A Town of Two States

National borders can seem quite arbitrary. One such border is between the Netherlands and Belgium in the dual-town of Baarle-Nassau & Baarle-Hertog. The twin town consists of 22 Belgian enclaves/exclaves and 8 Dutch counter-enclaves, and dates back to the Middle Ages, thus predating the modern Nation-State.

When analyzing (inter)national borders one may find plenty of tripoints, where the borders of three countries meet. However, there are no quadripoints (between four nations). That said, there are several examples of quadripoints across the world if we also take into account sub-national. One such place, in this little town where exclaves H1 & H2 meet. With this destination in mind, we started off and soon enough left behind the center. We were now surrounded by evergreen tree farms and open fields. We almost reached our destination, however, to our dismay we were unable to reach the quadripoint since there was a fresh potato field in our way. Since we did not want to trespass, you will have to be satisfied with the above picture of the quadripoint that I found on the internet. I was indeed disappointed with the lack of a path to reach the quadripoint, and if this city would be interested in attracting more visitors, then maybe this is one place where they could make more traveler friendly.

The zigzagging of borders has also resulted in certain buildings being located both in the Netherlands and Belgium. In order to make administrative matters slightly easier, it has been decided that the building would formally belong to Netherlands/Belgium based on where the front door is. As a result, if your front door is on Dutch territory then your house I Dutch, and if it is on Belgian territory then it is Belgian.

However, there are a couple of exceptions to this, because it has come about that the border passes through the front door, and as a result, the house gets two numbers. One such house is located at Loveren 19 (Netherlands) or Loveren 2 (Belgium). The other place with a similar situation is a shop located on Nieuwstraat next to the tourist information center (51.443657, 4.927961).

In addition to the above must go places, I strongly encourage all visitors to walk around the center and simply observe the demarcations of the borders. It would also be hard to miss how many fireworks shops (located on Belgian territory) are there in the city. This is as a result of the different laws on fireworks in both countries, with the sale of fireworks in the Netherlands being only legal around the New Year period.

Being at this strange territorial anomaly made me realize the relative calmness and lack of conflict between the two countries over this territory. Had such a situation existed anywhere else in the world, there would certainly have been (armed) conflict. Furthermore, borders, being political creations, have traditionally resulted in significant problems to people living on such territorial anomalies. Some of the best examples are the complex borders between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the UAE/Omani enclave/exclave, and the 160 enclaves/exclaves that existed on the India-Bangladesh border until 2015.

In conclusion, I believe that the resident of this town and Western Europe, in general, should be grateful that they can live in peace wherever they wish to without having the fear or difficulties of crossing strange borders that pre-date the formation of their modern states.

Ramesh Ganohariti is PhD candidate at Dublin City University. This article was published on his blog in 2018.