Transnational town, strange border

What would happen if the border line of a heavily guarded country in the impression passed through a road, a building, or even a room?

Baarle, a small town in Europe, has such a peculiar border. In the small town, will there be dense iron nets and high walls? What kind of special life does the residents here lead? This is the biggest question in my heart before I came to Balak.

However, there are no iron nets or high walls here, and everything seems to be no different from an ordinary European town. The only thing that is unique is probably the intentionally marked boundary lines on the ground, suggesting “Belgium (B)” and “Netherlands (NL)”.

Small town “side ball”
Bale’s “ordinary” is not surprising. In Europe, the concept of “country” is actually different from our understanding.

Take Belgium and the Netherlands as examples. The Flemish people living in northern Belgium and the Dutch on the other side of the border are completely “brother nations.” The differences between the Flemish and Dutch spoken by them may be smaller than the dialects of some neighboring counties in China.

Therefore, in this “transnational town”, the cultural differences are not obvious, but the laws of the two countries are completely different. For example, the Netherlands and Belgium both implement strict garbage classification laws and divide garbage into 4 categories. However, the specific classification standards are slightly different, not to mention that one country is not obliged to dispose of the garbage of residents of another country. Therefore, at least eight trash cans must be placed on a street that is crossed by the border to meet the garbage classification laws of the two countries at the same time.

If your house is “unfortunately” crossed by the border, it not only means that you can go to the country when you go to the bathroom at home, but it also means that you need to pay two real estate taxes and buy two home insurance. If you want to open a factory on land that spans the two countries, it’s even more troublesome-you must accurately measure the country where each station is located, and then hire workers in accordance with the corresponding laws, and even give different workers vacations according to the holidays in each country. , Even if their workstations are only 2 meters apart…

However, in addition to the inconvenience brought about by different laws, it also produced many convenient “side-offs”. The Netherlands prohibits the sale of fireworks and firecrackers, while Belgium prohibits the sale of adult CDs. But in the town of Bale, this is not a problem: you can easily buy fireworks and firecrackers on the land of Belgium and adult CDs on the land of the Netherlands, because the law only prohibits the sale and does not prohibit the possession. Completely legal.

In addition, Dutch law prohibits shops from opening on Sundays (except the first Sunday of each month), while Belgium does not have similar regulations. In this way, the residents of the small town can only go to the shops on the Belgian side to buy things on Sundays, which is undoubtedly tantamount to giving up all the business opportunities of the day to the Belgians. Therefore, the Dutch government had to give this town a special exemption, making it the only place in the Netherlands that allows shops to open on Sundays.

And the best thing to do with the “legal edge ball” is a Dutch film distributor. In 1973, a Dutch film called “Turkish Fruit” was released, but the film did not pass the approval of Belgium. Coincidentally, the national border just passed through the cultural center of the town. Therefore, the publisher cleverly arranged a “Belgium release” here. That night, the Belgian police who came after hearing the news could only helplessly look at the spectators sitting on the Belgian territory, and cast their eyes on the screen on the other side of the hall in the Dutch territory.

Bale Map

Natural “crime hot spot”
These “legal sideballs” are still interesting, but some real violations are also difficult to trace because of the intricate borders.

For example, the company deliberately opened a house across the border between the two countries, and when one country came to check taxes, it immediately “transferred” the account book to another country, claiming that “business takes place in another country”, so it will always There is no need to pay taxes; the bank deliberately set up counters and treasuries within the borders of the two countries to launder money in broad daylight. The law enforcement agencies of the two countries know it well, but no one can get complete evidence.

The most common illegal act ever was smuggling. Before the “European Single Market” came into effect in 1993, the Netherlands and Belgium had different tariff policies, which gave birth to many “parallel importers”. And because “cross-border” was so easy, smuggling was once exceptionally rampant.

/ Some real violations are also difficult to trace because of the intricate borders. /

The livestock industry in the Netherlands is far more advanced than Belgium. In order to protect its farmers, Belgium has set higher import tariffs. But the cream that Europeans need every day has become the first smuggled product. In theory, the Belgian customs can arrest people who bring a large amount of butter into Belgian territory, because that obviously exceeds the amount for personal use. However, the smart Dutch opened the cream shop directly only 10 meters away from the Belgian border-completely legal, but it allowed the “parallel importers” to cross the border even more unexpectedly. Some women pretend to be pregnant and put a lot of cream in loose clothes to cross the border.

Pregnant women cannot be X-rayed, and the efficiency of body searches is too low and they may be complained by real pregnant women. Customs officials came up with a “trick”: politely invite every cross-border “pregnant woman” to wait in a warm room with a stove. After a while, the melted cream can be seen flowing from the skirt of the fake pregnant woman.

However, during the war, the complexity of the border line brought a bit of tragic and vigorousness. During the First World War, the Belgian mainland was occupied by Germany, but the Netherlands remained neutral. The Germans could not occupy the Belgian enclave of Bale without passing through Dutch territory. Therefore, Bale became the last “free territory” of Belgium.

A complete radio station was smuggled into here, making it the last “center of resistance” in Belgium. The Dutch government did not want to offend Germany and set fire to its body, so it had to build a tightly guarded iron net around the entire town of Bale, and strictly inspected people and goods entering and leaving. One day, the Dutch police caught a worker who was preparing to transport coal to the radio station, but the man insisted that he was in Belgian territory.

