Belgian exclaves

Baarle-Hertog Travel Blog

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A foot in each country
We thought we would spend the glorious Belgian spring day in the small town of Baarle-Hertog with our dear friends visiting from Cambridge, Michelle and Grant. Of course, if you are going to visit Baarle-Hertog, you have to visit Baarle-Nassau. And I don't mean that in the "oh, it would be a real shame to visit Baarle-Hertog and not visit Baarle Nassau" type of way - it is physically impossible to visit Baarle-Hertog without visiting Baarle-Nassau. You see, this town has the most complicated international border in the world. Baarle-Hertog is a set of 24 Belgian exclaves, each of which is also a Netherlands enclave. To make matters more complicated, Baarle-Nassau doesn't just surround the 24 Belgian exclaves, it is also made up of seven Netherlands exclaves, each of which are Belgian enclaves by virtue of being within the Belgian exclaves of Baarle-Hertog.
Map of Baarle-Hertog
Complicated? I need a map to explain.

Why is the border so screwed up? Basically this is the way all of Europe used to look. Feudalism cut and spliced Europe into tiny land fragments, all for sale to the richest bastard or free to conquest by a bigger bastard with a sword. Land was divided by sale or between sons during generational change, fused by marriages or purchases, gained or lost for arcane rights and taxation. Baarle was no different in being divided up between the Dukes of Brabant (“Hertog”) and the House of Nassau. What was different about Baarle is just how long the messed up situation has lasted. After the Belgian Protestants revolted against Spanish control of the Habsburg Netherlands in 1568, the Eighty Years’ War began.
I forget which country this was in...
The Protestants were rapidly pushed north (ironically out of Belgium, where it all started), but the situation soon stabilized along with is now essentially the current Belgian-Netherlands border. Spain refused to acknowledge the de facto independence of the Netherlands for 80 years (until 1648), freezing land claim disputes between the regions. Napoleon reunited the Netherlands and Belgium in 1815 but the union soon collapsed, in 1831, making it important to finally sort out the legal border. The Treaty of Maastricht in 1843 sorted out the border except for Baarle, which was complicated by the feudal owners now being divided by the new border. Eventually, in 1974, the enclave/exclave situation was agreed upon by both Belgium and the Netherlands, but it wasn’t until 1995 that a thorough analysis of the historical documents combined with GPS mapping made the official borders final (with a fair bit of shifting between 1974 and 1995 as the data became more accurate).
Border crossing in style


Of course, people were living in Baarle the entire time, and houses had been knocked down and rebuilt over the past 500 years, so that today’s border has no respect for the town planning. The border runs down streets, across parks and even divides houses and shops. Your bedroom can be in Belgium while your kitchen is in the Netherlands. For taxation and residential purposes, each house is deemed to be in the country in which the front door is located, so there are 2,306 Belgians in Baarle-Hertog and 5,330 Dutch in Baarle-Nassau. Some were surprised in 1995 when the final borders came out and the shift of a couple of metres turned Dutch into Belgians and Belgians into Dutch - the typical response was to change the position of the front door to get back into your old country. This was not merely patriotism - the front door move had serious taxation and regulation effects. A new door could change income and sales tax and even the opening hours of shops.

So what does it mean for a town where a few unsuspecting steps can mean...
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A foot in each country
A foot in each country
Map of Baarle-Hertog
Map of Baarle-Hertog
I forget which country this was in…
I forget which country this was i…
Border crossing in style
Border crossing in style
Baarle-Hertog
photo by: Adrian_Liston