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German exclaves in Belgium separated by a bicycle path from the rest of Germany (fascinatingmaps.com)
272 points by rwmj 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

Odd borders are funny. Here's two other examples: The utter chaos in Baarle. They even have nested enclaves. So area of Netherlands surrounded by Belgium surrounded by Netherlands.



Between Germany and Switzerland, there's the German exclave Büsingen am Hochrhein. They have odd tax rules as Swiss VAT is applied.



My favorite is the border between India and Bangladesh:


You have to zoom in to fully appreciate it. It looks like a fractal.

The India-Bangladesh border is really fascinating. Looks like it was infinitely more complicated before 2015[0] Dahagram[1] appears to be the only major enclave that wasn't exchanged.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India%E2%80%93Bangladesh_encla...

[1] https://goo.gl/maps/Zgs1wsxqvo12

Heh, I didn't even realize they'd cleaned it up. That border first came to my attention in August 2015 and all those enclaves and meta-enclaves were still there. Apparently I caught them right before they disappeared. It's kind of a shame in a way. Makes the world a little less interesting.

You may find this a funny video covering the complex border situation, and the 2015 change. Especially the sadness over loosing such a fantastic map.

India/Bangladesh - The world's worst border by Jay Foreman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-aIzkvPwFo

It is/was mindboggling complicated but also keep in mind the events that produced it (the partition of India) also resulted in millions of deaths and 14 million people being displaced. It’s an incredibly sad story.

Yeah, well, there is that :-(

Another interesting one is Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France), fully contained within the eastern maritime borders of Canada. (edit: It is within Canadian exclusive economic zone which are international waters, not sovereign territory).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Pierre_and_Miquelon

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Saint-Pi...

The german entry for Büsingen is MUCH more detailed


This really frustrates me about Wikipedia because its like a totally parallel site and experience thats just right there and can even have conflicting information. Not helping the world as much as we think, but its so close to being able to.

Can't we just all agree to speak English? No, I don't think that would be a good idea. Perhaps they could write a (albeit imperfect) tool to alert readers when another language has a much larger or more comprehensive article. I'm sure the Wikipedians have considered the fact that some information is better presented in a particular language. For example, an article about Shakespeare will be more precise in English than Chinese. However, I think it would be another kind of loss if the Shakespeare article was just in English and we forced people to use automated translators. Some might argue that this applies to all scholarship, not just Wikipedia.

As far as I remember (I can't check now) articles in foreign Wikipedias that have a "silver" or "gold" status are shown with a star in the list.

It might not be obvious to English speaking visitors as I suppose they don't pay much attention to the list, but visitors who speak multiple languages often switch between them to get the most information.

> As far as I remember (I can't check now) articles in foreign Wikipedias that have a "silver" or "gold" status are shown with a star in the list.

That's the case, at least when not on the mobile site; apparently the mobile site instead show the "best" version at the top of the list of versions, but I don't know how it is determined.

> Perhaps they could write a (albeit imperfect) tool to alert readers when another language has a much larger or more comprehensive article.

There's a template saying “this article could be improved with translation from $other-language.”

The current issue isnt about being presented better in a different language, its just that these are basically different websites and different crowd sourced encyclopedias

I think your notification idea is good

It could look at number of sections, clusters of contributor activity, and then weigh that by character length with different weightings for each language

Did you just forget Esperanto?

How so?

So, one interesting tidbit from the German version:

Germany introduced daylight saving time ("Sommerzeit") in 1980, but Switzerland only in 1981. In 1980, Büsingen used CET (like Switzerland), not the daylight saving time (like the rest of Germany). So, while there was only one summer season of deviation from Germany, Büsingen (pop. 1443) is listed separately in some time zone databases, eg the Common Locale Data Repository.

As so often, the devil is in the details.

Sometimes the source documents only exist in one language, and speakers of that language are more likely to be interested in the topic.

I've occasionally wanted to translate some material from another Wikipedia, in a language I can read, into English. But the referencing in that Wikipedia is often quite bad, so I wouldn't be able to reference it properly in the English Wikipedia. Finding and interpreting good sources then starts to look like a major research project.

And often (I'm looking at you, Hebrew Wikipedia) - the rules for sourcing aren't the same in the first place.

Interesting - do you have an example?

Do you speak German? Would you mind translating parts?

I can give it a go, however my German skills aren't great.

The Google translate is quite readable.

