The photosystem II core complex (PSIIcc) is the key enzyme of oxygenic photosynthesis, as it catalyzes the light-induced oxidation of water to form dioxgyen and protons. It is located in the thylakoid membrane of cyanobacteria, algae, and plants and consists of 20 protein subunits binding about 100 cofactors. In this review, we discuss what is presently known about the "donor side" of PSIIcc, covering the photosynthetic reaction center and the water oxidase part. The focus is on the catalytic Mn4Ca cluster and its protein environment. An attempt is made to connect recent crystallographic data (up to 2.9 Å resolution) with the wealth of information about Nature's water oxidation device from spectroscopic, biochemical and theoretical work.