BREUKELEN, THE NETHERLANDS — The town that gave our borough its name is about to be formally wiped off the map.
An independent Breukelen — from which Brooklyn gets much of its values, spirit and its love of herring — will soon be no longer, thanks to Dutch federal rules that make small towns fiscally unsustainable.
In an eerie echo of the merger of Brooklyn and what was then called New-York in 1898 (still called “the Mistake of ’98” in some places), Breukelen Mayor Ger Mik has been given the job of presiding over the demise of his own village: Breukelen must merge with its neighboring towns — Maarssen and the loathsome Loenen.
Opponents defeated an earlier version of the plan — which called for Breukelen (pronounced “Broke-lin”) to merge with four other towns across a wider geographic area — but this year’s model appears to be moving towards a smooth conclusion.
“It is the Dutch way of compromise,” said Mik, who will be the last mayor of Breukelen. “We are under orders to merge the towns and we talked about it a lot and I think this time we will get it done.”
Mik’s sangfroid in the face of civic annihilation may exasperate an outsider (especially one from Brooklyn, New York), but it is how small-town politics gets played out here. Forty years ago, there were 1,000 cities and towns in Holland; now, Mik said, there are only 400.
“Small towns are inefficient,” the mayor said. “Say someone in the office that handles drivers licenses calls in sick one day. No one in town would be able to get a drivers license that day.”
Even Han Lyre, a member of the town council who was against the first merger and still calls this one “a disaster,” isn’t putting up a fight this time.
“Well, if we did not do this, in five or six years, there might be no Breukelen at all,” said Lyre, whose name is pronounced “Lear,” despite her long years on the governing body of Breukelen.
“What is to be done?” she concluded with resignation.
She said she and Mik would have to work especially hard to keep Breukelen’s distinct identity within the larger three-town metropolis.
Neither Mik nor Lyre believe that the new town will have the name “Breukelen,” but rather an entirely new name. As such, Lyre said, “The word ‘Breukelen’ will simply be a neighborhood within that new city, so that is unfortunate, of course. People in Maarssen are very jealous of our connection to New York and Brooklyn. Believe me, they don’t sleep at night.”
Nonetheless, the man on the street, in this case, the Dutchman on the street, has come to terms with the demise of an independent Breukelen.
“Of course, it is a loss of independence, but we will be a stronger community,” said Gerald Prakke, a local photographer. “We will be a real [River] Vecht community, and this is also what the inhabitants want.”
Even that ultimate Citizen of the World, Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz, is not too worried about Breukelen’s loss of status.
“If we have learned anything since the Great Mistake of ’98, it’s that the world famous Brooklyn name lives on, whether we are the City of Brooklyn, Borough of Brooklyn or, as I declared last year, the Republic of Brooklyn,” the beep said in a statement. “As our motto ‘Eendraght Mackt Maght’ says, in unity there is strength — and it’s my hope that any future consolidation in the Netherlands will allow our fellow Breukelenites to grow even stronger and retain their unique ‘Breukelen attitude.’”