Just a tip for anyone passing by, [Deepl](https://www.deepl.com/translator) is miles ahead of Google Translate in terms of accurate/natural translations.

There seems to be an English page too.


The point is that the English page is basically not even part of the same encyclopedia. It lacks the level of detail and might as well just be an inferior search result to some other website that you would have skipped

A lot of Wikipedia is like this. The entries in different languages are not equivalents of each other.

My favorite is Lake Constance. Switzerland and Austria disagree on where exactly the borders are, but both think Germany holds a part of it. Germany has no stated position on the subject. It has to be the world's most relaxed border dispute.

Short (2:31) video [1] on this by Tom Scott.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwHj4lj3F-k

> There is no border control due to the Schengen Agreement, therefore daily life is not really impacted.

That's the most interesting part to me. I cross the border every day to go to work. Yet, when a friend came to visit us and we we to the city, he couldn't believe that we were crossing a border that easily (France-Switzerland). It was literally an open fence with a sign welcoming you.

It's really awesome when you think about it

People in the U.S. have forgotten the meaning of the word "state".

People who think the US and the EU operate the same way should look up the country and the union, respectively. There are also lots of YouTube videos about it, although you should probably be careful about what channels you trust.

For the most part, the US "states" stopped being states in the political sense when the Articles were replaced by the Constitution, and deliberately so.

And even more so after the huge increase in federal power during and after the Civil War (1861-65). Before the Civil War, people often said "The United States are in the Western hemisphere". By the twentieth century it was more often that "The United States is ...".


When Tocqueville visted decades after the Constitution was adopted, he remarked on how the federal government was remote, and not very much of a concern in peoples lives. Nearly everything he had to say about how democracy mostly-successfully holds tyranny in check was about about state politics.

Which Articles? Non-US reader here.

For more than a Wikipedia link:

The War of American Independence was fought by use of voluntary contributions from the individual states, which were more or less sovereign. From around 1781, this arrangement functioned under a loose confederation with similar or lesser power to the modern EU; its constitution was called the Articles of Confederation.

It took until 1788/9 for the current Constitution to be adopted, after the Articles proved unable to cope with:

1. Payment of wartime debt, since the states' contributions to the federal budget were entirely voluntary.

2. Security threats, such as the looming British, or an unpaid veterans' (see point 1) rebellion in Massachusetts.

3. Foreign policy obligations, as the confederation couldn't enforce the terms of the 1783 peace treaty on the states.

It comes up when criminals have to be extradited from one state to another, and state laws. Like you have to know weapon transportation laws in states if you don't want to go to jail and have a handgun you want to put in your car.

This is what I was expecting when I drove between Switzerland-Italy in 2016. Except I was stopped, told to park, had my passport examined with with a loupe, and then was sent on my way. Are the borders back to normal now?

A few countries have started to introduce this recently due to paranoia around Syrian refugees. It's extremely controversial, as it basically nullifies Schengen, but countries are apparently allowed by the agreement to put these spot checks in place (provided some political procedures) up to 20 out of every 60 days.

> It's extremely controversial, as it basically nullifies Schengen[...]

It's controversial, but it doesn't nullify Schengen, because these countries are using provisions of the Schengen agreement to implement these border controls. See "When can countries re-impose border controls?" in this BBC article: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13194723

You are technically correct—I did mention these checks are allowed by the agreement.

But I guess what I meant by saying it "nullifies" Schengen is that it makes it redundant within its own bounds. i.e. pushing minor provisions of the agreement to the point that the motivation for creating Schengen is thwarted.

Is it paranoia, or just a sensible way for states to implement some semblance of control over their own border when a EU wide strategy seems out of reach?

It is paranoia or rather political acting, since right next to the "controlled" borders there are smaller streets and paths without controlled border and there are multiple reports about those border officers not finding anything of relevance (from time to time they notice something like overloaded cars and those kind of offenses, but that's not a border protection issue, but regular police work)

It's paranoia.

In order to argue that it's sensible, you have to first demonstrate a disimprovement in affairs warranting a change in policy, and secondly show a causal link between "outsiders" that your border control is targeting and those disimprovements.

Even if you could manage the former of those two (which I don't believe you could, though I might be mistaken), the latter is definitely not the case.

I don't have any numbers, but I twice saw refugees "caught" at Malmö Hyllie station; the first station in Sweden and the official customs point for people arriving by train from Denmark.

