VAALS, The Netherlands – Walk down the high street of this old Dutch mill town and you suddenly find yourself in Germany. A mile and a half to the south and you enter Belgium. In few other places will next week’s arrival of the euro have such obvious long-term advantages — or create such short-term confusion.
Miranda Cruts, of Milo’s newsagents, routinely accepts Dutch guilders, German marks or Belgian francs and gives change in the same currencies. From Tuesday she will continue accepting all three, but will give change in euros.
“It’s easy,” she says. Neighbors have their own plans for coping with the change. Erwin van den Houe, owner of the Café de Hollande, flourishes a calculator and says he will accept German and Belgian banknotes, but not coins. “It’s very complicated,” he laments.
Over a counter of broods in the Nobis bakery, Sandra Tosun says she will accept German notes, but no coins and no Belgian francs of any sort because she will not have room in her till. “We’ll see what happens,” she says.
There is eager anticipation of March 1 when German, Dutch and Belgian shoppers will all use the same money. The Netherlands is phasing out its currency in a month, faster than any other country.
Vaals already seems more European than Dutch. One third of its 10,000 people are German. They look to Aachen for shopping and jobs. Their dialect is a mixture of German and Dutch. “We’ve always used the guilder, mark and franc, and now we will only have euros — it will be much easier,” said Astrid Heidendal, a customer in Mr. van den Houe’s café who has a German mother, Belgian father and Dutch husband.
The German border lies about 50 yards beyond the café, but economically and politically it has grown increasingly blurred. There is a sign on the pavement saying “Bundesrepublik Deutschland” but the barriers and passport controls have long vanished. A grocery store occupies the long building that used to be the German border post, and there is not so much as a traffic light to impede the pedestrian or motorist.
The only other visible clue that this is the national border is a shop proclaiming itself to be a bureau de change. Closer examination reveals that it has closed, rendered redundant by the relentless advance of a Europe without frontiers.