What have we here? A poster (in the local dialect!) for a documentary film on the southern German village that gave the world…well, you know who. But what do the locals think of him? If the following article is any indication, they are…well…less than enthused, at least about the actual man (and not his self-inflated image):
No, he says, he hasn’t yet congratulated Donald Trump on his electoral win. It also doesn’t sound as though the news makes him happy. On the contrary, Jörg Dörr is annoyed, very annoyed.
Dörr is head of the German Wine Road Regional Tourism Association. It includes Kallstadt, a wine-growing village that looks exactly the way the average American imagines Germany. 1200 residents, many wine-shops, a paradise for those who love stuffed pork stomachs. Kallstadt has no five-star hotels, but there are 300 beds in more or less luxurious hostelry. And for several months, among the tourists there have also been journalists, above all from the USA. CNN has already been there, and the Wall Street Journal, and all the major daily papers.
That’s no coincidence. The cradle of the Trumps is in Kallstadt. It is an eggshell-colored house with a hip roof and small windows. The residents, a married couple, prefer to keep the street-facing curtains shut now. In this house, in 1869, Friedrich Trump was born, the grandfather of the new US president. “Fred”, as he later called himself, trained as a barber, but didn’t find a job. He also had no desire to slave away in the family vineyard. His older sister, Katharina, had found her fortune in the USA, in the land of unlimited possibilities. Fred was 16 when he followed her. Panning for gold in Alaska.
But ah, that job was even harder than grape-harvesting. No job for Fred. He preferred to make sandwiches for the workers. He took his pay in gold nuggets, and his sister traded these for properties in New York. At the time, those were almost being given away. On Fifth Avenue the clan bought up whatever they could get their hands on. It was a bit like Monopoly. Pass Go, collect $200.
Now his grandson, Donald, is the US president, one of the most powerful men on Earth. And in Kallstadt, they don’t know yet for sure whether this news should make them glad or afraid.
Jörg Dörr, of the Tourism Association, sounds rather shocked. He says what most people in Kallstadt are thinking. That the town on the famous Wine Road is a pearl. Open to the world, guest-friendly and tolerant. All characteristics that one can’t really ascribe to Trump. Most of them only know him from TV — even Fritz, his distant cousin. A guy with a goofy tuft on his head, who always looks a bit overdressed in a suit and tie. A comedian; that was the first impression.
But the Kallstädters’ laughter died down when he reeled off his agenda. When he announced that he wanted to build a wall on the Mexican border. When he made fun of women, gays, and disabled people.
Jörg Dörr speaks of “polarizing election speeches”. And he beats around the bush when asked why he’s still afraid of marketing the town as a new dream destination for European tourists, as a rustic/romantic alternative to Castle Neuschwanstein. It’s the same for him as for most Germans: No one knows who Trump really is, or what he wants. A Robin Hood to the poor, who makes a big noise in order to build a stage for his political goals? Or just an ambitious but not very talented self-promoter? But at some point it finally slips out of Dörr: “Not all publicity is good publicity.”
But then, it seems pretty certain that Donald Trump will soon visit the hometown of his grandfather, whether the Kallstädters like it or not. That’s what he promised when filmmaker Simone Wendel interviewed him two years ago for her documentary. One saw the tycoon enthroned on the 26th floor of his Trump Tower. As he looked at photos of his grandpa’s birthplace, beamed with emotion, and assured that yes, of course he would visit this place, whenever he got around to Germany. “Absolutely.”
Now that he’s the newest US president, the fulfillment of that promise has come within reach. Trump won’t get around to making an introductory visit to Germany. But his promise from the film sounds like a threat now.
The film is running on SWR TV again right now. It’s called “Kings of Kallstadt”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek love-letter to the village in which Simone Wendel, 42, grew up. It tells of departures and returns, of small joys and megalomania. And it asks a question that various Kallstädters have already asked. Can it really be a coincidence that this town has brought forth two famous families, the Heinz ketchup dynasty and the real-estate tycoon Trumps?
Yes, says Jörg Dörr. And one can hear how unhappy he is about this coincidence. “We are just a footnote in these stories.”
The other residents see it differently. For them, Kallstadt is the centre of the world. It’s a village out of the children’s books of Otfried Preussler. Here, there is still a village church. The neighbors don’t look the other way when the kids from next door fire plum-pits at cars with a slingshot. 1200 people, organized in 27 associations. Where else in the world such a thing as “a 135% love of associations”?
One could of course ask why people like Trump’s grandpa Fred, or Johann Heinrich Heinz fled this village when it was heaven on Earth. But Kallstädters don’t like to hear such questions. The 19th century was a different time, they say in the film. It was the bravest who dared to make a new start elsewhere. And Trump’s grandson carried on this tradition: Think Big.
Now, that film was made well before the race before the US presidency began. The excitement over Trump has since given way to disenchantment. Out of respect for Trump’s distant cousin, Fritz, no one likes to say so out loud. But many still do so behind their hands. The “King of Kallstadt” has become the “Cretin of Kallstadt”.
Simone Wendler doesn’t want to say anything about it. The film has made her famous. It’s now streaming on Netflix in the US. Michael Moore, the leftist filmmaker (“Bowling for Columbine”), showed it at his own film festival and awarded it a prize.
Moore is one of Trump’s sharpest critics. He was one of the first to predict, in 2015, that the “part-time clown and full-time psychopath” would win the presidential election. The film will confirm his estimations. After all, 14% of all US citizens have German ancestors. With 46 million people, the German Americans are the biggest group of all immigrant-descended people. Most of them live in the Midwest. And for many of them, Donald Trump is their great white hope.
The Republican has, until recently, kept his German roots a secret. Quite wrongly, as the film shows. Kallstadt may not be the centre of the world, but for many German Americans, this town does, indeed, look like a paradise.
So there you have it. The people of Drumpf’s hometown, Kallstadt, apparently take pride in the idea that their little wine-growing village somehow instilled in two of its prodigal sons an overweening ambition that was realized on the other side of the Atlantic, just past Ellis Island. The reality — that those sons never came back to shower their riches on the homefolks, and that when Drumpf’s grandfather tried to worm his way back into German society after making his boodle, he was drummed out in disgrace because he had ducked his compulsory military service — doesn’t sit so well. Even Drumpf’s distant cousin Fritz — a namesake of Drumpf’s own grandpa — is unhappy about the attention the election has brought to this little town, and to his own family.
And who can blame him? After all, Der Drumpf is the crotch-grabbing sheep of the family. He’s all too well known for his bullying, his mistresses, his scandals, his mafia ties, his bankruptcies. All things no decent, upstanding regular German likes to hear about. Much less ones who still work hard in the family vineyards and wineries, more than a hundred years after their two “kings” buggered off out of there. The village has gone from being a quaint and pretty destination along a famous stretch of highway, to being a punchline to the biggest dirty joke in Germany — one that may even eclipse its infamous megabrothels for sheer, ugly skulduggery.
The locals don’t deserve that kind of attention, but they’re going to get it whether they like it or not. Don’t be too surprised if they all end up hating him…even Cousin Fritz.