I only go to Malmö every 2-3 months, so at least for a while it may have been reasonable, given the aim of discovering refugees before they settle illegally somewhere.

I've been to Sweden twice in my life, and I've hit these border checks three times (I believe they were the first country to bring this stuff in—about 5 other countries have done so since) and also seen the same happen on one occasion coming from Copenhagen (by bus); someone being "caught". Nothing about that indicates to me that this is warranted, effective, or not purely motivated by paranoia. Who were those that were "caught" in your encounters? Did you get their names?

It is no more "sensible" for a state to be exercising control of its border than it is for a town to be exercising control over its border. We're all free people in the world, and we should be able to move around it freely. There should be no borders at all.

Towns can and have exercised control over their borders. Even in the US. Here's an example from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordon_sanitaire :

> The 1918 flu pandemic spread so rapidly that, in general, there was no time to implement cordons sanitaires. However, to prevent an introduction of the infection, residents of Gunnison, Colorado isolated themselves from the surrounding area for two months at the end of 1918. All highways were barricaded near the county lines. Train conductors warned all passengers that if they stepped outside of the train in Gunnison, they would be arrested and quarantined for five days. As a result of this protective sequestration, no one died of influenza in Gunnison during the epidemic.

In this world, how would public officials plan for the number of school places needed in 2 years, or the number of hospital beds? It's a nice idea, but it seems impractical.

The sentiment that we are "all free people" may sound nice but is unfortunately a meaningless platitude bearing little resemblance to the real world. Sorry if that sounds unduly harsh

The same way town officials currently plan for the number of school places needed in their town in 2 years.

I already drew a parallel between towns and countries.

Remember, we're all free to visit or even move to a different town right now, and yet we don't have chaos.

The same way town officials currently plan for the number of school places needed in their town in 2 years.

With increased revenue from where, exactly?

>we should be able to move around it freely

What will you do when your neighbor country is stricken by communicable diseases? Will you still think that movement should be entirely restricted?

What will you do when your neighbouring town is stricken by communicable diseases?

Believe it or not, the same instinct deals with both situations. Look up trait conscientiousness and disease prevalence.

Are you not then essentially arguing that states have no sovereignty? If so, how far do you take it - do individuals? Can any migrant - legal or not - rock up to your house and start camping on your lawn?

What definition of sovereignty are you using which says that exercising border control is essential for sovereignty?

Under the Svalbard Treaty of 1920, Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty. It is also an entirely visa-free zone. Anyone can go there, including same-day visa-free transit at Oslo Airport en route there. If someone lives there for 7 years they can then get Norwegian citizenship.

People can be deported from Svalbard if they are unable to support themselves or commit a crime, which I think answers your migrant topic.

FWIW, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta has no territory, and hence no borders, but has widely recognized sovereignty.

In my world there would be no such thing as an "illegal" migrant.

And, the distinction would be between public places and private places. Anybody is free to exist in any public place with no permission required (just like you are already allowed to do once you're in the country).

It would all be exactly the same as it is now, except there are no checks at the border, and no visa requirements.

Do you seriously think the quality of life wouldn't deteriorate rapidly if this was the case? Or is that not your concern? Or would it not effect your area, so you don't care?

I think it's utopian to believe that this would lead to anything but slums and shanty towns. People with no wealth will all flock to areas with wealth, which won't have the infrastructure to support them. They'd camp out wherever they could with whatever they could - possibly right outside your house. Probably in your back yard actually - local law enforcement would be too overwhelmed to go around persecuting squatting or trespassing.

Travel to a large city in India to see what happens when free movement is coupled with massive inequality.

It's certainly not ethically sound to lock out people from poor countries just because you don't want them to be poor nearby.

Under your model people would just end up building huge gated-communities anyway - it would all be private property, so wouldn't violate any of your laws.

People will find a way to keep people they don't want near by away from them.

What do have against somebody camping on your lawn?

Let's take it further - should an any person on earth be able to sleep in your bed?

Let's take it further:

1. if any person on earth could sleep in their bed, would they want to?

2. if they do want to, what circumstance are they in that that's something they would want?

i.e. if everyone has their own bed, why take yours

Obviously I'm simplifying and referring to an impossible utopia here, but the sentiment stands regardless. The point is, once you're taking it that far, both sides are absurd.

Of course it's more sensible. A town doesn't have the same authority as the state. Although it's perhaps hard to see that from so far left of the field.

