In October 1937, the German government paid for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to visit Germany. They went against the advice of the British government, but there was little they could do to prevent it. Just before the trip, King George VI’s private secretary wrote, “Eden had discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, and it was agreed that nothing could, of course, be done to stop the contemplated tour.”
The former King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis needed to do something to restore their image. On 11 October 1937, the Duke and Duchess arrived at the Friedrichstraße station, and they were treated like it was a state visit. The visit included an inspection of a Nazi training school in Pomerania, where they were greeted by an SS-band playing the British national anthem.
The Duke and Duchess also visited Carinhall – Hermann Göring’s estate – where they had tea. During a dinner with Joachim von Ribbentrop in Berlin, they also met Albert Speer and Joseph and Magda Goebbels who were very impressed. Joseph later wrote in his diary, “The Duke is wonderful – a nice sympathetic fellow who is open and clear and with a healthy understanding of people… It is a shame he is no longer King. With him, we would have entered into an alliance.”
On 19 October in Nuremberg, the Duke and Duchess had dinner with the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was a male-line grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Before the trip, he had written to the Duke of Windsor, “Dear David! I hear that you are coming to Germany… I naturally would be delighted if you could take this opportunity to see me; perhaps I could introduce you to a couple of interesting personalities whom you otherwise wouldn’t meet during your trip.” Over 100 guests were in attendance at the Grand Hotel.
The Duke and Duchess then met Hitler himself at the Berghof in Obersalzberg on 22 October. They were thrilled because Hitler addressed the Duchess with “Royal Highness”, which had been denied her in England. Afterwards, Hitler escorted the couple to their car, and one reporter noted, “The Duchess was visibly impressed with the Führer’s personality, and he apparently indicated that they had become fast friends by giving her an affectionate farewell. Hitler took both their hands in his saying a long goodbye, after which he stiffened to a rigid Nazi salute that the Duke returned.” According to Hitler’s translator, he said of Wallis, “She would have made a good Queen.”
Their final evening of the trip was spent at the home of Rudolf and Ilse Hess, who hosted a dinner party for 14 people.
Even the Germans were somewhat confused about the reason for the trip. Afterwards, the British consul wrote, “Germans here were much puzzled about the reasons for the tour which many of them attributed to the Duke’s supposed strong pro-Fascist sympathies. This belief was strengthened by the words which H.R.H is alleged to have used to sum up his impressions of the tour, and which was rendered by Dr. Ley to a recent meeting of the German Labor Front in Leipzig as follows: ‘I have travelled the world, and my upbringing has made me familiar with great achievements of mankind, but that which I have seen in Germany I had hitherto believed to be impossible. It cannot be grasped and is a miracle; one can only begin to understand it when one realizes that behind it all is one and one will.'”
The Duke and Duchess’ visit attracted the interest of the FBI. In September 1940 a report to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover said, “for some time the British Government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections and there is strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British Government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne.”1