In Trump's German Ancestral Village, The Locals Are Not Impressed

Feb 13, 2016
Originally published on February 17, 2016 3:34 pm

Donald Trump wrote in his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, that his grandfather came from Sweden. These days, the Republican presidential hopeful and real estate mogul embraces different paternal roots.

The teetotaler's grandfather actually comes from a medieval wine-making village called Kallstadt, in the southwestern German state of Rhineland Palatinate. Like many Americans of German descent, the Trumps apparently stopped referring to their German heritage during the World Wars.

Trump brags about the grandfather he never knew in a 2014 German documentary called Kings of Kallstadt.

"My grandfather, Frederick Trump, came to the United States in 1885, he joined the great Gold Rush," Trump tells filmmaker Simone Wendel, as America's national anthem plays in the background. "He did fantastically well. He loved this country. But you know what? I love Kallstadt also."

Local residents tell NPR that Frederick's name was originally Friedrich and he left Germany when he was 16, ostensibly to avoid the draft. He moved to the Yukon, where he opened a restaurant.

His broke customers often paid him in gold nuggets, Wendel says. "He'd send the nuggets to his sisters in New York and they kind of bought these properties."

She adds: "There are a lot of strong women in the family who did a lot, like Donald's grandmother."

His grandmother's name was Elisabeth Christ and her family lived across the street from the Trumps in Kallstadt. Several of the village's informal historians say she never wanted to live in the U.S., but didn't have a choice because her husband was denied a renewal of his German citizenship.

Donald Trump "knows his grandmother and of course, he told me she was a tough lady," Wendel says. "She didn't play games, that's the words" he used.

The filmmaker, who also comes from Kallstadt and counts herself as a distant relative of Trump, says she sees similar qualities in Elisabeth's grandson. "He's on time, he gets things done – some things that are quite Kallstadt- or German-like."

But in the village — which is teased by its neighbors for its tradition of bragging (the local youth group is called "The Braggarts") — residents aren't eager to talk to outsiders about their famous American connection.

One of the few who does is Martina Fuhrmann, 51. She calls Trump a "questionable personality" and says while he deserves credit for his business acumen, he comes across as an unsympathetic sort who doesn't appeal to her politically.

"It's not just about money and power," she says. "There are other things that count, too."

Some others in the village refuse to even talk about Trump's candidacy, including Wendel. She says Kallstadt residents prefer outsiders to ask them about other things the village is famous for — like the ice wine served at Queen Elizabeth's coronation or the stuffed sow's stomach that is a favorite of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

When it comes to famous American connections, the villagers tend to relate more to another one – the Heinz family.

"Ketchup is also in bottles," Wendel says. "Somebody fills something in and sells it. It's like wine, it's a very, very similar product. So I guess it's a much easier for them to understand this way of earning money."

Johann-Heinrich Heinz — the father of the H. J. Heinz company founder — immigrated to the United States around 1840, says Kallstadt volunteer fire chief and vintner Guenter Heinz. His tasting room is chock-full of bottles and T-shirts with the Heinz ketchup logo.

"I think the people back then had a little bit of an inventor's spirit," he says. "More than anything, they had courage, because not everyone would have been willing to go to Hamburg, get on a ship to America and start from scratch."

Like the Trumps — to whom Wendel says the Heinzes are distantly related — the German and American sides of the Heinz family lost contact for many decades.

Some of the Heinz clan, the immigrant's great-grandsons, have come to Kallstadt on holiday to reconnect with their roots and taste local wines, Guenter Heinz says. Environmentalist Andre Heinz, the son of late Republican Sen. John Heinz, visited in 2003.

Kallstadt's Protestant pastor, Rev. Oliver Herzog, says the family even helped restore his church's 260-year-old French Baroque organ.

"The trips rekindled the family's interest in our village," he says. "We needed a quarter-million euros [$281,112.50] and that was too much for our congregation."

So the Heinz family donated a fifth of it, he says.

