn together.

The Mill, until freedom of trade was introduced in 1869, was a “Zwangsmühle” (Compulsory Mill). Thus, local farmers within a radius of 60 km, were bound to have their grain milled in this Mill. For centuries the Watermill in Karoxbostel used to be the economical and social centre of the region. Since the middle of the 1920s the Mill increasingly lost significance and the operation of the Mill and Sawmill eventually closed down. With this, the entire property was increasingly left to decay. The centre of Karoxbostel and its region, hundreds of years old, was successfully reactivated by restoring the Mill. Today the Watermill has become a lively, busy and friendly place again.


In total 488.100 Euro of funds were raised and invested to restore the main building, the Watermill, the Sawmill, to reinstate the historical farm yard aspect and the former pigsty.

No financial- or management arrangements were needed.

During numerous events on the Mill’s premises the Watermill Association is collecting donations to be utilized for restoration and maintenance of the monument ensemble. Furthermore institutional sponsors of the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, county, district, community, Monument Protection Foundation, Bingo Environment Foundation, Savings Bank Foundation and District of Lüneburg Foundation could be won over to support the project.

The European Union supported the monument project Wassermühle Karoxbostel with Euro 129.000. Additional 50.000 Euro of EU-grants for the restoration of the former pigsty, also part of the building ensemble, but non-listed, were acquired.

No difficulties occurred during the completion of the project. 

Contribution of the project to the conservation and enhancement of the cultural heritage

The Watermill Project has proven that a high quality of building restoration can be achieved with voluntaryhelpers. The teaching and qualification of amateurs during the restoration has lead to a high degree ofpersonal identification with the project. This identification is not just limited to the restoration work, butalso interacts with activities including projects related to culture- and social work as well as nature andenvironment, all initiated by the Mill Society. The work was carried out step by step, maintaining close coordination with the local authorities for monument protection. It has become apparent that this was an excellent method to maintain every bodies motivation and finalize the project successfully.

Historical, cultural, environmental, educational and social value

The special historic significance is based on its uniqueness as a regionalbuilding monument. With the completion of the ensemble and the preservation of its equipment the Watermill is truly exceptional in the region. The residential- and farm building, erected in 1817, representsan early stage of a traditional “Vierständerhaus”. The inventory of the residential section origins from around 1900, of the farming section it goes back to the early 19th. Century. The three-storey Watermill Building was erected in 1893. The mill technology and accessories e.g. grinding gear, elevators, strainer and roller mill have been largely preserved and are operational again. This is also the case for the Venetian Sawgate built in 1900. The Mill Ponds, created in medieval times, the bake house and the former pigsty are also part of the Mill Ensemble. 

The Mill’s rescued archival documents provide new scientific insights of the regional social- and economic history, dated back to the 18th. Century. Even the original blueprints, construction plans and the Mill’s working books dated back to 1780 are available. The WaterMill Association has been awarded the “Landespreis für Denkmalpflege 2016 /17. In September 2017 the Karoxbostel Mill Association was recognized by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture as a “Place of extracurricular learning within an education for sustainable development“. This certification was achieved in honor of the comprehensive program for education, environment and nature carried on the Mill’s premises since 2013. A variety of cultural events have taken place at the Mill. Theater, music, dance, fairytales and the recognized minority language “Plattdeutsch” (Low German) have their firm slot in the events calendar.

Nearly 1.100 members of the Mill Association are from all walks of life and all ages. They all share the same values gathered from the experience of pulling together a worthwhile result. Hundreds of media reports praising the performance and the commitment of the “Mill-Rescuers”. Many people have realized great satisfaction and praise in supporting the Mill Project. Moreover, through the versatile use of historic buildings it has become obvious to many people, that personal effort to prevent the decay of monuments like the Mill is worthwhile, meaningful and can be a LOT OF FUN!

Dimension of the project

For centuries, mills in the whole of Europe have been places where people of different origins come together.

In their diversity, mills have characterized European history in technological development and were an important part in daily life. Preserving this is one of our main concerns. Milling technology is similar in all countries, therefore aspects of operation, maintenance and care can be easily exchanged. But mills do not only fascinate technology enthusiasts: Mills are magical places. There are mysterious stories and myths behind many mills. Telling them is exciting and encourages many strangers to tell their stories in return.

Wassermühle Karoxbostel especially welcomes the “Via Molina”-initiative, a European cultural road connecting mills and supports this to the best of our abilities. Mill sites and connecting roads in Europe should become a major element of touristic interest and strengthen awareness and understanding of our common European culture. Our Watermill already is part of the Lower Saxony Mill Road. From the beginning of the project Wassermühle Karoxbostel has taken particular care that all visitors, both members and non-members, can freely access the Mills premises. Guided tours are offered in different languages and the Mill is a highly regarded meeting place for millers from near and far. We maintain close contact to national and foreign mill enthusiasts, and our members regularly publish articles in mill journals. Due to its easily accessible location and the magnitude of the site, the Mill is predestined as a meeting point accommodating various groups for discussions, seminars and conviviality.

Opening hours, (special) visiting arrangements

The Watermill is open all-the-year for visitors and visitor groups. It participates actively in the annual „German Mill Day”, „Monument Open Day” and „Industrial Heritage on Waterside Day”. Furthermore the Watermill association organizes Christmas Markets, concerts, stage readings, theater performances and art exhibitions, which regularly draw many visitors. Comprehensive programs for nursery- and school classes covering nature and environment are also carried out. Visitors can become familiar with handcraft technology, milling, sawing and baking. To keep the Mill working in future and to pass knowledge on to next generations, 15 volunteer millers were trained and certified. Tenthousands of visitors yearly. 

The Mill is open for visitors on Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm without appointment.

With appointment it can be visited daily.