5 April 2021
Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog, two towns intertwined on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, form one of the strangest and most complex border regions in the world. Some of the inhabitants of this town are able to cross the ground border lines several times within minutes of walking from their homes to their workplaces.
Baarle-Nassau is a small town in the Netherlands. Another town called Baarle-Hertog belongs to Belgium and is located in Baarle-Nassau. Moreover, Baarle-Hertog, which belongs to Belgium, is scattered within the Baarle-Nassau of the Netherlands and consists of 22 separate pieces that resemble islands in the sea. There are even smaller “islets” from the Netherlands within these “pockets”.
The total population of the intertwined towns of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog is around 10 thousand. Of these, 7,500 are Dutch and more than 2,000 are Belgian citizens.
The bizarre history of this region, which even the residents find difficult to explain, goes back to the Middle Ages. According to many sources, the area was shared among some aristocratic families at that time. Baarle-Hertog belonged to the Duke of Brabant, who named a region in Belgium now, while Baarle-Nassau was the dynasty of Nassau that ruled there. One of the most geopolitically complex areas in the world has emerged while the two sides have been exchanging lands in conflicts over the years.
The complexity of this border region was consolidated when Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands in 1831. The borders of the Belgian lands within the Netherlands were fully drawn in 1995.
Most of the borders drawn at that time now visibly lie within the town. On one side of the line consisting of plus (+) signs is the Dutch symbol “NL” and on the other side the letters “B” for Belgium.
Unusual border lines on sidewalks and roads pass through buildings in some places. Reminding of a complex electrical circuit, these boundaries divide the gardens of some shops and houses into two as they wander through the town.
Some of the inhabitants of the town can cross borders several times in their daily lives within a few minutes. Some of the residents of a cafe drink their coffee in the Netherlands and some in Belgium.
But in this lovely town many cafes, restaurants and shops are currently closed or working by appointment only. The town, which attracts a lot of tourists due to its strange border feature, is currently having very quiet days. The reason is the Covid-19 outbreak measures, as in many parts of the world.
The measures resulted in very interesting situations in Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog in the first months of last year, when the epidemic began, and the structure, which was sufficiently complex even in normal times, turned into a tangle with different rules.
For example, while it was compulsory to wear a mask on the Belgian side for a while, there was no such obligation on the Dutch side. While the businesses on the Dutch side of the town implemented the epidemic decisions taken by the Netherlands, those on the Belgian side had to comply with the decisions of the Belgian government. In some places, this meant that one of the two shops side by side was closed, while the other remained open.
One of the people who experienced this most closely at the beginning of the epidemic is Sylvia Reijbroek, the owner of the art gallery in the town. Reijbroek, who passed through the border line gallery, said that they had a very difficult time while describing the early stages of the epidemic.
Reijbroek, whose workplace is registered in Belgium, said that when the Belgian government made the decision to close all stores except markets and pharmacies, he had to close his gallery. “Although I closed my business, all the shops on the street were open. Registered businesses in the Netherlands did not have to close,” Reijbroek said.
When the epidemic measures were relaxed, other interesting things emerged this time. Reijbroek stated that Belgium, which restricts border crossings with other countries and thus aims to prevent the spread of the disease, cannot allow the Dutch to enter its gallery as follows: “When I started to open our stores again, this time I had to reject the Dutch citizens. I could only accept the Belgians in my gallery. situation. Because we were asking those who came from which country they were from and we accepted accordingly. I realized how difficult it was to live on the border. “
Belgium and the Netherlands’ epidemic rules are currently almost the same. Stating that sometimes they confuse which country imposes what kind of rules, Sylvia Reijbroek said that now they are a little more relaxed, but nothing is the same as before:
“At the moment the borders are not closed anymore. But this time, not many people go from Belgium to the Netherlands or vice versa. The rules are the same. The rules are the same. But not many people are here anymore. First there would be too many people. They shop and eat.” , they would visit my gallery. None of that is anymore. I’m trying a different way of working too. I’m using social media, sending personal invitations, working by appointment. I’m still working but not the same. I hope everything will be fine. “
Another “unprecedented” example of the epidemic measures taken by governments revealed in this town is the tourist office official in the town’s municipality, Mariette Koijen, told.
Koijen, the official of the municipality with two mayors, described the “strange” incident in the first months of last year as follows: “The rules of Belgium and the Netherlands were different. This led to a situation that is nowhere to be seen. The border crosses through a clothing store here. The Dutch side was open. In other words, half of the store was open and half was closed “
Right now, the only difference between the two is seen in the curfew at night. Koijen said that those living on the Dutch side of the border had to go home at 22:00 and those on the Belgian side at midnight.