By comparison, Kallstadt has no obvious links to the Trumps. He has never visited, though Wendel says he told her he would. Mayor Thomas Jaworek says the ancestral home has been renovated and resold a number of times, and that the last Trump has moved away from Kallstadt.

The only thing left on the house from the Trump days is a little blue sign above the mailbox that says: "God sees everything, but my neighbor a lot more!"

"Till now, I think it's more the Heinz ketchup which makes us well known worldwide," Jaworek says. "But perhaps if Donald Trump becomes president, then it might change and the Trump family is then more important to Kallstadt."

The village's neighbors aren't waiting, however, to poke fun at its Trump connection.

On Tuesday, a nearby town's newspaper, Die Rheinphalz, superimposed an image of the Trump World tower onto a picture of the Kallstadt skyline.

The caption told readers, tongue in cheek, that a popular 100-wine festival would next be held on the 55th floor terrace of the new tower provided to Kallstadt, courtesy of Donald Trump.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump strongly opposes illegal immigration, and that's putting it mildly. This perplexes many in his paternal grandfather's hometown in Germany. They say the elder Trump got on a boat 130 years ago without a visa and sailed to America to make his fortune. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson went to Trump's ancestral village, where many residents claim king to the wealthy candidate.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Donald Trump wrote in his 1987 book, "The Art Of The Deal," that his grandfather came from Sweden. These days, the real estate mogul embraces different paternal roots.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

NELSON: The teetotaler's grandfather actually hails from this medieval winemaking village called Kallstadt in southwestern Germany. The younger Trump brags about him in a 2014 German documentary called the "Kings Of Kallstadt."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "KINGS OF KALLSTADT")

DONALD TRUMP: (As character) My grandfather, Frederick Trump, came to the United States in 1885. He joined the great gold rush. He did fantastically well. He loved this country. But you know what, I love Kallstadt, also.

NELSON: The 69-year-old even recites a famous JFK line with a local twist to show solidarity with his ancestors.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "KINGS OF KALLSTADT")

TRUMP: (As character, speaking German).

NELSON: But many of the villagers aren't impressed by their famous American connection, says resident Martina Fuhrmann.

MARTINA FUHRMANN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She calls Trump a questionable personality. She says he deserves credit for his business acumen but that he comes across as an unsympathetic sort who doesn't appeal to her politically. Other Kallstadt natives, like the documentary's filmmaker, Simone Wendel, refused to even talk about the American's candidacy. She says she is a distant relative of Trump by marriage. Wendel says people here want journalists to ask them about other things the village is famous for, like the ice wine served at Queen Elizabeth's coronation or stuffed sow's stomach that is a favorite delicacy of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The filmmaker says villagers relate more to their other famous American connection, the Heinz family.

SIMONE WENDEL: It's easier for the people in Kallstadt to know about the ketchup because ketchup is also in bottles, and somebody fills something in and sells it. It's like wine. It's a very, very similar product. So I guess it's much easier for them to understand this way of earning money.

NELSON: The father of the H.J. Heinz company founder immigrated to the U.S. around 1840. Several of the immigrant's great-grandsons returned to Kallstadt more than a decade ago to reconnect with their roots and taste local wines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN)

NELSON: According to the local Protestant pastor, those visits led to the Heinz family donating more than $56,000 toward restoring his church's 1775 baroque organ.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN)

NELSON: By comparison, there are no obvious links to Trump in Kallstadt. The ancestral home has been renovated and resold a number of times. Village Mayor Thomas Jaworek says the last Trump moved away from Kallstadt a while ago.

THOMAS JAWOREK: So now I think it's more the Heinz ketchup which makes us well-known worldwide. But perhaps if Donald Trump becomes president, then it might change. And the Trump family is more important to Kallstadt.

NELSON: The village's neighbors aren't waiting, however, to poke fun at its Trump connection. For instance, a nearby town's newspaper called Die Rheinpfalz, earlier this week, superimposed an image of the Trump world tower onto a picture of the Kallstadt skyline. The paper told readers, that's where the next wine festival will be held. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kallstadt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.