Speeding toddler in Helsingborg park, 1957, AB Helsingborgs-Bild, Kulturmagasinet, Helsingborgs museer, Public Domain Mark

With advances in transport, higher wages, paid holidays and the window on the world offered by television, a golden age of tourism set in during the 1950s.

Travelling in the northern part of Europe was on the rise after the establishment of the Nordic Passport Union (1952), allowing citizens from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland to travel to any other Nordic country without a passport or identity card. 

The heightened sense of liberty brought about by fading frontiers was further enhanced by the wider availability and affordability of family cars.

To those on a more modest budget, the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller offered a valid alternative. The three-wheeled vehicle was a transport solution devised by Willy Messerschmitt. The former director of the factory that had supplied warplanes to the Luftwaffe had been convicted of collaboration and imprisoned for two years after the war.

As Germany was forbidden to produce aircrafts until 1955, Messerschmitt then decided to target the consumer market with sewing machines, prefabricated houses and small vehicles. Seen here in the streets of Girona is the Kabinenroller KR175, designed by aircraft engineer Fritz Fend. The two-seater with plexi cover was a runaway success, as it was relatively cheap and required a moped permit only.

The Messerschmitt Kabinenroller in the streets of Girona, July 1954, Martí Massafont Costals, Ajuntament de Girona, CC BY-NC-ND
The Messerschmitt Kabinenroller in the streets of Girona, July 1954, Martí Massafont Costals, Ajuntament de Girona, CC BY-NC-ND

Adventurous travellers could opt for public transport, with electric trolleys and petrol-driven buses invading the cities. Advances in the airline industry boosted mass tourism as well – not the least in the United Kingdom, where the aviation sector was a powerful lever toward postwar recovery.

The story of British European Airways (which later transformed into British Airways) is exemplary. BEA operated the first-ever turbine-powered commercial air service in 1950, flew its millionth passenger in 1952, and by the end of the decade had become the biggest airline outside of the US. 

The aircraft featured here is a Douglas DC-3, the hero of the Allies’ fleet. Yet it’s the stylish traveller in front who steals the scene, flaunting another prime example of 1950s smart design: the Canasta coat, made of water-proof cotton to cater for the globetrotting fashionista.

Europe was on the move, but not only for leisure. An unprecedented number of people left their country in search of a job, among which 1.5 million ‘Ten Pound Poms’: British citizens opting in on the assisted passage scheme offered by the Australian government. Entering the ‘doorway to a bright future’ cost no more than £10 and a commitment to live in Australia for at least two years.

Moving in the opposite direction, about half a million workers from former British colonies relocated after the 1948 British Nationality Act had created the status of "citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies". The ‘Windrush generation’ changed the face of postwar Britain.

This family, photographed on a train to London, had arrived in Southampton on a ship from the West Indies. Nine-year-old Michael, his aunt and father were joined by over 100 other immigrants who put in the £100 for a one-way ticket. They would go on to find over 10,000 West Indians in Britain, with large communities in London’s Brixton, Paddington, Camden Town and Stepney, as well as in Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield.

Relocation was, of course, not always voluntary. In Italy, poverty and epidemics forced people out of rural areas in the South. In Hungary over 200,000 people fled after the 1956 revolt. In Greece, thousands were evacuated to Eastern bloc countries following the Civil War, and in Russia countless opponents of the Soviet regime were imprisoned in labour camps. 

The cautious smiles and ill-fitting clothes of these Lithuanian prisoners remind us that in Europe personal liberty and freedom of speech were not universal.

Lithuanian political prisoners in Inta, c. 1956, unknown, Kaunas 9th Fort Museum, CC BY
Lithuanian political prisoners in Inta, c. 1956, unknown, Kaunas 9th Fort Museum, CC BY