Destinations Magazine

Borders, Enclaves and a Whole Lot of Boundaries

By Amsterdam City Tours

Although the Netherlands has land borders with only two nations, Dutch national borders have proven throughout history to be pretty contentious. Often, these border disputes testify both to local ingenuity and at times a typically Dutch sense of humor.

Perhaps the most famous issue of border disputes in the Netherlands (outside of global wars, obviously) resulted in the municipality of Baarle-Nassau located in the province of Noord-Brabant on the Dutch border with Belgium... which is also known as the municipality of Baarle-Hertog in the Antwerp region, if you're located on the Belgian part of the town. You see, after centuries of medieval disputes, agreements, land treaties, land swaps and sales between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant, as well as the split of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1839,three subsequent commissions settled once and for all where exactly the border between the two countries lies. And it ain't pretty.

Border between Belgium and the Netherlands at ...

As you can see from the map to the right, all in all there are 26 portions of land, belonging to both Belgium and the Netherlands, scattered around Baarle. There is a large portion, Zondereigen, in the Netherlands and a town called Merksplas in Belgium that form the peripheries of the area. Then there are 22 Belgian enclaves within the Netherlands, and three other pieces on the Dutch-Belgian border. Within a portion of Belgium, there are five further enclaves of the Netherlands. Please excuse any mistakes in my interpretation of the layout but I'm getting a headache just thinking about the complexities. Can you imagine how difficult get decent cell phone reception here must be in this town?

The Baarle border between Baarle-Nassau and Ba...

The borders are marked by white crosses that do not discriminate between streets and houses. As in, they will pass directly through buildings, restaurants, shops, and even private residences. So confusing are the borders that the nationality of a household is determined only by the location of the front door to the house, as often houses are actually located both in Belgium and the Netherlands at once. Because the laws of the two nations often differed throughout history, you could go shopping within two different tax regimes while being on the same street. For a long time, shops in the Dutch parts of the town had to close earlier than those in the Belgian part, and remain completely closed on Sundays while their Belgian counterparts were permitted by their government to stay open. Similarly, restaurants would have to close the Dutch portion of their establishment earlier, and patrons would be asked to move over to the Belgian side of the room. These strange arrangements were somewhat tempered by the creation of the EU, when many rules and regulations were standardized. Nevertheless, women still today often choose the nationality of their child based on the country of the room in which the child is born.

Nor can a criminal escape their crime by simply crossing into an part of the town belonging to the other nation - both the national police forces work out of one office and accompany each other on all cases, so crime never becomes a matter of getting to the nearest line of crosses.
In other words, if you want to see bizarre geography at work, head to the town of Baarle.

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