Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

The Bizarre and Bendy Borders of Baarle

This was a screenshot from my phone's native maps app for where we had our cup of tea this afternoon:

The Map

The town of Baarle is split between two municipalities - Baarle-Nassau, part of the Netherlands, and Baarle-Hertog, a Belgian enclave which has existed, in one form or another, roughly since 1198.

The Border in the Background

Here is F standing in front of the monument to the 1198 decision. Behind him, just below his shoulder level, you can see a line of crosses in the pavement which then turns into a brick line in the road, and takes a left turn away from us. That is the border between Belgium (where we were standing) and the Netherlands.

In fact outside the church there is a nice wee model of Baarle, with a button you can press which elevates the Belgian parts of the town so you can see what is where, as it were.

A Model Village

In the centre of the town, the border is usually marked clearly on the pavement:

The Cafe on the Border

Further out, you can sometimes tell only by the registration of the cars on each side of the street:

The Divided Street
(Note Dutch on the right, Belgian on the left.)

One does feel a little sorry for the owners of this house as they deal with paperwork from competing jurisdictions:
The House With Two Numbers

There are several cases here of double enclaves - bits of the Netherlands, marooned inside the larger chunk of Belgian territory which is most of Baarle-Hertog, inside the Dutch municipality of Baarle-Nassau. You will have to take my word for it that F is standing here just inside one of the double-Dutch enclaves.
The Double Enclave

Not surprisingly, there is a monument to Baarle's longest-standing and most successful commercial activity:
The Statue of the Smuggler

The tourist office rather plays the situation for laughs - the guide book, available only in Dutch, is aimed at Dutch visitors wondering why those peculiar Belgians have a few scraps of territory inside the more northerly of the two kingdoms. And truth be told, there's not a lot else to be said about the place except that it has complicated borders.

Two serious points, though. One is that while China Miéville took it to extremes, there are a bunch of divided cities out there; I was in one only three weeks ago, and was born in another. Sometimes an older physical division is gone but not forgotten. The people, or peoples, of both sides of Baarle seem to have found a viable modus vivendi, and good on them.

The other point is that that modus vivendi has come under threat in the last century. The "Belgian church" is adorned at the moment with artificial poppies, commemorating the events of 1914-18, when the Baarle-Hertog enclaves in the neutral Netherlands were a small part of the small area of unoccupied Belgium. In the Second World War, of course, both parts of the Baarle were occupied from 1940. The monument in the background is to the 1st Polish Armoured Division who liberated it in 1944.
The Poppies and the Polish Monument

As the Poles advanced, the Germans arrested and executed local draper Maria Cornelissen-Verhoeven, known locally as Miet Pauw. She had been running one of the escape lines for Allied soldiers to get out of occupied Europe, and she paid the ultimate price; but has not been forgotten.
The Heroine of the Resistance

It's worth a visit, if you happen to be in that part of the world.

PS - We were inspired to do this trip by F's discovery of this rather pleasing Youtube video:
Tags: world: belgium, world: netherlands

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