In response to the previous post, a reader kindly pointed me to the fascinating town of Baarle-Hertog, Belgium.
Baarle-Hertog borders the Netherlands – but, because of its unique history of political division, the town is sort of marbled with competing national loyalties. In other words, pockets of the town are Dutch; most of the town is Belgian. You can thus wander from country to country on an afternoon stroll, as if island-hopping between sovereignties.
Check out the town map.

[Image: The strange, island-like spaces of micro-sovereignty within the town of Baarle-Hertog; a few more maps can be seen here, and you can read more in this two-page article].

Being in a bit of a rush at the moment, I’ll simply have to quote Wikipedia:

Baarle-Hertog is noted for its complicated borders with Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands. In total it consists of 24 separate pieces of land. Apart from the main piece (called Zondereigen) located north of the Belgian town of Merksplas, there are twenty Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands and three other pieces on the Dutch-Belgian border. There are also seven Dutch exclaves within the Belgian exclaves. Six of them are located in the largest one and a seventh in the second-largest one. An eighth Dutch exclave lies in Zondereigen.

The border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. There was a time when according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side.

Sarah Laitner, at the Financial Times, adds that “women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth.”
Another website, apparently drawing from the Michelin Guide to the Netherlands, explains the origins of Baarle-Hertog’s bizarre geography: it can all be traced back to the 12th century, it seems, when the town was first divided. The northern half of the town became part of the Barony of Breda (later home to the Nassau family), and the southern half went to the Duke of Brabant (Hertog means Duke in Dutch).
But that same website also mentions this:

The municipality limits are very complicated. Nowadays, each municipality has its city hall, church, police, school and post office. The houses of the two nationalities are totally mixed. They are identified by the shield bearing their number: the national flag is included on it.

I hate to refer to Thomas Pynchon twice, in back-to-back blog posts, but there something’s remarkably Pynchon-esque about this final detail.
In any case, also check out this site for more historical information.
While we’re on the subject of micro-sovereignties, though, be sure to check out Neutral Moresnet, a tiny, politically independent non-state formed around a zinc mining operation in eastern Belgium. There’s also Cospaia, “a small former republic in Italy” which “unexpectedly gained independence in 1440” after Pope Eugene IV sold the land it stood on. “By error,” we read, “a small strip of land went unmentioned in the sale treaty, and its inhabitants promptly declared themselves independent.”
The Free State Bottleneck, Åland Islands, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are all also worth checking out.
Finally, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out BLDGBLOG’s earlier interview with Simon Sellars, co-author of The Lonely Planet Guide to Micronations.

(With huge thanks to Scott Gosnell, Christopher, Claus Moser, and Blinde Schildpad for the tips!)

21 thoughts on “Baarle-Hertog”

  1. If Baarle-Hertog can do it, I don’t see what the Palestinians are so worried about.



  2. @extrabox…

    Baarle-Hertog seems to be a case of a political border being used to accommodate an ages-old understanding about people of different nationalities co-existing together…

    …not a case of a political border being used to exclude people based on ethnic and religious differences, and to manipulate a situation to gain control of land and power.

    I’m sure the Baarle-Hertogians, of either nationality, would become extremely worried if the other country’s government were to begin to cut them off from their work, their land, and their families, blocking their roads with uncrossable barriers, checkpoints, and armed soldiers… then annexing their property, destroying their fields, and claiming ownership over their houses, where they didn’t tear them down and build new ones.

    Successful Strategies in Dealing With Diversity, Sharing Space, Accommodation, and Co-existence — Example 1: Baarle-Hertog.

  3. @Israel:
    You should check the news.

    Belgium is sick. Divided in walloons (french speaking) and flemish (dutch speaking), they just hate each other, having frequent street clashes.

    Flemish all want independence. Belgium’s “King” (lol) can’t help, but will be doomed if that happens.

    Due to this, Belgium simply has no government since many months now, they’re all busy fighting each other.

    So @Israel, just inject some AK47s up there, and you’ll get the same warzone as Palestine …

    Similarly, there WOULD be clashes in Baarle-Hertog if two languages were spoken … just like many war zones.

    Just my feelings about it.

  4. @Anonymous responding to Israel.

    This is not a reaction to whatever you’re trying to say about the israel-palestine situation. I don’t know enough about it to either agree or care.

    But the nonsense you’re telling about belgium :
    You should check your facts :

    Walloons and Flemish DON’T hate each other. At all. There are NO street clashes between them. Ever.

    The situation in Belgium is a POLITICAL problem.
    The federal government formation system has come to a complex checkmate situation.

