Baarle Hertog-Nassau (Belgium & Netherlands)

I stumbled upon Baarle Hertog on a map. I mean, literally, I was zooming into the map at Antwerp searching for landmarks & places to see when I saw this black doodle like thing, on the map near the Belgian-Dutch border and zoomed into it..... and that's how I stumbled upon Baarle Hertog & Nassau. Google maps is the best way to explain how crazy this place border situation is. 
So yeah, ofcourse I wanted see this for myself. However, the challenge was public transport from Brussels (driving is just an easy 1:15hrs). Reaching here by bus & train combo on weekdays takes a bit over 2 hrs while in weekends, with reduced frequency it takes a bit over 3 hrs! 6 hrs travel felt too much for a day-trip and I kept postponing it, until, a friend of mine relocated to Eindhoven! So the trip became a weekend trip with a stop-over at Baarle!
First of all, why this weird situation? Well, blame Godfried II van Schoten, the Lord of Breda in 1198 CE. Breda was between the Brabant and Holland (not the current region, the historic one!). So when the Count of Holland, Dirk VII tried to overpower and usurp him, he sought protection to Duke Henry I of Brabant and gave the city to him. Later the Duke gave back the city to Godfried, but kept the pieces of lands that were already cultivated with himself (something like a transaction cost!). These pieces of lands are what that forms Baarle-Hertog today! In course of time, the Duke lost control and the Nassau family took over and that's why the surrounding region is Baarle-Nassau!
This is 'not' a parking slot, but  the border line, going through the streets!!!

Much later, in 1648, after Maastricht Treaty, Godfried's lands came under Turnhout's administration and Nassau family's lands came under Netherlands. Then in 1830, when Belgium gained independence, Turnhout became a part of Belgium and thus Baarle Hertog too! Drawing a border at this point was impossible and till 1974, there was this 'hole in the border', between boundary stones 214 & 215, when it was finally closed off. In 1967, a so-called, representative boundary stone 214-215 was placed in the centre of this city! Only 1995, this crazy border enclaves were drawn and the international border lines/enclaves were made official, on paper! It was then a plaque was placed on the ground in the city depicting the boundary lines.....

Today this crazy border lines go everywhere - through buildings, offices, shops, houses and more! There is a front-door policy in place where the building belongs to country in which its front door is located. However taxes of shops are the peak of craziness where they have to work out the taxes of both countries depending upon the goods placed on either sides of the border. The task of police is pretty crazy too, esp when the laws of the 2 countries don't match. For eg., the legal age of drinking in BE is 16 and NL is 18!!!
One of our stops was the Town-hall and the police room in it, has both Belgian and Dutch police, The meeting/ceremony room in the building has a diagonal line that passes through it (can you see it in the pic above?)! Esp., during weddings care has to be taken that both parties are on the correct side of the border line in order to make the ceremony, valid! 
Our next stop was De Biergrens, an alcohol shop, which has the border line running through it. Unlike the houses that belong to the country where its front door is located, this belongs to both countries and has its front door in one country and its storage access door in another! I have no clue how they manage their taxes, it should be crazy!!!

There was another shop which is in Netherlands, but the moment you step out of the door, you're in Belgium! There was a cafe, Restaurant Den Engel, whose wall almost blends with the borderline! At this point you'd also see the civic crests (official symbols) of both the towns. The town has a so-called 'Belgian' church and a so-called 'Dutch' church!
Houses belong to the country where its front door is located. But here is a house with 2 numbers on it as well as an art gallery with 2 numbers on it. Then there is a very unique apartment with 2 doors on either sides of the border with its own number on it - well, NL has a 2 levels policy while BE allows 3 levels, so the apartment has 1 extra door in BE that leads directly to 2nd level. So basically ground floor is NL, 1st floor is BE and 2nd floor again in NL!!! Well........

Another of our stops was the Hof van Baarle vineyard, which has a whole, small Belgian enclave in it while the rest of the whole vineyard is Dutch! This is located a bit away from the city centre. The region is marked with Belgian flag in the 4 corners of the enclave. All 4 flags are in the midst of the whole vineyard!!! This vineyard cultivates 9 types of grapes and has its own cellar where its fermented. 

One of its redwine is aptly named  Enclaves Rood! This has been aged in wooden barrel. Its absolutely delicious. Neither too sweet nor too dry, with 11% alc it was perfect and yummy! The best part - this wine has Protected Geographical Indication. With limited production, its almost impossible to even buy this wine elsewhere! That's one more reason to visit Baarle.

Another place that's located a bit away is the Dodendraad. During WWI, remember how Belgium & Netherlands stayed neutral and bit by bit Belgium was occupied by Germany till Ypres? Well, at that point too, this enclave situation existed. But the enclaves were closed-off with a straight line for fencing purpose. Now, what is that?

To prevent the Belgians from fleeing into Netherlands, Germany put up an electric fence along the border. But there were many ways in which Belgians fled into Netherlands (though many died trying to escape) and one of the way is this 'passeursraam'. This is a foldable wooden frame which could be inserted between 2 wires and opened up, leaving a insulated opening for people to escape safely. At this point of time, electricity was new and many people didn't even know how fatal it can be! Electricity line was brought here from Antwerp and there is an Old Switch House in the Dodendraadpad (Dead Wire Route). 
Btw, don't miss visiting the tourism office to mark where you're from! It was there that I came to know that someone from Chennai had already visiting Baarle-Hertog-Nassau!
For its absolutely weird border line scenario that's been alive since 1198 CE, I'm amused that its still not recognized by UNESCO or EHL. I hope they receive atleast the European Heritage Label to recognize this medieval craziness that's still alive!

