The curious case of Baarle-Hertog

Several weeks ago, Michiel stumbled on a great new map website, called OpenStreetMap. It’s a free, editable map of the whole world. Though it doesn’t have a ‘satellite view’ like Google Maps, the quality is far superior in my opinion. You can zoom in and see excellent detail, including hiking tracks, cycle paths, and even distinguish between forests, parks, retail areas and industrial parks. Pretty cool!

Mysterious purple scribble

So anyway, when he showed me the website, I thought I’d look closer at Eindhoven and see what kind of hiking paths the map had outlined. As I started zooming in closer and closer…that’s when I saw it. A purple blip. Just north of the Belgian border. What was it? There wasn’t anything else on the map that looked like it. Next to a perfectly detailed purple border line, separating Belgium from the Netherlands, it looked like someone had taken a purple crayon and made a scribble.

I turned to Michiel and said “What the heck is this?” Upon closer inspection he waved his hand and said “Oh, that. Well there’s some pieces of Belgium that are within the Netherlands.”

A cafe that sits on the border line


How does something like that even happen? Being a person who doesn’t like mysteries to go unsolved, I dug a little deeper. The blip, which is actually a town called Baarle-Hertog, turned out to be a fantastically fascinating anomaly. (Or at least I think so).

Baarle-Hertog is a municipality of Belgium’s province of Antwerp, but the biggest part of that municipality is located within the Netherlands. Cool! A person can actually live in Belgium, while being totally surrounded by Holland.

Now, hold on to your hats, folks, because this is where the ride gets a little crazy…

If you walked from one side of town to the other, you could could cross a dozen or more international border lines without knowing it!

Within those plots of Belgian land … that are inside the Netherlands … are plots of Dutch land. Are you following me? So you can be inside the Netherlands, while inside Belgium, while still inside the Netherlands.
Mind = blown.

This ridiculous situation is thanks to a number of complex medieval treaties, agreements, land-swaps and sales between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant. (Sounds fancy!) I guess that when the official borders were formed, some Belgian people just did not like where the lines were drawn and said “Screw it, I’m staying Belgian. But I ain’t moving.”

Apparently, the border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. That’s gotta make for some excellent stories, doesn’t it? Yes, it does:

-There was a time when according to Dutch laws, restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border, it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side.

-Each house is deemed to pay taxes in the country where its front door is located. Some residents would move their front door a few meters over if it was profitable for the taxes, especially shops.

-Officially, an international letter sent by a Belgian man to his Dutch neighbour must go by post to Brussels and then by air to Amsterdam, and back to the municipality again by train/truck. This could be avoided, of course, by depositing the letter in the Dutch mailbox down the street instead — and the letter wouldn’t have to leave Baarle-Hertog at all!

-Women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth

And now you know about Baarle-Hertog. I think it would be awesome to go there some day! Though, a lot of Europeans (Michiel included) don’t see what all the fuss is about. But I guess from my perspective, as someone who is from the 2nd biggest country in the world with America as its only neighbour, the idea of just being able to waltz over to another country is kind of a cool concept. In Canada, it takes you hours to drive to the American border, and then there’s the hassle of a ridiculously long wait at the crossing — and if you’re particularly unfortunate — a complete search of your car by security. The idea that you can just take a few steps in one direction and be in an entirely other country seems pretty cool to me, even if you’re not innately “aware” of the border lines when you’re just walking along the street.

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4 Responses to The curious case of Baarle-Hertog

  1. When you put it like this, that IS pretty awesome :-)

  2. Barb says:

    That is crazzzzzyyyyy!!

  3. This is absolutely funny.. like oh wait .. i think i want my child to be born Belgian.. no wait .. i changed my mind.. this one is dutch.. :):)

    Thank you for dropping by my blog and trying the Chocolate Oatmeal Quinoa cookies. I liked your healthy substitutes! Hope you loved them!

  4. Inge says:

    Haha, I never really thought about how crazy this actually is. Pretty cool village now that you mention it! :-)

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