I agree that no borders at all is a desirable state.

However, in order to achieve this, certain prerequisites have to be met first. Opening borders has to be accompanied and indeed preceded by economic development.

The Schengen agreement for example only works because of the relatively similar economic situations of the member countries and even then it unfortunately has been a considerable cause for discord in recent years.

Your prerequisite doesn't follow through to your (apparent?) conclusion; there's no logical connection I can see.

Let's say opening borders does have to to be accompanied by economic development: fine. How does that then not work when migration occurs from areas with different economic situations?

You seem to be proposing that migrants from economically areas necessarily depress a developed economy?

No, that's not what I'm suggesting. Migration can be economically beneficial. It's a matter of how many in what time frame.

What bad things do you think would happen if opening borders were not accompanied or preceded by economic development?

Or, to put it another way: what gives you the right to exist in a public place in the country you live in, but not a poorer person?

I'm well aware of the fact that this is an ethical dilemma and that simply by winning the birth lottery one isn't morally entitled to living at a certain place any more than everybody else is.

However, an argument can be made for the self-determination of groups as well, particularly their freedom of association (or lack thereof).

Then there are more pragmatic matters. You can't simply let people starve if they can't provide for themselves. Providing for everyone who chooses to stay at a place but can't actually afford to do so might just not be economically feasible.

Sure, over time these differentials will be evened out because people won't come to a place if it doesn't make economic sense to do so but simply opening all borders without taking possible consequences into account could lead to quite harsh outcomes.

It depends on if you think the immigrants deserve the social safety net the rest of the citizens have. The social safety nets of rich countries are completely unsustainable if they allow anyone to come in and receive them. There is a reason that there isn't a single country with any kind of strong social safety net that has open borders. The math isn't even close to working.

If you don't apply the social safety net to the incoming immigrants, I don't see how you hold any higher moral ground than people who want controlled migration.

It is easy to work around that if that counts separately for each crossing: have four sets of border crossings, each accessible every fourth day, and controlled every day.

>> paranoia around Syrian refugees.

99% of them are not refugees,

99% of them are not Syrian,

most of them have fake IDs or no ID at all

Many of them are criminals or even terrorists

There's nothing paranoid about trying to impose basic security measures in such situation, such as a border control.

Do you have sources for this info?

There is no 'paranoia' about migration, rather a reasonable response to a calamity.

In 2015 - entire nations population swelled by double digits as irregular migrants swept through - for example, Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria etc. are only the size of a small American city.

So, can you imagine if 3 million migrants swept through Sand Diego? Or 30 million migrants swept through the Southern US? Would this be 'an issue of concern'? Of course it would - and that's the relative magnitude of disruption for some of these countries, particularly the tiny Balkan states which are quite poor - so much so that citizens of places like Albania are just as poor as the migrants sweeping through there.

In 2017, the migration issue is no longer Syrian, as the aggregate numbers have calmed, but there are still a considerable number of migrants arriving, mostly from Africa, via Italy. [1]

As for their 'qualification as refugees' - it's generally true that most don't qualify. It's hard to quantify precisely, but merely being from an African country does not immediately qualify one for status. Migrants from Eritrea (Africa), Afghanistan and Syria have special status and are generally processed differently, but again these groups (at least the later) are not so common.

And of course Schengen definitely allows for countries to put up border controls on an as needed basis, and the current migration calamity is a reasonable candidate for that need.

Just as some people are too ideological about hard borders, we shouldn't be so ideological about open borders either; 'Smart borders' ie more open where they make sense, but with practical flexibility I think are best suited.

As for Germany/Belgium and similar enclaves ... it only works when there is an economic and cultural equilibrium between nations - otherwise, it's just going to cause problems. A tiny hole in a border can create an existential challenge for nations, and massive humanitarian and legal headaches.

I should add that border checks go up and down for all sorts of reason, and this is not a new thing. I know that in the early 2000's I was stopped a long between France and Italy. I don't know what the issue then was, but it's not like it felt odd to have to waive to the Gendarmes while crossing an international border.

It's a big issue with existential and permanent consequences, so it has to be taken very seriously, with deliberation.

[1] https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics/italy-swamped_switzerl...

It could have been that you got caught in the "random" checks applied after terrorist attacks or during the migration crisis but Switzerland is a weird case in that they're part of the Schengen area but not of the custom union. So for example, while between France and Italy there is literally no border station the border between Switzerland and other countries look like a normal border since they have to check goods. People shouldn't be subject to border checks but it happens

Switzerland’s be in schengen, but there’s still differences in customs - need to declare dutiable good etc.

