October 26, 2014

Woman trolls offline, bad mistake!

Filed under: Weird by Branko Collin @ 3:49 pm

church-koewacht-rijksdienst-cultureel-erfgoedFor the past three years citizens of Koewacht, a village straddling the Dutch-Belgian border, have been receiving anonymous hateful letters, but two weeks ago the perpetrator was caught.

Cristel was known to be a respectable woman, living a model life with her husband and dog in a detached house. However, behind those immaculate walls, AD says, the 51-year-old was busy writing letters to her neighbours signed with “a mother of three children” and “the group” in which she told the recipients that they were ugly, had ugly faces and big posteriors, and that she hoped their children wouldn’t grow up to be as ugly.

Don’t trash talk my children, a 32-year-old victim must have thought, and she contacted the neighbourhood cop who as it happens had also received hate mail from the same author. The police discovered about 15 people had received hurtful and sometimes threatening letters. Eventually the author was caught on 15 October and confessed immediately.

Last week during a meeting in the village’s only restaurant, ‘T Hoekske, the letter writer apologised to the victims. Her husband told people that his wife is undergoing treatment, although it’s not clear from the newspapers if it’s for her hateful tendencies.

Since none of the victims filed charges, the police won’t prosecute, much to the chagrin of the online peanut gallery who immediately branded her as a lunatic and a terrorist and clamoured for her arrest. This in turn led columnist Luuk Koelman to conclude that the woman’s biggest crime wasn’t writing hate mail, but doing it through the traditional post.

“On Internet forums it is custom to belittle everybody who disagrees with you. In real life the police may hunt you down when you tell a neighbour you think she is ugly. Online you can safely express your desire to see her dead or wracked with cancer. Nobody bats and eyelid at that.”

(Photo by Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, some rights reserved)

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February 8, 2014

‘Gay threat’ makes Belgium and Netherlands rethink shared border

Filed under: History by Branko Collin @ 11:37 pm


Big Think writes:

A combination of sex and drugs (and possibly rock ‘n’ roll) is forcing two governments to change the border that divides them. The Presqu’ile de l’Islal, a small Belgian peninsula stranded on the Dutch bank of the river Meuse, is to change hands to eliminate a zone that is, to all practical effects, quite literally beyond the law.

Due to its political status, the uninhabited peninsula is off limits to the Dutch police. And because of its geographic isolation, it is out of reach for their Belgian colleagues. These circumstances conspire to make the peninsula a sanctuary for unlicensed sunbathing, loud bacchanalia and unrestricted drug dealing.

In parts of Limburg the border is formed by the river Meuse. Over time gravel extraction has led the river to change its course, creating tracts of land that the Belgian police can only reach by taking a long detour over Dutch territory. Binnenlands Bestuur explained in 2001: “The peninsulas have become popular as a gay meeting ground. […] In the summer the beach is popular with youths. […] Recently there have been indications that the gays have been bothering the youths. These allegations cannot be verified because the Dutch authorities have no legal status in the area and the Belgian authorities cannot act there because,” and here the author cranks up the dramatic background score to eleven, “they would have to invade our country through the town of Eijsden!”

Oh the horror! The voice of sanity is one Johan Lahaye speaking for the town of Eijsden who told Trouw shortly after: “There is no gay beach there. We’ve had the grand sum of exactly one complaint.” By that time however the Dutch parliament had started to study the issue and the Minister of the Interior had promised to make the border correction a priority. Last year De Limburger reported on a border committee that had visited the area and was ready to send a report to the capitals of both nations.

The border correction is expected to take place in a year or two. Gentlemen, start your engines.

The last time the Netherlands changed its borders was in 2010 when it gained 3 volcanoes (a number which had been 0 since 1945) and its highest point became 887 metres (formerly 323 metres)—three of the Dutch Antilles became a part of the country.

(Map by OpenStreetMap contributors, some rights reserved; the big purple line is the border)

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August 5, 2013

Night of the Butter made German entrepreneurs rich 50 years ago

Filed under: History by Branko Collin @ 8:44 am

After World War II the Netherlands took two small villages and an assorted number of small territories from the Germans as reparations, most of which were returned on 1 August 1963 in exchange for 280 million German marks.

