I must admit to being quite a map geek, or perhaps more accurately, a geography geek in general. Which is why one of my favourite Christmas presents this year was the excellent book Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, by Ken Jennings. The book is fantastic, running through many oddities about the wonderful world of maps.

The book talks about this amazing Youtube video, for example:

One of the other fascinating things the book discusses, is the little town of Baarle-Nassau – sitting in the Netherlands (or Belgium, we’ll come to that). Zoomed out, there doesn’t seem to be too much that is strange about the town, sitting near the borders of the two countries: However, if you zoom in, you see a weird mess of grey lines (indicating national borders):

The book Maphead describes the situation:

It’s made up of no fewer than twenty-six separate pieces of Belgium sitting, thanks to a complicated series of medieval treaties between two warring dukes, in the middle of the Netherlands. Some of these little bits of Belgium have little bits of the Netherlands inside them, leading to an impossibly intricate border that divides some village homes in half between the two nations. Your nationality depends on where your front door is, and residents have been known to ’emigrate’ by moving their door every time the tax laws change. When bars and restaurants in the Netherlands close, landlords just move their tables onto the Belgian side of their establishment and keep on serving.

An aerial photograph of the area (yellow lines show borders) highlights just how weird the situation is. Little bits of some fields fall into a different country than the remainder of that field:
There are some other strange borders, perhaps most notably the Northwest Angle and Point Roberts, but I think this is the weirdest. And most interesting.

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10 comments

  1. Matt, ummm yip that should float any ones’ boat well for sure

    But still like the bit where if its not Serving Time in The Netherlands, just change the door to the Belgium side.

    Be one hell of a bugger if one of them pulls out of the EU 😛

    1. Ben, Hans

      I know that Belgium would not leave the EU, but from what I can tell the chances of Belgium falling apart into Flanders, Wallonia, and the Brussels City Region/EU Capital City are worth discussing. However, I am not sure that the Netherlands would want Flanders back, any thoughts as someone who knows the history better than I would?

      1. Speaking as an expat Belgian I can say that the changes to the constitution in Belgium always happen at a glacial pace. It took decades to get to the current federal structure and many aspects of territorial boundaries, political powers of the federal states, financial transfers and debt restructuring are still completely unresolved. The boundaries, which the Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau post refers to, are probably the easy part (and even those are a constant source of squabbles, protests, petty politicking, and party political horse trading).
        Things were much easier, if somewhat more fluid and unstable, in earlier times when territory would change sovereign overlordship if the monarch’s nationality changed. Hence the “Spanish” and “Austrian Netherlands” in the past.
        It’s never been a question of “The Netherlands wanting Flanders back” because together they used to be the United Provinces before the Reformation and civil war tore them apart. It was Spanish troops that occupied Flanders in the 16th and 17th Century, not Dutch.
        There are fringe movements to reunite the Netherlands (back to the The United Provinces) but the current political thrust is to further federalise Belgium, which may or may not lead to an eventual break-up into sovereign entities. Since they are all within the EU, this should be relatively easy to do but the economic and financial ramifications are still enormous due to the socio-economic disparity between north and south in Belgium.
        Brussels is a complication on top of it all. A French speaking city within Flanders, with Flanders still claiming it as its capital, and with a huge number of non-Flemish speaking EU and non-EU migrants (a comparison with Washington DC is apt if you substituted race for language).

  2. Not going to post them here, but piece of Germany inside Switzerland, piece of Spain well inside France. Spain undermines its claim to Gibraltar by having 2 pieces of Morocco still. Enclaves are a beautiful thing!

    Kowloon Walled City was famous Chinese enclave inside Hong Kong, itself enclave inside China. In practice China had no access to it but the British were fearful of going in there, hence its control by triads until it closed down.

    Even in Australia we have a piece of NSW inside Victoria at Tom Groggin Station, only accessible from NSW by road. Coolangatta and Tweed Heads have a strange looking piece of border which is fascinating when you get there. The Tugun bypass freeway connects Coolangatta with rest of Queensland via a piece of NSW (where you can’t exit).

    The European thing is really no surprise – feudalism was about loyalty rather than law, so the Lord you pledge allegiance to was more important than his sovereign right over your territory in many cases. This concept evolved later, when many of these maps were already drawn.

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