To Get There:
While exploring the town centre is very much possible on foot, seeing the vineyard or dodendraad are possible only by car/bike. It is possible to hire bikes here. There is a dedicated 40km cycling route which can be taken to explore the border crossings 25 more times, in the outskirts of the town including the vineyard. There is also a dedicated 38km cycling route called Dodendraadpad (Dead Wire Route) that crosses the sites associated with the World War.

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

20 comments:

  1. That is crazy! I want to go to this place- I know on road trips across America people have one foot in one state and one foot in another- but to have the line cross through stores and cafes....I have also been to Iguazu Falls in Argentina and it has the same thing with country borders with Paraguay and Brazil. But it still is like in nature and not in stores!

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  2. What a cool unique city and what a fun way you discovered it! I love that it has such an interesting history. I can only imagine the headaches the shop owners have when trying to file taxes based on what is on each side of the store. I wonder if they put the most expensive items on the side of the store that has the most business-friendly tax policies. Although I imagine the shop owners have the process down to a science, and it is just second nature to them at this point. I can image that there are a lot of 16 year olds heading to the other side of town to be able to legally drink two years earlier than on their side of town. Thank you for introducing me to such a cool city. I hope I get to visit there one day!

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  3. That's so cool. I would love to visit this town and experience something unique like this(to be in two different places all at the same time).

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  4. This is so crazy! I had heard about this Place in Social Media, but the facts you mentioned and issues related to it seems more complicated. At the same time, it seems so cool to put footsteps in two countries.I surely would like to visit here someday.

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  5. This place has been on my list of places to visit for a very long time (as I am interested in maps etc) but despite going to Belgium and Netherlands millions of times, I never been to this area. Cant wait to go there and cross the border a million times more in the space of thirty minutes. :D Got to love the land grabbing policies of the Belgians and Netherlands when they chalked out these borders/land ownership many years ago.

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  6. Wow! I never knew that such a place existed. It is totally insane. How did you feel there as tourists? I mean did you feel any difference between 2 countries once you crossed the "borders"? I would really want to visit this place. Good thing you discovered this on maps.
    While it sounds funny,but the tax and other issues there is quite complicated in both the countries. I guess the people are now totally used to it.

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  7. What a half and half town this is. And a quirky one. I loved all your pics on the various border lines etched. The two uniforms was hilarious. And then even the stores . Why they have not even spared a church? I envy you for having managed to find this one and visit it. I know I would have had a blast.

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  8. This is so fascinating...What a serendipitous discovery! I love that you stumbled upon Baarle Hertog & Nassau and the border lines online and your curiosity led you to explore it further. Some of these divisions are just so whimsical. It's especially interesting as it relates to wedding parties being on the same side of the marker. LOL. Thanks for shedding light on this historical (and lengthy) landmark. I'd never heard of it before--and seeing these pictures is all the better!

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  9. I love when you find a place like Baarle Hertog that was really not on your original travel plans. Good to know that travelling by car will be easier. You learned so many interesting tidbits. And found a winery too! I hope you took some home with you since you can’t get it anywhere else. We might take bikes to visit the winery. But that might limit our wine tasting!

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  10. That's so cool that you randomly discovered Baarle Hertog & Nassau on the map and then decided to visit. That's crazy about the border lines going through various businesses and homes. It sounds like a nightmare for the store owners to figure out the taxes of their goods though. It would be fun to have a home on the border line and have family in the next room, aka the next country!

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  11. What a unique place they visit! I love how the border situation was resolved, although confusing for sure as you pointed out. I can’t imagine tracking what items were sold from which side of the border, what a paperwork mess. I have trouble doing my taxes and I don’t have this mess to deal with. I bet the 18 yr olds appreciate being able to step over a line for a beer though

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  12. Exploring a town that is on the border of two countries is certainly unique. Till now, whichever border town I have been to, I am welcomed with a ugly checkpost. Do you think that that residents here have dual passports of both countries?

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  13. How strange and quite unusual. Usually the borders run along streets, river etc, but these guys are something else.

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  14. How could you find this place. 2 country in the same city. really look interesting. I do not have any knowledge about historical about this 2 countries but I will study more after reading this.

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  15. You had me at vineyards! Love trying wine from around the world. It's such a neat thing to experience where two countries meet and see both the distinctions and the similarities between them. Such a neat find and hidden gem you stumbled across!

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  16. This was a fascinating read, Bhushavali! I've seen some curious border situations on Google Maps as well, and I think it's incredible that the original dispute and resolution is almost 1,000 years old. I never considered all the modern implications such as drinking ages and weddings. This looks like a fun trip filled with lots of learning. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. This is the first time I have heard and read about Baarle-Hertog-Nassau and this is super fascinating. After reading all these interesting facts and how the lines are dividing the place into 2 countries, I am going to do a google research and to going to add this place to my bucket list. Your pictures are explaining everything so well. Thanks for sharing this

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  18. Great post!! I love all the borders that are shared between too countries and this surely was great too. I love the fact that how easily and neatly the border runs down. Belgium sure got tons of great wines, I loved their wines and the winery during my travel.

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  19. What a cool story about this border! And I love that it passes through buildings, especially the Town Hall with the diagonal line. This is absolutely fascinating too in how it has impacted daily lives down to weddings that are held in Baarle Hertog & Nassau.

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  20. To found and make it happen to go to the border of two countries let me feel like you are the unique traveler. You are very lucky to travel around and share your experience through the places which are so interesting. Appreciated to find out that google is know everywhere we want to go.

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