Baarle-Hertog: The Belgian town that’s in the Netherlands

Borders between countries can be a bit confusing. Often these boundaries are disputed, or unclear, or follow a seemingly random wiggle through the countryside. In some parts of Africa and the Middle East, the borders follow completely straight lines (probably drawn on the map by an old British general in one afternoon). One of the most confusing borders in the world is between Belgium and the Netherlands, where various historical agreements/disagreements have left little bits of a Belgian town stranded in a foreign country.

Cafe in Baarle-Nassau, showing border between Belgium and the Netherlands

Cafe in Baarle-Nassau, showing border between Belgium and the Netherlands

Baarle-Hertog is a Belgian town in 24 pieces, 22 of which are in the town of Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands. On the map it looks like these pieces have broken free from Belgium and floated a couple of miles north – they’re like islands but, instead of being surrounded by water, they’re surrounded by Dutch people.

A map showing the border between Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle-Hertog

A map showing the border between Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle-Hertog

To make things even more confusing, the town of Baarle-Nassau isn’t in one piece either – eight pieces of it are in Baarle-Hertog. This means that there are bits of Belgium that are completely surrounded by the Netherlands and bits of the Netherlands that are completely surrounded by bits of Belgium (that are completely surrounded by the Netherlands). Fortunately for the residents (and anyone reading this), the bits of the Netherlands that are completely surrounded by the bits of Belgium that are completely surrounded by the Netherlands don’t surround any more bits of Belgium.

Baarle-Nassau town hall

Baarle-Nassau town hall

While some of the Belgian enclaves are small, perhaps containing just a field and half a shed, others are larger and have people in them. The international borders are clearly marked through the town, so everyone can keep track of what country they’re in (and it’s all Europe anyway, so a passport isn’t required if you want to cross the road). In many cases the borders cut through streets and buildings, so there are people living in houses where the kitchen is in Belgium but the bedroom is in the Netherlands (which I guess is the way round you’d want it). To make things clearer, residents work on the basis that the location of their front door determines which country they belong to; although there is one house where the border goes through the middle of the front door and, rather than pick a side, it has been given a separate address in each of the two Baarles.

A house straddling the border between Belgium and the Netherlands

A house straddling the border between Belgium and the Netherlands

The town has two police forces, two town halls and two fire services. It sounds pretty inefficient, but I suppose the residents must like it that way. There is a joint library that can be used by both the Belgians and the Dutch, so perhaps that makes up for the other difficulties (and it’s a fine example for all of us that two such different nationalities can bond over a shared book-lending service).

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About Nick Heady

Nick Heady

My favourite holiday souvenir is a shower cap I brought home from the Luxor casino in Las Vegas. I’ve never used it, though. I’m saving it for a special occasion.

At the Luxor, all the casino games are inside a pyramid. The hotel rooms are also inside a pyramid. And their shower caps come in little pyramid-shaped boxes. It’s fantastic.

Once you’ve been to Vegas, there’s no need to go to Egypt. The Luxor’s pyramid has a giant lamp on top and, from the hotel windows, you can see a medieval castle – the same can’t be said for Egypt’s pyramids. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a model of the Sphinx that’s bigger than the one in Giza. It’s made of plastic, sure, but at least its nose is still intact.

Nick works in our marketing team

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