The water wheels of 17 mills turned in the Erfatal valley long ago, four of which were in Hardheim. Nowadays, however, there is only one in operation in this town in the Franconian part of the Odenwald, the Steinmühle mill. An ancestor of Jasmin Brauch bought it for 600 guilder more than 300 years ago. The young miller Jasmin remains true to the family tradition,even in the 21st century,thus preserving one of the oldest and most important crafts of mankind.

There is roaring, rustling, rattling and clacking all over the place making the wooden floorboards under Jasmin Brauch’s feet tremble. The young woman has to shout to make herself understood, because the Steinmühle, the stone mill, is running at full tilt. It grinds the golden-yellow grains of wheat into snow-white flour. And this is pretty noisy. “Sometimes I work with ear protection,” she shouts to talk over the din. Her straight brown hair is tied into a loose knot and her T-shirt is of the same light blue colour as the flour sacks that lean filled against the walls or are still draped over the railings. Jasmin is a miller—the twelfth generation of millers in her family.

Jasmin Brauch has known the thundering of the mill from an early age—and continues with the family tradition today.

She has known the thundering of the mill from an early age. Jasmin grew up in the house adjacent to the mill and still lives there today. From the living room, she can go directly to the small mill shop, where she and seven employees sell their own products and pasta, muesli and other cooking and baking ingredients. It was more than 300 years ago that Johann Adam Müller, an ancestor of Jasmin, bought the stone mill after the Müller family had already operated the Hardheim business as leaseholders for at least two generations. The family still possesses the original purchase contract. The mill in Hardheim in the Franconian Odenwald was first mentioned in 1322. A total of four mills once harnessed the power of the Erfa river in this town. Today, the stone mill is the only one still in operation. The Mühlenweg trail, however, leads along 14 kilometres to eleven historic mill sites in the Erfatal valley, bearing witness to the importance the craft once had in the region, along the small river.

It is more than 300 years ago that Johann Adam Müller, an ancestor of Jasmin, bought the stone mill.

The trail includes the stone mill, of course. The mill estate has changed over the centuries. Some buildings were demolished and new ones built. The two wooden water wheels were replaced by an iron wheel and later by two turbines. Numerous buildings on the estate burnt down during the second world war. The mill itself and the residential building were spared, though. “Nothing is in its original state anymore,” says Frank Müller, who took over the business some 20 years ago and still runs it. There was no question that he would become a miller one day. For his daughter, the decision took a little longer. After finishing secondary school, she was still unsure. But after two years of attending a vocational college, she made her decision. “I would have found it such a shame if no one took over the family business,” says the young woman. She completed the master craftswoman training in February 2023. Jasmin enjoys working with grains, a natural product, which you always have to adjust to: “Just like the weather is different every year, the crop is also different every year and you have to deal with it differently.”

This year, for example, it rained during the harvest. Some grains therefore began to germinate on the way to the mill. “We can’t grind these,” Jasmin explains. “They are only suitable for animal feed.” A farmer is bringing winter barley. At first the grains trickle slowly out of the side flap of the blue trailer. Then faster and faster. Until they rush through the grating on the ground in a single sweep, leaving a cloud of dust above the huge funnel below the grating. This is where the grains begin their journey through the mill.

I would have found it such a shame if no one took over the family business

Jasmin Brauch

Cleaning is the first stage the grain passes. It is done by a huge machine situated next to the intake section in the barn. The machine is so high that it almost reaches the wooden roof truss. It clears the grain from straw residues, husks and breakage by means of sieves and blowing. The milky pane of a gable vent casts a diffuse light onto the pipes that lead into the machine at the top and out again at the bottom. The cleaning machine is at a standstill today. But it usually produces high levels of noise, too. “Peas are very loud,” Jasmin explains “whereas rapeseed is rather quiet.”

The young miller enjoys working with grains.

The clean grain goes into the silos and the hall next to the barn. The Müller family can store about 5,000 tonnes of grain there, which is then sold or milled little by little. The grains pass through the yard on a conveyor belt to the mill, which is directly adjacent to the mill shop and the house. Millstones used to turn in this stone mill years ago. Today, the grains are ground by the steel cylinders of a roller mill. Numerous pipes come out of the ceiling here, too, and converge in the machine. They serve to transport the grains through the rollers by suction, over and over again, for up to 20 rounds along the three storeys of the mill. In the middle storey, the plansifter sifts off more and more parts of the husk, depending on the desired product: The lighter the flour, the less husk remains in it and the lower is the type number, for example type 405. The darker flours, such as type 1050, not only contain more husk, but also more minerals and dietary fibre.

The mill grinds up to nine tonnes of grain a day.

This way the stone mill can process nine tonnes of grain a day—if everything runs smoothly. Jasmin tells us that wheat is the least problematic grain. “The mill can run on its own for a good three hours.” But by then, at the latest, the miller has to check on things and make sure that everything is still running as is should. Spelt and rye are stickier and bring the mill to a standstill more quickly, she explains. The flour bags are still sealed by hand. For bakeries, however, the mill business provides a silo trailer.

The flour bags are still sealed by hand.

Jasmin wants to modernise the mill in the long run, so that it does not have to run for 16 hours a day to keep up with the milling. Yet the thundering of the roller mills has always had something reassuring for the young miller. Her father reports that, “when Jasmin and her sister were young and the mill would stop after they had been tucked into bed at night, they would immediately ask what was going on.” However, once his daughter is in charge to shape the future of the mill, future generations will probably learn to sleep well without the omnipresent thrumming.


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