I crossed into Switzerland last year and people were randomly stopped and had their documents checked - it wasn't a border where you queue for hours, you just drive through and some people are flagged down.

Technically at an EU level you don't need to have any ID to cross a Schengen border, but some countries have laws requiring visitors to carry ID at all times. (And of course you won't be let onboard a commercial flight without valid ID)

I am flying a lot in Europe, and have not had to show ID on any commercial flight except one time (Nice-Zurich – although i think i went into the wrong queue.) Sometimes i have realized afterwards that i did not even bring any ID.

Random border checks are normal, even in Schengen, usually it's by Customs, sometimes it's highway/Autobahn police. Spotchecks are perfectly normal, though they've been elevated on some borders due to the refugee crisis (atleast in germany).

If you live in the EU are you supposed to carry your passport whenever you move between countries?

Two things are being confused here:

1. Except for the UK, Ireland and Denmark, EU countries issue identity cards which are valid for most situations where a passport is required, so long as nothing would be stamped: crossing borders within the EU, proving identity to the police [1].

2. Many European countries have rules requiring someone to be able to prove their identity, such as with their identity card or a passport. Those rules apply to visiting foreigners. Depending where they're from, they could comply with their national identity card, or with a passport.

So the answer is yes, except instead of a passport most people carry their credit-card sized identity card.

Since I'm British, and can't have an identity card, I'll often leave my passport in the hotel safe and carry a photocopy of the picture page. Particularly if I'm somewhere risky like a music festival or long hiking trip, where a passport could easily be lost, stolen or damaged by rain. I don't think I've ever had to show it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_identity_cards_in_the...

For a similar concept, the US offers a Passport Card, which is a Federal Photo ID card, that is legally considered a passport by domestic law, but other countries may disagree. It can be used to enter Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea.

It is not valid for international flights. It is unclear why, as it is designed to meet the ICAO standards for ID card sized travel documents. My best guess is that it is not valid for International aviation to avoid the problems with people trying to travel with it to places that need to be able to stamp a passport.

(It is pretty much the only such Federal Photo ID card available to the general public in the US.) Obviously the passport card differs from EU National ID cards, in that they are never required to be owned/carried domestically, and full blown passports are not needed

At least in Germany you have a legal duty to have a passport or ID card, if a police officer asks for one but you don't have it, you'll either be brought into the next police station (if you don't have a legal address) until it clears up or show up at your nearest police station within 24 hours or up to a week, depending on the situation. Though generally if you don't have it, you usually get an oral warning and have to, as mentioned, bring a valid document of identity to a police stations (sometimes not even that). Going directly to the station is very rare in my experience.

Not having a document of identity at all is grounds for a fine of up to 3000€, though if you travel from outside the EU you'll have your travel passport anyway.

Netherland and Portugal have a similar law.

Austria has a similar law but only for non-austrian persons in Austria.

When you cross borders, even in the EU, you should be prepared that you might get controlled/checked, it usually doesn't happen but it's good to be prepared.

Yes, Netherlands has this law, but the fine is around € 90 if you don't have it, not 3000.

I mentioned similar law, not same, the 3000 are also only if you don't have any passport or ID card at all. Like, you couldn't possibly show one.

Not having it heavily depends on the situation, there are some where you may end up being fined.

No, you don't if you are an EU national [0].

> If you are an EU national , you do not need to show your national ID card or passport when you are travelling from one border-free Schengen EU country to another.

[0] https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/entry-exit/eu-c...

That's only true for Schengen (which is a limited selection) and doesn't cover you having to show ID or passport to customs or simple random checks.

This merely covers having to show your ID or passport for crossing the border, you're still beholden to the laws of the country you enter.

But airlines sometimes requires it (and afaik they're allowed to). (Not all, I've done quite a few flights without being ever checked, seems to depend on airlines and/or airports).

EU nationals can get by national ID cards - a passport isn't obligatory.


Tell that to Ryanair.

Yes, but an ID card is enough. Most, contrary to the US, have a passport anyway, but it is not required.

Even within most EU countries it is mandatory to have an ID card or drivers license on you if stopped by the police anyway, so the border doesn't make much of a difference.

