Border Crossing at Irun, Spain, 1957

APRIL 1957 – Customs activity at the border post between France and Spain, photographed from the Spanish side at Irun. The bridge was called ‘Saint Jacques’. © Mark Zanzig/

The story behind the image

Back in 1957 one part of the family traveled from Oldenburg, Germany, to Alicante, Spain – with a small car. Back then, this was a huge trip. They visited Biarritz in France, and San Sebastian, Barcelona, Madrid, Alicante, and Valencia in Spain. The photos were mostly black and white and are still in a good condition. The early color photographs were much worse and it was a challenge to restore them as they are really washed out with a terrible red shift. (I guess the camera that carried the color film was not as good as the one with the b&w film.)

This is one of the most interesting photos. It shows the border crossing between Irun, Spain, and Hendaye, France. The photo has been taken from the Spanish side during the trip back to Germany. It is a rare snapshot as there are not many from that period and location.

First thing to note are the two turnpikes. The Spanish one is closer and can be seen better, but if you look closely, you’ll also notice the French one in the distance, also wide open. But these turnpikes could go down, and then the border would be “closed”, and trying to get across to the other side could get you into serious trouble.

There are four customs officers in the picture: two of them are busy talking to travelers, two of them take a look at the photographer, possibly discussing whether they should stop the photographer from taking photos or not.

There seems to be a bit of chaos, with the cars parked on both sides of the street and the people walking over the border (on the bridge) or using their bicycle to do so. Crossing borders was a time consuming task. You had to get your passports stamped (and get visas if you did not have them already), and you probably had to check out the car from one country and check it in to the other country. I imagine large forms that needed to be filled in, checked for correctness, approved and stamped. Of course, all of this contributed to the notion of international travel being adventurous.

This underlines the advances we’ve gained since then: Today, you simply drive from one country to the other, usually without any hazzle or paperworks to be filled in. Personally, I think this is a great step into the right direction, and this photo is a gentle reminder of how things used to be in the past (and still are in many parts of the world.)

By the way, this photo was taken exactly 65 years ago. It’s truly amazing how life has changed since then.

The high resolution image

Capture Date17-APR-1957
LocationIrun, Spain
Image Source7 x 10 cm Print from Original Negative Film
Digital Image SourceEPSON Perfection 4870 Photo
Digital Image Source FormatTIFF, 48 bits/pixel, AdobeRGB
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions4436 x 3158 Pixels
Copyright© by Mark Zanzig/

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