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The curious Dutch-Belgian borders in times of corona border closures

A story about Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau.

Overview of all open and closed border crossings. Green: freely crossable. Orange: Sign warns about prohibited crossing of non essential travel. Red: Closed with fences or officers.

Last sunday, cabin fever got the better of me again, this time at a rather unfortunate moment. As most of the world is in the middle of the corona crisis, going to a museum or any social gathering was simply not possible here, as those are all closed and cancelled. The usual destinations like awesome bookshops were also not really an option as some are still open (Most Dutch shops are open, some voluntarily closed) but very crowded and social distancing there didn’t seem like a fun idea. Besides, I already stocked up on books at the layover on my way back from South Africa.

I had been to the curiosity of a border structure in Baarle-Nassau/Baarle-Hertog before, but not in times like this. Baarle, the name of the entire town, is divided by several enclaves in the Netherlands between Dutch and Belgian territory. In some of the Belgian pieces of land, another enclave of the Netherlands is present, so in those places you are in the Netherlands, inside of Belgium, inside of the Netherlands! With parallel postal services, rubbish collectors and utility services, this is a really interesting place. More visible are the stones marking when a border is crossed, the difference in street number signage so you can see what country a house is in (The front door marks the country), and the difference in stores. Fuel taxes are lower in Belgium, and it’s also legal to buy fireworks there the entire year instead of only on the days leading up to new years eve, so those kinds of stores are prevalent.

With some nice weather last sunday I decided to take the trip, and stay within the safety of my car. I heard about Belgium closing it’s borders for non essential movements, borders that were not really there my entire lifetime. So with my windows tightly closed, sunglasses and some music on I ventured to the ‘new’ borders.

Firstly, I went to the town of Baarle. No closed borders to see here, as expected if you look at the intricate border lines. But something interesting was already observable here.

This store that’s just on Dutch soil is still open.

Remember the differences between firework laws for example? With Belgium being stronger regulated about what stores can be open, this difference could also be seen here. This Dutch store (look at the border indications) is still open, while the “Zeeman” had to close on Belgian orders as they are partially on Belgian soil.

A sign on a store both on Dutch and Belgian soil reading: “Dear customer[,] Because half of our store is on Belgian soil the Belgian police asked us to close our doors[.] Team Baarle-Nassau”.

Shops that are both on Dutch and Belgian soil have to close their doors on Belgian orders.

Venturing outwards towards the main border crossings, those border closures are more serious. With some of the crossings simply blocked, others are only accompanied by a sign saying either informatively or prohibitively that non essential movements should not be carried out. Interestingly, the bigger sign doesn’t say anything that if you cross you are doing something prohibited. Other crossings are ‘guarded’ by officers questioning people about their intents and denying people who don’t have a valid reason.

Two cyclists wondering if they can cross one of the closed border crossings between the Netherlands and Belgium.

Some border crossings are simply fenced off.

Some of the bigger roads have Belgian Police officers blocking the road with their car preventing all non essential border crossings.

One of the matrix sign at the non guarded border crossings reading “Only necessary movements[.] Together against corona”.

Another of the matrix signs at the non guarded border crossings reading “unnecessary movements prohibited”.

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