Belgium // Antwerp and the northeast //

The Kempen – and Baarle-Hertog

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Filling out the northeast corner of Belgium, just beyond Antwerp, are the flat, sandy moorlands of the Kempen. Once a barren wasteland dotted with the poorest of agricultural communities – and punctuated by tracts of acid heath, bog and deciduous woodland – the Kempen’s more hospitable parts were first cultivated and planted with pine by pioneering Cistercian monks in the twelfth century. The monks helped develop and sustain a strong regional identity and dialect, which survives in good order today, though the area’s towns and villages are in themselves uniformly drab. The Kempen was also the subject of endless territorial bickering during the creation of an independent Belgium in the 1830s, a particular point of dispute being the little town of Baarle-Hertog, about 35km northeast of Antwerp. The final compromise verged on the ridiculous: Baarle-Hertog was designated as being part of Belgium, but it was surrounded by Dutch territory and the international border between it and the adjoining (Dutch) town of Baarle-Nassau actually cut through houses, never mind dividing streets. If you’re eager to have one leg in the Netherlands, another in Belgium, then here’s the spot.

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