If you move between Switzerland and Germany, you need to have a passport (or ID which was also accepted before Schengen) and will be announced when a train approaches the border. I have seen people being denied entry because they didńt have a passport.

That happened to me between Switzerland and Germany in 2011. The French didn’t do anything when I drove from Switzerland to France.

IIRC, they do random checks. 100 people don't get stopped, 1 does or whatever. Maybe random, maybe a hunch, maybe both.

Probably not. The Italian Northern border has been repeatedly “closed to Schengen” by neighbours because of the migration crisis. France, Switzerland and Austria basically keep suspending the treaty unilaterally whenever they feel like, as well as carrying out further abuses (like French Police illegally crossing the border and unloading migrants in a forest before driving back).

> like French Police illegally crossing the border and unloading migrants in a forest before driving back

Please tell me you have a source for that.

/ Edit It seems to have been a singular occurrence where two migrants were deported unofficially by French officers.

Your phrasing made it sound like a regular occurrence of at least tens of migrants... But it is technically correct, I guess.

I don't know anything about this situation, but if the police was caught doing this once I have a strong guess that it is not so uncommon.

There is a single video but reports of multiple separate occasions in which it was done. The video was taken after the story had already broken on newspapers because the current Italian government officially raised it with France. Chances are that it had already happened several times, these things are usually kept quiet and dealt with diplomatically if they are occasional - unless one side is unresponsive and the abuse is repeated, which is probably what happened here.

TBH it's not even the most high-profile case, the stuff at Ventimiglia (where France simply blocks most migrants) is pretty egregious too. The Brits do it as well in Calais, but at least they had the honesty of not signing the Schengen treaty to begin with.

They are not suspending the Schengen treaty, obviously. The treaty explicitly allows for temporary border controls. Crossing the border to offload migrants on the other hand is obviously illegal.

How temporary is "temporary"? The border near Ventimiglia has been basically extra-Schengen for more than 3 years. I believe the Austrian border is not that different, just slightly less popular.

> It was literally an open fence with a sign welcoming you.

I was once on the TGV from Paris to Switzerland and passport control consisted of the conductor coming into the car and asking if anyone wasn't allowed in Switzerland.

Schengen Agreement was only implemented relatively recently (80's/90's?). How were border controls near these enclaves/exclaves handled for all the years before that?

The BeNeLux is older than Schengen (september 1944, founded by the governments of Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg while in exile from their occupied countries!). It eliminated border controls between Belgium and the Netherlands.

Before that, I don't know and can't find them at the moment. Before the 20th century border controls didn't really exist yet. In WW1 the situation was special because Belgium was under German occupation but the Netherlands were neutral, the Belgian enclaves were bits of free Belgium heavily used by the resistance. To prove their neutrality the Netherlands were forced to put a fence around it with strict controls.

It’s interesting and sad to contrast it with the India-Bangladesh enclaves, where there were great hardships due the lack of such international cooperation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India–Bangladesh_enclaves

TBF, the "desenclaving" is relatively recent if it was effected by the Schengen agreement given these enclaves were created back in 1921.

It would be interesting to know how they were handled/managed in the meantime, did Belgium have the entire railway fenced off? I expect not, most land borders are not that hard, the east/west border was more the exception than the rule.

I lived for awhile inside Schengen and enjoyed the near total frictionless border crossing, train, air travel etc.

When I later moved back to the UK, I had a faint hope the UK would one day see sense and join Schengen as well, but I am pretty sure that boat has now sailed...

When I was visiting the island of Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin, I crossed the Dutch/French border daily because we stayed on the French side and most of the tourist points are on the Dutch side. It's really awesome.

Before WWI, it used to be like that everywhere.

Which reminds me of the rather young saying: “No fences make for excellent neighbors.”

As to the bike path: that photo made my legs itch. Old train tracks are an excellent resource for bike paths, at least for recreational riding. They are flat, because trains are unable to climb anything more than 2% or so. Plus no cars, perfect width, and (because they are established rather recently) often perfectly smooth pavement.

I’ve done a thousand km or so in both Spain, and across the alps. It’s almost as breathtaking as crossing the mountain passes, if you allow me to mix the literal and figurative meaning of the word.

Can you tell us what cycle paths in Spain are on former rail trails? I live in Spain and would love to experience some of these.