In desperation, they can only go to the Land Registry to check the original title deed. It turned out that he was really on Belgian territory-although it was only 40 centimeters from the border, this was enough reason for his release.

Vanishing barriers
How did this unique enclave town come into being?

Borders all over the town

This story also starts in 1198 in the European Middle Ages. That year, Henry I, the Duke of Brabant, who ruled here, gave the land surrounding the town of Burr to the then Baron of Breda, Gofried. But he also retained the jurisdiction over some areas where houses have been built or reclaimed as cultivated land for the purpose of collecting taxes.

Later, the title of Baron Breda was inherited by the Nassau family, and the land he owned in the town of Bale was called “Balle-Nassau; the land belonging to the Duke of Brabant was called “Balle-Huto”. “Ge”, “Hertog” means “Duke” in Dutch. At that time, Europe did not have the concept of a modern country. “Duke of Brabant” and “Baron Breda” were just the titles of two nobles. There is a problem of national boundaries.

Until 1831, Belgium formally became independent from the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the time, and the original nobles also took refuge in the election. The Duke of Brabant reverted to the new Belgium, and the Baron of Breda relied on the king of the Netherlands. Since then, Bale Town has changed from “belonging to two families” to “belonging to two countries.” In 1843, when the two countries formally surveyed the border, because the land ownership near Bale Town was too complicated, the area between the 214 and 215 boundary markers was simply skipped and became a permanent existence on the border between the two countries. “A hole”.

/ The established rule is: where the only main entrance is, the house address and ownership rights belong to which country. /

Over the next 100 years, the two countries have repeatedly tried to solve this huge historical problem through exchange of land and other means, but they have repeatedly encountered opposition from local residents. After all, no one wants to make the land he has lived in for generations to become “foreign” because of land exchange!

It was not until 1995 that the two countries finally gave up the idea of ​​exchanging land, found out the land deeds hundreds of years ago, and prepared to conduct accurate surveys to formally delimit the borders near the town of Bale. Unexpectedly, this survey found many errors in the original boundary division. For a long time, many houses in the town, even though they straddle the territories of the two countries, can only have one address. The established rule is: where the only main entrance is, the address of the house and the ownership rights belong to which country.

There is an 86-year-old old lady who originally opened her home on the Belgian side. She has also been a Belgian for 86 years, but after a measurement, her home is actually on the Dutch side and was asked to change her nationality to the Dutch side. . After living for most of her life, she suddenly found out that she had become a “foreigner”, so she naturally refused to follow it. Fortunately, the mayor helped her think of an idea: to open another door on the Belgian side of the house as the main entrance, allowing the poor old lady to “be a Belgian” successfully.

The EU flag hoisted by the Belgian City Hall is located on the land of the Netherlands, which is also a member of the EU

The “front door principle” successfully resolved many controversial issues, but there was the only exception: the front door of the family was crossed impartially by the border line, so this house became the only address in the town with addresses in both countries. house. It is said that the family’s favorite game is to use their Dutch address to send a letter to the Belgian address, and then quietly wait for the letter to cross the mountains and rivers of the two countries before returning to their door.

Another interesting house that is crossed by the border is the town hall on the Belgian side. In order to give the institutions of the two countries a chance to “seate in their own country”, the newly-built city hall in Belgium specially “borrowed” some land from the Netherlands, so that the border line just passed through the hall of the conference room. Even the flagpoles at the door are full of creativity: the Belgian national flag and the local city flag must of course be located on Belgian territory, and the EU flag, which is hoisted at the same time, happens to fall on the same European Union’s Dutch land.

In this way, the relationship between the two countries presented in Bale is indeed a “model of harmonious coexistence of different ethnic groups”, but the trivial disharmony also occurs from time to time. For a while, because the children in the town had to go to different schools according to their nationalities, they had a natural hostility towards each other. Every time it is time to go to and from school, there are often scenes of children of the two countries being “struck together”, and even the school hours of the schools of the two countries have to be staggered for a time.

/ With the deepening of European integration, the ultimate goal that “Nationality” is pursuing. Nian is becoming less and less in the hearts of the residents of the town. /

Nowadays, with the deepening of European integration, the concept of “nationality” has become increasingly weak in the hearts of small town residents. Residents realized the uniqueness of their hometown and began to join forces to develop tourism. They claim to be “the most special town in the world”, and they are busy receiving a steady stream of tourists every day…

The unique sight of Bale makes me rethink the true meaning of “country” and “nation”. “National border” is undoubtedly an important thing for Chinese people, so I was unable to understand how the residents of the two countries can completely break through the barriers of national borders in a place like Bale and live in harmony in the same small town.

I once expressed to a European friend my envy for the EU’s “transnational” concept. Who knows he said: “You China did it 2000 years ago!”

Only then did I realize that for Europeans, “national boundaries” should be analogous to our China’s provincial or even city boundaries-during travel, we often don’t realize their existence at all. In many cases, “foreigners” are nothing more than our “outsiders”. Perhaps the Chinese do not need to envy the European Union. The ultimate goal that Europeans are striving to pursue is the “great unification” like China’s today and the complete elimination of boundaries within the whole.