    Allow me to simplify as much as possible :

    The Belgian political balance between cultural Communities and economic Regions has always been a complicated puzzle,
    because of overlapping geographical and linguistic borders and the complex structure of Brussels-Capital and surrounding municipalities.

    No single political party can win a federal election by majority of votes, so parties form electoral alliances.
    Potential partners make deals and promises in advance. Opportunism and compromises.

    The alliance with most votes wins the right to form a government with a partner from the other linguistic community (often also an alliance).
    This is a difficult process because all potential partners have to be satisfied.

    The flemish alliance that won the elections (CD&V + NVA) hasn’t been able to find a Walloon partner, after trying for over a year.
    Potential partners are not compatible with each others’ political projects.

    That’s about the situation.
    It’s politics.

    It has nothing to do with how the population feels.
    Nothing to do with ethnic groups, or cultural differences, or whatever.
    It’s no potential warzone. AT ALL. lol.
    You don’t know anything about the situation if that’s how you preceive it.

    Most Belgians agree that the political construction of the country is overly complicated.
    Most Belgians agree that the country, again, is making a fool of itself.
    Important issues in society are not being dealt with because there is no federal government.

    Both Flanders and Wallonia already have significant autonomy,
    but more and more Belgians want more autonomy for the regions
    to organize local issues more efficiently.

    Autonomy does NOT equal independence.

    and yes … you’re right on one point.
    King Albert can’t help. Can’t help himself. he’s a funny character.
    The royal family in Belgium has a ceremonial function, no political power whatsoever.

  5. If you’re a political party, that must be one hell of a region to canvass. Hilarious! I’m half Dutch, and I knew we were crazy… but that’s just downright awesome! 🙂

  6. check out the “baumhaus an der mauer” in berlin. it has the most curious history: the ground it is built on, was east german territory at the time. but since there was a bend in the border, they decided to straighten the line of the wall to save money on material… which left that piece of land de facto on the west german side. so when mr kalin decided to start his garden there, the east germans said: sure, do it, because they couldnt use that land anyway, it was on the wrong side of the wall, and they supported him morally as a “victim of capitalist circumstances”. and the west germans couldnt do anything about it because they didnt have jurisdiction over it.
    now, after the fall of the wall, mr kalins garden continued to benefit from the slow burocratic mills of german laws as the boroughs borders along the wall got redefined and the jurisdiction over this particular part of land got shuffeled around between the boroughs Kreuzberg and Mitte. in the meantime, mr kalin continued to grow good turkish onions, kale, zucchinis and much more. in the late nineties, he added his famous “baumhaus an der mauer”, an improvised 2-story house out of found recycled materials. two years ago, the garden and the house which occupy about 350 square meters on some of berlins most valuable land got official permission to stay for now…

  7. Just for completeness sake, geographically Baarle-Hertog is situated in the Netherlands, that is to say within Dutch borders.

  8. makes solving crme and murder difficult too..

    in dutch:

    De politie heeft gisteren een lijk gevonden, dat precies op een landengrens ligt. Door de ligging, in een leegstaand bankgebouw tussen Baarle-Hertog (België) en Baarle-Nassau (Nederland), is onduidelijk welk land bevoegd is sectie te verrichten.
    Mogelijk is het een 26-jarige Wit-Russische, die sinds vorig jaar wordt vermist.

    freely translated:
    The police found a body directly on the border in a old bank. Turned out to be a murdered woman. At first the belgium police was alerted, since the front of the building was in belgium. After closer inspection the part of the building the woman was found in, was on dutch soil.

  9. Speaking of ‘the Akwizgran Discrepancy’: during the original border treaty in 1843 between the Netherlands and Belgium, they somehow managed to overlook a small plot of land west of Baarle-Hertog. It would take another 150 years before they discovered that it didn’t belong to either the Netherlands or Belgium. Finaly, in 1995 it was assigned to Belgium and is now designated as exclave H22.

  10. I think this is less like Pynchon and more like the classic Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico, made in 1949. In this really very funny film a small street in the East of London is discovered to have long belonged to the Duke of Burgundy, causing the local policemen to exclaim ‘Blimey! I’m a foreigner.’

    It’s a brilliant satire on statehood. Pimlico becomes a haven away from post-war rationing.

    “We always were English and we’ll always be English, and it’s precisely because we are English that we’re sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!”

  11. “Sarah Laitner, at the Financial Times, adds that “women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth.”

    That’s complete nonsense ! Unlike in America, you get Belgian or Dutch nationality because one of your parents is Belgian/Dutch. Being born in one of the two countries has *absolutely* nothing to do with it…!

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