On the borders of the Netherlands and Belgium is the town of Baarle. But the Baarle border is anything but straightforward. In fact, the official borderline cuts through houses and cafes in some areas, allowing residents to jump back and forth between countries or even stand with one foot in each.
The Baarle Border
Culture Trip (cited below) describes the border as “erratically shaped” and zigzagging through the town, “creating an erratically-shaped Belgian enclave that somehow contains even smaller parcels of Dutch land.”
While you can see it from above, when you’re on the ground near this Dutch-Belgian border, you’ll see crosses on the ground and the letters “B” and NL” on each side, designating the country it belongs to.
In some cases, the lines divide private property. We don’t even want to know what that tax situation looks like!
How do you live in two countries?
Culture Trip explains that this isn’t quite as complex as one might imagine.
“Thankfully, the Netherlands and Belgium are both located in the Schengen Area, which means that their borders are completely seamless, making it possible for travelers (and residents) to walk through Baarle without stopping for passport checks.”
Both countries administer the town. The Netherlands administers Baarle-Nassau, and Belgium is in charge of Baarle-Hertog.
Another interesting fact is that the Belgian sections are not all connected to the Belgian border. These sections are enclaves. And Culture Trip notes that: “To make matters even more confusing, several stretches of Belgian land in Baarle encircle plots that are claimed by the Netherlands, creating enclaves within enclaves.”
Who divided Baarle?
The confusion with the Baarle border dates back to the Middle Ages when a wealthy duke traded pieces of territory. Local wealthy aristocrats created these bizarre borders in the Middle Ages.
“Essentially, one duke from what would become Belgium handed over territory to another noble who controlled the lands around the Dutch city of Breda. However, the aforementioned duke retained some smaller plots in Baarle, leading to border disputes in the 19th century, when Belgium and the Netherlands split into two different nation states. It took another century for the two countries to resolve the borders that pass through Baarle, leading to the town’s current patchwork-like cartography.”
The controlling country’s legal system applies to each part of the town. This makes for some clever workarounds and loopholes. For example, “bars in Baarle (at some point in recent history) would continue serving alcohol after licensing hours were over in the Netherlands by simply moving their tables and chairs across the border to Belgium.” — WTF fun facts