The most complicated border town in the world is home to 9000 people and has two different mayors, two police forces, two postal services, two bus companies, two different sets of national laws, and even two village names: Baarle-Nassau (Dutch) and Baarle-Hertog (Belgian).
Baarle-Hertog (Belgian) is deep inside the Netherlands, making a few enclaves, and depending on the location of their front door, residents are living in either Belgium or Netherlands and subjected to totally different rules.
The sleepy villages of Baarle-Nassau (Dutch) and Baarle-Hertog (Belgian) are not only another two typical European sleepy villages, they make the most complicated border in the world.
These towns attract thousands of curious souls who are fascinated by the coexisting level of these two towns. Tourists usually visit the villages on the weekends and enjoy a day, eating at fine Belgian and Dutch restaurants and visiting these towns’ sightseeing places.
In this post, we’ll briefly explain the most complicated borders in the world by explaining the history, situation, and differences between Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog.
History of Baarle-Hertog & Baarle-Nassau
How Did Baarle-Hertog, Baarle-Nassau border happened?
Baarle-Hertog once belonged to the Duke (Hertog is the Dutch word for ‘duke’) of Brabant, while Baarle-Nassau was the property of the medieval House of Nassau.
The border’s complexity results from numerous medieval treaties, agreements, land-swaps, and sales between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant.
WWI and WWII
During WWI, Even though the German Imperial Army occupied Belgium, they could not occupy these parts of Belgium without crossing the Netherlands, which the Dutch government (a neutral country in WWI) did not allow. Rather than brightly painted crosses, electric fences separated the two countries, and Baarle-Hertog became a safe haven for lucky refugees who made it across the border as well as a breeding ground for the Belgian resistance. The Dutch government built a church and school for the Belgian people who were effectively stranded within the enclaves.
This situation didn’t last long as in the Second World War, as both countries were occupied by Nazi Germany.
Marking the borders
When Belgium gained independence, it was necessary to establish a border between the two countries. In Baarle, the demarcation was so confusing that a special border commission was needed to sort it out which took them 15 years to be done. It was split into bits and pieces of countries crisscrossing each other so randomly that the borders often run through gardens and houses.
Number of Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands
The Duke of Brabant’s 22 parcels of land are stranded as Belgian enclaves within the Netherlands. There is even a Dutch enclave on the Belgian side of the border. The Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands are so complicated that even 10 minutes of walking around the village could be considered an international trip as you would easily cross the borders over 50 times, if not more!
Simply put, out of the most complicated borders in the world, the Baarle border has managed to have the title of ‘the most complicated border in the world.’
How people identify Belgium from the Netherlands
The Dutch government has a strict policy about how the buildings’ exterior look like and always makes sure that most buildings look the same and Dutch pavements are lined with lime trees, their limbs carefully pruned and braided like vines. On the other hand, the Belgian government has no restrictions on how the buildings look like and how big or small they are, so the streets have more diversity in them.
Also, For clarification and the interest of tourists, the border is made visible on all streets with iron pins and white crosses.
The third way to determine which house belongs to which country is by looking at the house numbers. The style of house numbers is different in both countries and often one will find the Dutch or Belgian flag next to the number.
Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau’s Unification attempts
Ever since Belgium’s independence in 1831, there have always been attempts to reunify the Belgian enclaves with Dutch soil. The most recent reunification attempt was in 1996. to make Baarle-Hertog part of Turnhout. Baarle-Nassau would then join with nearby Alphen and Chaam to form a new Dutch municipality. Both the Dutch and the Belgian parliaments voted against the motion.
The Main differences between Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau
- While Dutch is the primary language of both communities, French is being taught in Belgian schools.
- In the 1960s, Belgian and Dutch teenagers who went to school often ended up fighting with each other after school, so the schools had to have different hours of starting and finishing to prevent it.
- Usually, all the Dutch businesses have to be closed on Sundays while the Belgian ones don’t have such a restriction which works in favor of the Belgian business owners in Baarle-Hertog. However, with some effort and paperwork, Dutch businesses can request to be open on Sundays which they all try to do.
- The drinking age in the Netherlands is 18 but Belgians can legally drink beer and wine at 16, so most Dutch teenagers below 18, end up in the Belgian bars for drinking until they turn 18.
- Selling and carrying fireworks is illegal in the Netherlands except for around the New Year while there’s no rule prohibiting Belgian shop owners to sell fireworks year-round. For the very same reason, there are a few fireworks shops on the Belgian side of the border that mostly serve the Dutch residents.
- Buildings caught across both sides of the Dutch-Flemish border pay tax according to which side their front door is located on. Locals wanting to reduce their bill simply shift their entranceway.
Top 5 things to do Baarle-Hertog & Baarle-Nassau
1- Border Crossing
Let’s face it! Although the sleepy towns of Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau are beautiful, the main reason that tourists like to visit them is that this Belgian-Dutch border is the most complicated border in the world. The first thing that most visitors do is posting a picture of themselves on Instagram while having a foot in Belgium and the other foot in the Netherlands which is pretty cool. A lot of shops, houses, businesses, and even the City hall are located where the borders cross which doesn’t happen so peacefully in other parts of the world.
The Wire of Death (Dutch: Dodendraad, German: Todesdraht) was a lethal electric fence created by the German military to control the Dutch–Belgian frontier after the occupation of Belgium during the First World War. The current Dodendraad was built by the locals in an effort to keep the history real to prevent it from happening again.
3- Kaarsen Museum (Candle Museum)
The Candle Museum boasts a stunning collection of artworks from local artist, Frits Spies, who transforms a common candle into beautiful art. The candles themselves are made from pure beeswax and colored using only natural products.
4- Vineyard Hof van Baarle
Hof van Baarle is a unique vineyard with grapes on both Dutch and Belgian soil! The vines are planted in the rural area of Boschoven, on the edge of the European twin town of Baarle-Nassau / Hertog. 9 varieties have been planted on 2.5 hectares, with a total of about 7,500 grape plants.
Enclaves Wit and Cabernet Cortis are two of the most favorite wines at Hof van Baarle.
5- Sint Salvatorkapel
The Sint-Salvator Chapel is a chapel between Baarle and Nijhoven in the municipality of Baarle-Nassau.
This stone church was built as a result of a quarrel between Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog residents. At one point in the fifteenth century, people in Baarle-Hertog were no longer allowed to use the streets of Baarle-Nassau. They also denied the residents of Baarle-Nassau access to their Sint-Remigius church which forced Baarle-Nassau people to build their own church near Nijhoven.
Where to stay in Baarle-Hertog & Baarle-Nassau
Since these towns are famous because of being the most complicated border town in the world, there are a few hotels and B&B in the area to cater to the visitors who visit these amazing towns.
Schaluinenhoeve is a luxury hotel, located just outside the center of the historical Baarle-Nassau and -Hertog. The beautiful location surrounded by nature brings you all the peace to escape your daily routine and enjoy your nice weekend tour to the Baarle villages.
If you’re looking for affordable accommodation to say at while visiting Baarle-Hertog/Nassau, B&B Kelpiebrink is a good option to choose. This B&B (a farm and dog breeding) is located in a quiet area, close to the Belgian border. You can visit their award-winning dogs if you like, but if not interested, the rooms have no connection to the animals and you can enjoy your stay without being worried about them.