It is the most confusing international border of all, and yet the friendliest. Step over the marked lines both ways as many times as you want and nobody will ask for your papers. In fact, you might end up in a café where you will pay for your coffee in one country and sip it sitting at a table in the neighbouring country. Because the international border running through the café has split it into two nations. Yes, that is Baarle, a little town essentially located in southern Netherlands but shared with Belgium.
The international boundary winds through the town splitting everything on its path—from meeting halls to art galleries, banks to shops, houses to cafes, the list is endless.
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As you pass through the town, you will find white crosses or metal studs marking the international border between Baarle Hertog or the Belgian side and Baarle Nassau or the Dutch side. So far as public utilities are concerned, the town has two of each—town halls, churches, postal service, police stations, telephone companies, bus companies, etc. Even two different ages for drinking. But when a border runs through your house, which country are you in? Apparently, it is decided in which country the front door is. Many houses have two numbers and a little flag to mark which side belongs to which country.
The most interesting part of the border deal is that people work side by side and peacefully and there is no tension. A lesson in living in harmony for the rest of the world proudly claims many of the residents here.
It is said that the genesis of the confusion goes back to the 12th century to an arrangement between the Duke of Breda and the Duke of Brabant over the town of Baarle. Several treaties and arrangements later, especially the Treaty of Maastricht (1843), Belgium has 22 enclaves on Dutch soil and these Belgian enclaves in turn include seven Dutch enclaves. [An enclave is a country or part of a country lying wholly within the boundaries of another country.] In between Baarle suffered dark days too, especially during World War I when the ‘death wire’, separating neutral Holland from German occupied Belgium divided families or the proliferation of smuggling and espionage. But thankfully, Baarle has come a long way from those days.
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A pleasant town of less than 10,000 people, it can be explored on foot or bicycle. Enjoy a historical village walk or a tour of its urban heritage or choose a nature trail in the surrounding countryside or go horse riding. And in between do not forget to drop by the shops and bars and don’t be surprised if you find two cash registers, one for each country.