The Covid crisis made me dream of crossing borders: it turned out to be the perfect time to visit the town of Baarle, a unique curiosity of medieval times, with plentiful border crossings guaranteed. And you don't even need a visa for them! Without knowing it, we park our car almost exactly on the border, and start by walking north on a cycling path which once was a train track. White crosses across the path mark the border, and we realize we have been walking through Belgium for the last 200 metres without even knowing it. Next to a bench of hope, which is split between Belgium and The Netherlands, we see a copy of an antenna used by the Belgians during World War I, when The Netherlands was neutral. Just for fun, we jump the border several times, before walking towards the southwest. a street which partly is the border. While the town is called Baarle, the Dutch call their part Baarle-Nassau, while the Belgians call theirs Baarle-Hertog.
Baarle is mostly a quiet agricultural town, and we find plenty of trees and open spaces, often with plaquettes explaining the significance of a place in the history of Baarle. We turn on Lokerenstraat, and walk towards the only house in town with the border cutting straight through the front door. It actually has two house numbers: number 2 for Belgium, and 19 for The Netherlands. The front door actually determines the nationality of the house, and all number on the front door have a small Belgian flag in the upper left corner, or a red and blue stripe on the Dutch houses. We walk back this street, crossing the border another few times, and come to the Cultural House, which has the border cutting straight through. Some of its halls have been used to sign treaties, as they are partly Belgian, partly Dutch. We are now approaching the city centre, and pass the Heemhuis, which currently houses the Heemkundekring Amalia van Solms but served as the City Hall between 1877 and 1987. For Baarle-Hertog, that is: this town has two city halls, two police forces, and both parts follow regulations of their mother country, which led to weird situations during the strictest period of the Covid crisis, where shops on the border would be partly open and partly closed.
Walking past the Saint Remigius church, we come to the main street of Baarle, Singel, which has a replica of a border marker 214/215, erected after the borders were established in 1975. It concluded a long period of uncertainty over the border, which was finally determined in 1995. We have a drink at a table topping the border, and then visit the tourist office which is housed in the same building as the Baarle-Nassau City Hall. It has useful background information on this quirky town which has been divided since 1198 and has survived centuries of wars, treaties, even unity of Belgium and The Netherlands, and European unification. We now walk south, through streets which have the border right in the middle, so you can walk with one foot in The Netherlands, and the other in Belgium, following the metal border markers. We visit several of the Dutch enclaves, which are small pockets of The Netherlands, inside a Belgian enclave, which in turn is surrounded by Dutch territory. In one case, the border runs around a house, cutting into the Dutch counter-enclave. We visit a beer store which has the border cutting straight through, marked by the flags of both countries. We walk east, exiting Baarle, and walk around it, to the Saint Salvator Chapel, an attractive buidling surrounded by trees, at the end of Kapelstraat. We walk the street, adding yet more border crossings. We have long lost count in the number of border crossings we have done, and are sometimes not even aware of the country we are in. Fortunately, the house numbers can give you a hint - but then again, you never know if the border runs somewhere between where you are and the house you see. When, coincidentally, I meet a friend, the husband of the mayor of Baarle-Nassau, he tells me that his wife has been very busy in Covid times, to manage the town and its unique, complicated situation. Both Belgians and Dutch have long ago agreed that they want to maintain the status quo: Baarle will retain its unique position, holding half of all enclaves (30) of the world, for many years to come.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Baarle (Netherlands). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Baarle. Read more about this site.