At the time of the return, certain food stuffs like butter, coffee and cheese were much cheaper in the Netherlands than in Germany, Der Westen reports. A kilogram of butter was 2 guilders cheaper, which is 5 euro in today’s money. Smart entrepreneurs—the site doesn’t mention names—spotted an opportunity and drove 150 trucks worth of goods into the village of Elten on the night of 31 July, what later became known as ‘Butternacht’ (Night of the Butter). When the clock struck midnight, it is said these entrepreneurs made a profit of about 50 to 60 million guilders by ‘transporting’ goods from the Netherlands to Germany without moving the goods one inch and without having to pay import duties. Instead the border was moved. At the time a guilder was worth about 0.25 US dollar or 0.1 British pound.

The Dutch occupation doesn’t seem to have hurt Elten. Hundreds of thousands of tourists came to the town each year to look at the spoils of war and climb the Eltenberg, a 82 metre high hill. When the Dutch returned the town to the Germans, it was the only German town in the neighbourhood that wasn’t in debt, De Volkskrant wrote last Saturday.

Original Dutch plans for reparations included annexing large areas of the German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia and deporting the 10 million Germans living there, but the Allies and especially the US did not look kindly upon those plans and only allowed the annexation of an area containing some 10,000 people. Now, in 2013, the only land that hasn’t been returned to Germany since the war is the Duivelsberg, a hill near Nijmegen that was hotly contested during Operation Market Garden after it was taken following a short fire fight between the Able Company of the 508th USA Parachute Infantry Regiment and a German company. Much later during my student days it had turned into a famous local make-out spot.

See also: Murder on the border, about the Dutch-Belgian town of Baarle where you may cross a border simply by walking from one room to another.

(Photo derived from a newsreel by Polygoon-Profilti, some rights reserved)

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July 31, 2010

Even the Google Streetview camera respects Baarle’s Belgian borders

Filed under: History,Weird by Branko Collin @ 12:51 pm

Baarle is a town in the Netherlands … and Belgium. It contains 39 Belgian enclaves on Dutch soil and 5 Dutch enclaves on Belgian soil, and some of them are inside each other, so that you get “this whole ridiculous Russian Doll situation,” to quote New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody duo.

The dashed line you see in the photo above is one of the borders, and as you can see, the Google Streetview car refuses to drive onto Belgian territory. I am not sure why that is, but perhaps it is because Belgian copyright law prohibits the publishing of photos of architecture.

A pity really, because otherwise you could have taken a virtual tour of one of the politically strangest towns in the world.

See also: Murder on the border.

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February 26, 2008

Murder on the border

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 8:30 am

Photo copyright 2001, Jérôme. Distributed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

Imagine two detectives working on a murder case, each having to solve the same crime independently, with each only having access to half the clues: it sounds like a great recipe for a mystery novel. Unfortunately, the murder in the Noord-Brabant town of Baarle-Nassau last week was anything but fictional. Early last week a 26-year-old Belarusian woman was found dead in a former bank building straddling the border. Police detectives from the two countries each had to look for clues in their own half; they feared that if they literally overstepped their boundaries, any case they might have against a suspect could later be thrown out on a technicality.

Nevertheless, the Dutch Departement of Justice said last Friday that the cooperation with its Southern neighbours had been excellent, forgetting for a moment that the Belgians had let the main suspect escape, the victim’s 26-year-old husband. The Dutch DoJ then issued an international arrest warrant against the Dutch man who is still on the run with the couple’s four-year-old daughter. The case is now fully in Dutch hands because the body was found in the Dutch half of the building, and the main suspect is Dutch.

Although there are many more buildings in the world built across borders, the Baarle-Nassau case is special because half of the town, called Baarle-Hertog, is a Belgian enclave within the Netherlands. Wikipedia says that the municipality of Baarle consist of 22 Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands, and 5 Dutch ones in Belgium.

Via BN/De Stem (Dutch) and Brabants Dagblad (Dutch).

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