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LIZ ALDERMAN’S STORY in The New York Times, August 8, 2016, is titled “Put One Foot Wrong in This Town and You’ve Left the Country.” She was writing about Baarle, 65 miles south of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and 55 miles northeast of Brussels, Belgium.
Which country is it in? Both.
Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830, and established its monarchy on July 21, 1831. Nevertheless, noble rivals dating from the 12th century onward had deeded land this way and that. What exists today has two separate place names, Baarle-Nassau, the Netherlands, and Baarle-Hertog, Belgium. Each country contains enclaves of the other in a bewilderingly complex border, often defined by iron pins or stripes on the street. Eight Dutch enclaves are in Belgium, 22 Belgian enclaves are in the Netherlands.
The New York Times author Alderman writes, “Addresses go by the voordeurregel, or front-door rule: If it opens on the Belgian side of the street, you live in Belgium, wherever the rest of the house may lie. (For easy identification, the national flag is usually painted next to the house number.)”
You could enter a shop through one door in Belgium and leave through another door into the Netherlands. Notes Alderman, “When closing times differed in the two countries, divided restaurants would move their tables to the Belgian side of the room when last call came on the Dutch side.”
Some of the enclaves are plots of farmland allotted ages ago by one nobleman or another, with ownership challenged over the years. For instance, the nationality of the De Wit Hagen enclave had been moot between 1830 until 1995. It’s now part of Baarle-Hertog (Belgium), but surrounded by Barrle-Nassau (the Netherlands).
De Wit Hagen isn’t very large: about 0.65 acre. Good trivia: A U.S. football field, complete with end zones, is about twice this, 1.32 acres.
Reading Alderman’s article reminded me of Derby Line, Vermont, and its adjacent Stanstead, Quebec. And I mean adjacent. Because of a surveyor’s error in the 1700s, Derby Line was established in 1791 by Americans, though it’s actually a bit north of the 45th parallel, generally the U.S.-Canadian border thereabouts.
Today, some houses on one side of the street are in Derby Line, and hence American residences; those across the street are in Stanstead, Quebec. The two villages even share a building, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. It was opened in 1904 and deliberately constructed on the international border.
There’s a sweet story here: The building’s donors were binational: Carlos F. Haskell was American; his wife, Martha Stewart Haskell, Canadian.
The two villages cooperate in exemplary ways. Drinking water for both is pumped from a Canadian well, stored in a U.S. reservoir and distributed through a system maintained by Canadians. Emergency crews on both sides of the border respond to calls on either side.
This is in marked contrast to “54 40 or Fight,” which was a U.S. political slogan in 1844. James K. Polk used the slogan—and the public’s general apathy of Henry Clay—to win that year’s presidential election. Polk then threatened war with England and blustered that the western U.S.-Canadian border should stretch north to a latitude of 54 degrees 40 minutes, right up to what was then Russian Alaska.
There was neither a fight nor “54 40.” The London Convention of 1818 had already established the 49th parallel for the U.S.-Canadian border from the Midwest to the Continental Divide. It was merely extended to the west coast.
As I noted in “Tech Tidbits,” December 2011 R&T, otherwise the Vancouver Canucks would be a U.S. hockey team. Maybe with Polk as a mascot. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016