Richard Nixon and family show their papers to an East Berlin officer before entering the east side of the divided city in 1963.
Immediately after RN’s move to New York in 1963 he and his family left on a vacation to tour Europe for six weeks. Between June and August the Nixons traveled to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, France, and England.
A travel map of Richard Nixon’s 1963 European tour.
The condensed itinerary for Richard Nixon’s 1963 European tour.
One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to Soviet controlled East Berlin on July 24, halfway through his tour. Early in the day RN crossed through Checkpoint Charlie into the area under Communist rule with over 20 car loads of both Western and Communist security agents, reporters, and guides. Communist handlers showed RN around, but he was unsatisfied with the level of interaction he was allowed with the citizens of East Berlin, who were unwilling to speak in such close proximity to the police escorts provided for RN.
A newspaper headline covers former Vice President Nixon’s entrance into East Berlin.
After sundown, RN returned for a second, unannounced visit. He arrived with a smaller entourage in an attempt to find out what life was really like in East Berlin. According to RN the citizens he spoke to were very candid about their pro-American feelings when they were not being monitored by the East Berlin police or ‘Vopo’ as they were known to citizens.
In addition to the locals on the streets, RN was able to speak to a taxi driver. The driver asked for an autograph from the former Vice President before going on to describe the social situation of East Berlin. He explained that there was little nightlife or activity in the city after dark because the citizens worked each day to a point that approached exhaustion, leaving them too tired to go out after work.
After their interaction with the cab driver RN’s small group was dropped off at a government-owned night club where the former Vice President was recognized by patrons and invited up onto the stage. He recited “The Missouri Waltz” on the bar’s piano, a performance dedicated by RN to Harry S. Truman.
RN later commented that of all the countries behind the Iron Curtain of which he visited during his tour, the citizens of East Berlin were among the most outspoken about their pro-Western views, though only when out of earshot of the authorities.