I ran some of this via verde a few years ago on a very hot and dusty day. I finished at old Olvera station which has a bar serving very cold beer served in a frozen glass - heaven. The white hill-town of Olvera itself is also worth a visit:


There are some weird border situations up on US/Canada border, including:

* Library in Vermont and Quebec straddling the border: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-us-canada-border-r...

* Canadian train that crosses northern Maine and used to have U.S. border guards board it (can't find the resource, but I saw this on TV show some years ago)

* Thousand Islands border between Ontario and NY State, which can be easily swum in the summer and freezes over in the winter (https://www.cbp.gov/frontline/frontline-april-thousand-islan...)

* Akwesasne Mohawk reservation further east that straddles the NY/Ontario/Quebec border but tribal members do not recognize (https://www.npr.org/2017/10/28/560436303/at-u-s-canada-borde...)

* Northwest Angle attached to Manitoba, but technically part of Minnesota: https://www.minnpost.com/mnopedia/2014/02/story-behind-minne...


Part of the less than 1 km land border between Ontario and the US, the other 2700km being water.

Add Hyder, Alaska, accessible by road only from Canada. It also gets its telephone service and utilities from the Canadian side.

Most places in SE Alaska are inaccessible by road. Skagway, Haines, and Hyder are the three exceptions. The highways to these necessarily go through Canada, but I'm not sure why that would make them remarkable?

I cycled the Vennbahn cycle path this summer. Sometimes, the only way you can tell what country is on the side of the road is by the shape and colour of the postboxes.

I live in Monschau and drive past these every day. Driving from Monschau to Roetgen takes you through a forest in Belgium. One crosses the border twice within a couple of kilometers. The border is, indeed, at the bicycle path.

Similarly interesting and close to the path/border in the article is the history of the neutral territory called "Neutral-Moresnet" which was incorporated into Belgium in 1944: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutral_Moresnet

Another odd occurence I only learned about recently in the area around here are the American Military Cemeteries in Belgium and the Netherlands which are administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). Visiting one feels like being on a patch of US soil in the middle of the Belgian countryside (signs, road-markings, the way the gardens are kept, etc), quite surreal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri-Chapelle_American_Cemete...

It's true that you can easily cross the border to Switzerland (which has mostly to do with economic reason). If you think that you can cross the border without being surveilled, then let me tell you that on many Swiss border crossings there are licence plate readers. As a foreigner, it's almost impossible to cross Switzerland without having your plates checked at least once. I had once an introduction to the possibilities of the Swiss border guards (and what they do) and I can tell you I was suprised to hear and almost couldn't believe it. There are not just standing 2'000 border guards around to say hi to you and wave you through.

There is an interesting version of this with The Netherlands and Belgium The Netherlands: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Baarle-Nassau,+Holland/@51... Belgium: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Baarle-Hertog,+Belgien/@51...

This also happens in the border of Germany and Switzerland. A few places are part of Germany but inside Swiss territory.

Büsingen is one. People pay with Swiss Franc, houses have two postcodes, the local soccer club plays in the Swiss league. "Vehicles with BÜS licence plates are treated as Swiss vehicles for customs purposes." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%BCsingen_am_Hochrhein#Pec...

Great book about these and other geographical oddities: https://www.amazon.com/Unruly-Places-Spaces-Inscrutable-Geog...

Coming soon to Netflix, from the team that brought you "The Tunnel"...."The Bike Path".

What are the reasons such things aren't resolved?

An absence of good reasons to?

What's there to resolve if it works perfectly fine as it is?

Don't know, simpler borders are easier to maintain?

As it happens, Belgium and the Netherlands recently changed (a small part of) the border for exactly that reason:


This is a good time to consider what a ridiculous concept "borders" are, especially within the EU. What makes land and people on one side of an arbitrary line so different from land and people on the other side of it?

Borders are necessary because of power-hungry politicians: without borders, entire levels of governments would become unnecessary. This is why we hear so much about "patriotism" these days.

> What makes land and people on one side of an arbitrary line so different from land and people on the other side of it?

Cultures? People on one both sides of the border generally have different culture and hierarchies of values. Thanks to borders, every nation gets to organize their piece of earth as they see fit (at least in democracies).

I don't think that applies anymore these days. I am from Poland and culturally I have more in common with most Germans than with many of my compatriots.

And my point is that the idea of "their piece of earth" is outdated. Apart from silliness and unnecessary politicians it leads to real problems, like countries deciding that they will burn oil and coal on "their piece of earth" and not care about climate catastrophe at all.

