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Bits of The Netherlands in Belgium in The Netherlands.


Read on...

During a trip to the Benelux countries, I happened to visit this rather unique place. Baarle-Nassau is located in the south of the Netherlands, near the Belgian border.

In this Dutch municipality, 3 miles (5km) from the official border, there are 21 tiny areas of Belgium located within. These areas (enclaves) all together form the Belgian municipality of Baarle-Hertog...

 ... To complicate things further, there are also 9 Dutch areas within those Belgian enclaves. These areas are known as exclaves. During a single visit to Baarle-Hertog-Nassau, it is quite easy to cross the border between The Netherlands and Belgium many times, sometimes without noticing.
Both Baarles are spread over 8000 hectares. Baarle-Hertog has approximately 2000 inhabitants and Baarle-Nassau almost 6000 inhabitants.

The map displayed in the town highlights which areas belong to which nation, as shown in the photo on the left.

In order to know which country you are in, as you can see from these photos, there are sometimes markings on the pavements.


Also, a closer look at the numbers on the houses reveals the identity of the country. Shown here are two Dutch properties.
The Belgian house numbers have a little Belgian flag on the top left corner; the Dutch ones have a red stripe on the left, white in the centre and on the right a blue stripe. Together, it's the Dutch flag. So, in Baarle the front door of the houses determines in which country the owners live.


Because of this unique situation, both communities lying in two different countries, almost everything is double. There are two town halls, two catholic churches, two police forces combined together in the Belgian town hall each with the national flag in front of their desks, two fire departments and so on. As for the people, they are not divided in the sense that they go to their favourite restaurants, cafes and shops regardless of owner.


The two town councils have an excellent co-operation between them. They solve all their problems concerning roads, sewage systems, and so on. Baarle is an example of a mixture of Belgian and Dutch citizens without losing their own identity. Everything in Baarle gives you an international feeling and sets an example for the rest of Europe in terms of international unity. The local population is fully accustomed to this peculiar situation and overcomes international problems so complicated that most learned jurists and politicians would not solve them.


So, how did all of this happen? Let's look at a bit of Baarle's history. It is not known exactly how long Baarle has existed. Like most places, it found its origin in an old settlement dating just before A.D. In the history books, Baarle is mentioned for the first time in 992, when Countess Hilsondis left her property of Strijen, to which Baarle belonged, by act of foundation, to the Abbey of Thorn (now Limburg). At the end of the 12th century, Godfrey of Schoten, Lord of Breda, owned the castle of Breda and the estates to the south of it. His forefathers had received them as a freehold from the predecessors of Duke Henry I of Brabant. 


In those times, however, the Breda estates were disputed between the Duke of Brabant and the Count of Holland. Godfrey was probably forced to cede them to the Duke of Brabant in 1198. Once he had done so, the Duke gave them back to him, this time as a feudal estate. So, Godfrey recognised the rights of the Duke. The result was that the Count of Holland renounced his claims. Grateful for this recognition, the Duke expanded the feudal estates with vast woods and fens which Godfrey had never possessed before. The Duke however, kept the tributary places for himself. Baarle-Hertog (Baarle-Duke) was one of them. The remaining properties and estates he gave to the Lords of Breda (The Counts of Nassau). In the course of time the Duke lost control in this region.
From that time onwards it was possible to make a distinction between Baarle belonging to Nassau and Baarle belonging to the Duke. The fens lying round the ducal property were exploited for peat. Later these grounds were cultivated and inhabited.



At the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Baarle belonging to Nassau was given to the Northern provinces and the rest, which belonged to the Duke, went to what is now called Belgium. This peculiar situation has remained unchanged, even after 1843, when the borders between the Netherlands and Belgium were established. It is easy to understand that this peculiar situation causes many complications and difficulties. Many attempts have been made to find a solution and there are still people who think this situation is abnormal and untenable. The population of Baarle, however does not agree and are so accustomed to this typical Baarle situation, that they would feel their uniqueness and identity lost without it. 

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