Bizarre Borders - Baarle-Hertog and Baarle Nassau

Samanyu Ram

September 16, 2022

The world consists of 193 UN-recognized countries and many bizarre borders. Colonization, limited knowledge, and geopolitical changes heavily influence why some of these borders are so wacky. The curious towns of Baarle-Hertog and Baarle Nassau make up one of the weirdest border situations in Europe or even the world.

Baarle-Hertog is a small Belgian municipality fully encompassed by the Netherlands, which is interlocked with the Dutch municipality of Baarle-Nassau. Within this mess, there are 22 Belgian enclaves and 8 Dutch enclaves, making 30 enclaves in total. Enclaves are defined as a portion of territory within or surrounded by a larger territory whose inhabitants are culturally or ethnically distinct. Although these two towns are part of two different countries, there aren’t many downsides. The Netherlands and Belgium belong to the European Union, which means there are no border issues. The inhabitants can move freely through any part of town. The borders are marked in little white crosses on the ground but do not disturb everyday life in the town. 

You may be wondering how people will know if they live in Belgium or the Netherlands if the border goes directly through their house. The solution to this problem is that the citizens inhabit whichever country their front door lies. Also, you may think everyday life is difficult because of the language barrier, but Dutch is most commonly spoken throughout northern Belgium. The town features a population of around 8,000 inhabitants, 5,000 being part of Baarle-Nassau and 3,000 being part of Baarle-Hertog. There are duplicates of everything, one for the Netherlands and one for Belgium. There are two churches, two main post offices, two town halls, and two different legal ages for alcohol consumption. Technically, you can be 16 years old, legally drinking in Belgium while crossing the border, and instantly be illegally drinking in the Netherlands, where the legal age is 18. 

The border's quirks result from various agreements and land swaps between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant. Over time, they have become less of a hassle due to the UN’s Schengen Area, but decades ago inflicted lots of trouble. For example, during World War I when the Germans occupied Belgium, they had to cross over Dutch land to capture the town of Baarle Hertog. The Netherlands’ government opposed this, so naturally, Baarle became a safe haven for fleeing Belgian refugees.