I am Polish too and I’d say were are on average very different from the Germans. A common, Polish-German state would be very hard to govern to due constant conflicts in values.

A lot of Germans feel the same about the Bavarian-German state.

Then what about Switzerland who speak 3 langues (4 officially). We talk English together and the French part is generally more focus on France than Switzerland (I'm from that part)

I guess you are still very distinct from say Belarusians or Japanese? In a world with no borders, the Swiss, Belarusians and Japanese would need to somehow agree on a common set of values that would govern this borderless world. And it’s hard enough to agree on policies in a single country.

We already have a lot of nearly-worldwide treaties, so there is something like a common baseline already.

I'd say it's enough to look at the US as an anti-example of how politics look like when you create a giant political body which governs people of radically different value systems. IMO, the solution is to pass more power down, to local bodies, not up, to continental or global behemoths.

The problem is that more and more issues are global. No single country can fix the effects of climate change on their territory, you need to cooperate on a global scale to do that.

Same e.g. for combatting tax evasion. Many other areas do not strictly require transnational collaboration, but it's immensely helpful. For example, the power network in Europe is incredibly resilient because it is shared across dozens of countries. So every individual failure is rather small, even if it takes a large nuclear power plant offline.

There's some funny business going on in the phrase "their piece of land". It's not like each citizen has the same ownership rights of every bit of the country. If I own a bit of land in Japan, why does it suddenly become "their land" for the purpose of determining laws?

It has hardly ever been that clean cut in practice. And the attempts to enforce the strict divisions have not been pretty.

If you want to have government provided services funded by taxes, you need to determine who will be paying those taxes. Borders provide a clean division between the paying customers for a particular government's services, and those who are not.

This strikes me as a naive, European way to understand borders (governments are services, you get to choose who to pay your taxes to). Most of the world's people are born to governments they do not endorse, and do not want to pay taxes to, yet they still have to. I was born in a shitty country and even though I've been living in the US last 5 years, I still have duties to my home country such as taxes, military, community service etc... And since I'm not a US citizen yet -- even though everyone I care and my life is here -- I cannot reject these duties to my country since I need its services such as providing me with a passport, an embassy (for legal help) etc. Besides US can randomly throw me away any time it feels like, and the one country I can always go is my home country.

I love how these sort of bureaucratic things are so simple in the EU. For the rest of us, it is much more complex, and for most of us living in a country we like is a dream that can hardly be achieved. Nearly all my childhood friends living back home are trying to escape their country but it's not that easy (you need to find a job that accepts H1B for US, or equivalent bureaucratic mambo jambo for the EU).

But you did decide that you didn't like how your original government runs things, and you switched to a different government. That's very much in line with the European understanding of government. Your only problem is that the US is extremely picky with accepting new customers.

Also note how many of your problems are exceptional. Few countries raise taxes from money that never enters or leaves their country, and military service requirements are often paused while you are abroad. You have it harder than most.

USA is an example of raising taxes from money that never enters or leaves the country, I think. US citizens pay taxes from income abroad when they live abroad and non-residents pay taxes for money earned from US companies (like I do).

Agreed — but do we really need so many governments? Why not have a local regional level (city/region, where you live and where things really matter to you) and then a continental level (EU, US, China, Russia, etc)?

I really do believe that we have way too many governments, and borders are an artificial construct used to support politicians.

Speaking in vast generalities, a continental level government seems to get big projects done better, but also seems to often treat their citizens much worse.

Personally I like that the world has both types of governments. It provides, to some extent anyways, redundancy against the failures of each type of government.

There is a need for rule setting. Starting from rules about capital crimes to local organisational of roads or house construction. If we rule out anarchy as a way to rule this this needs some form of governing body and the exact form of those have cultural, geographic, population, ... differences which need to be respected. There is no global agreement on many of those things. How are different crimes valuated and punished, is a high density road network needed or more public infrastructure. Doing those things in smaller units has benefits, for doing that you need borders to define which rules are valid where. Of course such borders are to a large degree virtual (i.e. you often don't see the exact city borders) and not borders with guards and fences.

On top of that then come all sorts of historic, cultural, ... reasons to "protect" each other which have all complex reasoning. Power-hungry politicians are only a quite limited reasoning, as many borders are supported by societies (by far not all, though)

It goes back millions of years with territorial animals but hopefully we are gradually getting over it with the odd glitch like Brexit en route.

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