Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau - the conjoined twins of geography
Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog - the conjoined twins of geography
In Netherlands there is a town with the name Baarle-Nassau
. In Belgium there is a town with the name Baarle-Hertog
. These two towns may be lying in different countries but are in fact one town. The reason it has two names is that through the town there are several borders between Belgium and Netherlands which divides the town in two. So parts of the town is in Netherlands (Baarle-Nassau) and parts of the town is in Belgium (Baarle-Hertog).
A town with a country border going through it is a bit odd, but not completely unique. There are other towns and cities in the world that are divided
. What makes Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau special is how complicated the border is and the high number of unique situations and phenomena this has led to.
The story of how this town got split up in two goes back to medieval times, so it predates both of the modern states Netherlands and Belgium. Powerful landowners then made various agreements with each other and divided the land between them. The original agreements were several times rewritten and the landowners traded land with each other many times
One town - two countries
The reason Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau has two names is that through the town there are several borders between Belgium and Netherlands which divides the town in two. So parts of the town is in Belgium and parts of the town is in Netherlands. The Belgian part is called Baarle-Hertog and the Dutch part is called Baarle-Nassau
over. This trading of land back and forth led to the land being patched up in small pieces. When many years later the countries Belgium and Netherlands were created the borders were drawn according to where the various landowners had their land. Consequently some of the small pieces of land came to be part of Belgium and other pieces came to be part of Netherlands.
This is where it gets interesting because these pieces of land were not lined up like traditional country borders are. They are kind of mixed together like a strange jigsaw puzzle. To make the situation even more strange, right smack in the middle of this jigsaw puzzle is the town Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau making it sit in both countries.
We came to Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau from Belgium. At the village Weelde we crossed the border and entered Netherlands. After driving five kilometres we reached Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. There we came to another border where we passed from Netherlands to Belgium. 20 meters later there was another marker in the road which said that we were leaving Belgium again and returning to Netherlands. You get the picture, right?
Inside Netherlands there are 22
Metal plaque sitting right on the border
This metal plaque was placed here in 1996 when the borders of the enclaves and counter-enclaves were officially mapped out and became official country borders
pieces of land, so called enclaves, which geographically and legally belongs to Belgium. To make things further complicated there are yet another seven pieces of land that are geographically and legally a part of Netherlands inside the Belgian enclaves. These are called counter-enclaves by the way.
The borders between Belgium and Netherlands are where it is possible clearly marked with paint or, where paint would wear off too quickly, with small metal plaques. It is not only for show that the borders are marked. If a house is in Belgium the people living in that house live in Belgium and pay tax in Belgium and if the house is in Netherlands the people who live in the house pay tax in Netherlands of course. Since tax rates can differ between the two countries it is important to know exactly which country a house sits in.
If a business is located in a house in one of the Belgian enclaves it is run under Belgian laws. Here it gets interesting because Belgian and Dutch laws differs quite a lot in some aspects and the people of Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau know how to make that work to their
Map over Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau showing the borders
advantage. The tax on tobacco is much lower in Belgium than in Netherlands so in Belgium there are several shops specialised in selling tobacco. The price difference is so large that they not only sell standard size packages of tobacco, they sell tobacco in buckets weighing half a kilo each!
Another law which is much stricter in Netherlands than in Belgium is sales of fireworks. Hence, there are several shops selling all kinds of pyrotechnics that can turn the black night to a carnival of light, or blow off a few fingers or an entire hand if not handed professionally.
Most of the houses in Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau are located in either Belgium or Netherlands, and then everything is fairly straight forward concerning what tax laws that are to be followed. The exact position of the borders have not always been known. When cartographers and historians together mapped out the borders it turned out that some houses were actually located in both countries.
One liquor store is located in both countries. They have named their business De Biergrens, the Beer Border. The business is officially a Belgian shop but the border runs through
Emma standing with one foot in Netherlands and one foot in Belgium
Emma has her left foot in Netherlands and her right foot in Belgium. The houses she points at are neighbors but are in different countries
the loading dock. We don't know if the liquor store has any advantage from straddling the border, but it sure gives them some free advertisement.
By the way, the border which runs through De Biergrens is one of the borders that marks where a Dutch counter-enclave is located within a Belgian enclave. That is, where a chunk of Netherlands is totally enclosed by a chunk of Belgium which in turn is completely surrounded Netherlands. How weird is that?
By the way, near that liquor store there is a place where one person can stand in Netherlands another person can stand 20 meters away and also be in Netherlands but having Belgium in between each other.
In one of the houses which sits right across the border there used to be a bar/restaurant. The Dutch laws dictated that restaurants had to close their business at a certain time of the night but the Belgian laws were less strict there. In that restaurant they had a simple solution. When the Dutch laws forced the business to close down for the night the people sitting by the tables on the Dutch side moved over
This metal plaque tells some of the story behind the complicated borders in Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau
to the tables on the Belgian side. They closed half the restaurant.
When a private home is in both countries, in which country do they then live? The agreement between the two countries is that the people living in the house live and pay tax in the country where the front door is. At least one house owner living in a house which sits in both countries knocked out a second door to the house, the second door being in the other country of course. By doing that they could change country in which to live in and get a lower tax. That house has two different addresses, one for each country. There is one house number for the door in Netherlands and different number for the door in Belgium.
One house has an even stranger position regarding to the borders. The front door is bisected by the border. That house also has two house numbers and two addresses. One Belgian house number on the left side of the door and one Dutch house number on the right side of the door. That house even has two doorbells, one in each country.
Love seat sitting across the border
Here two lovers can sit and hold each other whilst being in different countries. Yep, the straight line going under the seat is a country border
Even though Belgium and Netherlands are two different countries they today both have the same currency, the euro. It hasn't always been like that. Before the Euro was introduced Netherlands were using Dutch guilder and Belgium were using Belgian franc. We asked the woman who had the bed and breakfast we stayed in which currency that was used in the shops in town then. In many towns close to country borders they use both currencies. In Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau it was not so. If a business was in Netherlands they only took guilders and if a business was in Belgium they only took franc. That gives you an idea how important the national identity is for the people who live there.
A funny idea struck us when we visited Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. Imagine what it would look like if they you had had to have a visa to go from one country to the other. To visit a neighbor you would have to go to a border crossing. Or what would it look like if they in one country drove their cars on the left side of the road and in the other country on the right side... They could
If a house is in Belgium the people living in that house live in Belgium and pay tax in Belgium. Since tax rates can differ between the two countries it is important to know exactly which country a house sits in. The houses are therefore often marked like this
probably make a pretty good episode of the Simpsons based on that.
This was all for now. The next blog will be about the other places we visited in Belgium.
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