KALLSTADT, Germany —Petra Berghold had no idea there was anything unusual about the modest winemaker’s house she and her husband bought in 1994 and set about renovating. They turned the barrel-ceilinged wine cellar into their living room. The pigsty is now a party room.
But these days, the Bergholds keep their blue metal gate closed against the prying lenses of German tabloids, which showed up with a life-size cutout of the U.S. Republican presidential front-runner and photographed it on the street outside.
The Bergholds own the Trump Haus, where Donald Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich, lived before leaving for America in 1885. The shots of the gate that show up on TV and in tweets around the world leave Berghold feeling a little violated.
“It’s our house,” she said.
The Trump connection has brought a new brand of political tourist to a village whose inhabitants prefer it to be known as a mecca of fine wine and a sausage delicacy known as saumagen, or sow’s stomach. Many say they field irksome questions that veer from serious to absurd: What are the perils of Trump’s particular brand of nativism? And is it true, as comedian John Oliver said on his HBO show, that Trump’s ancestors were once known as Drumpf? (Not recently, but there were Drombs and Trums and most everything in between if you go back far enough.)
“It’s a small village,” said Alex Messer, as gallons of rosé whooshed into bottles on a conveyor belt at the wine-making cooperative that he runs. Many residents can claim kinship of some kind. But, he added: “We know Trump only from television. What we see is a show.”
Trump, in a recent interview, seemed curious to know where he stands in his ancestral home town.
“How do they feel about me in Kallstadt?” he asked.
He recalled “a certain beauty” from a childhood visit with his father. “It was wine country, it was serious Germany,” he said. “I have a warm spot in my heart for Germany.”
Some in Kallstadt admire Trump’s business acumen. Paul Irmer, a real estate investor who renovated a hotel overlooking the vineyards and spends three months each year in Florida, spoke highly of what the American tycoon has achieved. “I would vote for Donald Trump,” Irmer said.
Still, few here think warmly of Trump. His winner-take-all bluster is at odds with how business is done, the locals say. Many families pooled their resources to create the co-op, allowing them to improve yield from an area with an almost Mediterranean climate that is known (like the sausage) as the Saumagen.
“The wine market is so big, we work together to get a better brand,” said Philipp Woehrwag of the Mueller-Ruprecht winery.
Trump’s tough talk sounds like a craftsman boasting about his wares, explained the soft-spoken Roland Freund, a second cousin of Trump’s.
“I am the best.” “I will do this.” “I will buy that.”
“And then what happens?” Freund asked. In politics as in business, extravagance leads to problems: “No more money.”
The villagers’ views reflect their community’s history.
Kallstadt lies in the lush landscape of southern Germany along the Weinstrasse, or wine route, that the Nazis created in 1935 to market the wines as Hitler surged to power and drove out Jewish merchants. Between 1933 and 1940, the number of Jews in the region dropped from about 6,500 to 900, according to Roland Paul, director of an institute for Palatinate history and folklore studies
Many Germans are both haunted by the country’s Nazi past and worried about the future amid a flood of Middle Eastern refugees. In recent regional elections, anxiety about the massive influx of immigrants helped the right-wing Alternative for Germany party gain support. Trump has called Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy “insane.”
The discomfort with Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration surfaced at a recent gathering here of the men’s singing club, which includes Trump’s genial second cousin Heiner Weisenborn. Over glasses of home-grown Riesling, the discussion turned, somewhat awkwardly, to the GOP candidate’s populist views.
Gerhard Walter reached for a piece of paper and drew a swastika, then firmly crossed it out.
“We’ve had an Adolf,” said the 76-year-old retired real estate businessman. “And it was very bad.”
“A good person is a good person,” Walter added. “A bad person is a bad person, whether he is a Muslim or a Jew or not.”
Some saw dark humor in Trump’s proposal to build a “big, beautiful” wall on the Mexican border. After all, Germans are well-acquainted with walls. The one in Berlin was torn down less than 30 years ago.
“From our experience I would say that walls never prevent people from going where they want to go,” said Christian Jegensdorf, another member of the club.
Trump, in the interview, suggested that Germans are likely to experience more fallout from their policies. “A lot of bad things [are] happening in Germany,” he said. “They are having a tremendous assimilation problem.”
Trump isn’t the only wealthy American with roots among these grapevines. The Heinz family of ketchup fame is also from Kallstadt.
But villagers point out that while the Heinzes have given money for chandeliers and an organ in the church, they see no sign of the modern-day Trump fortune coming back to Kallstadt.
What’s more, many here point out that in his 1987 book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” Trump claimed Swedish ancestry. In the interview, Trump said he could not recall why he referred to Swedish heritage.
Simone Wendel, a distant Trump cousin by marriage, released a whimsical movie a couple of years ago, the Kings of Kallstadt, about the town’s traditions and its most notable human exports.
Wendel traveled to New York to meet Trump in his tower. He seemed happy to extol the virtues of the village.
“He did fantastically well,” Trump said of his grandfather. “He loved this country. But you know what? I love Kallstadt also. They grow ’em well in Kallstadt. Very well. Believe me, it’s good stock.”
Wendel says most people don’t feel a true connection to a Trump they’ve never met. It’s easier for a village of vintners to understand people who make things in bottles, she said, than a teetotal real estate tycoon.
Nonetheless, some in Kallstadt have tried to firm up family ties.
Freund’s son, who did genealogical research into their shared heritage before he died in 2010, called Trump and received a signed 1996 Trump head shot.
Martin Bender, a many-times-removed Trump cousin who runs a real estate business, once showed up at Trump Tower with a couple of bottles of Kallstadt’s best and a request to be an intern. No luck. But Bender kept his rejection letter from Trump’s assistant, along with a reminder: “Please know that Mr. Trump does not drink alcoholic beverages.”
The people of Kallstadt see plenty of reason for existential angst and little to be gained from a Trump presidency, unless their wines, which are already served in Washington’s German Embassy, end up on the menu for a White House state dinner. For now, Wendel worries that all the Trump coverage is leading to misconceptions about the villagers. There’s a nickname for the proud and hospitable people of Kallstadt — “Brulljesmacher.” U.S. and British media have translated it as “braggart,” which isn’t how they want the world to think of them.
“But it works for Trump!” exclaimed Berghold, the Trump Haus owner, hastening to add that she hopes he won’t be president.
There’s nobody named Trump living in Kallstadt today.
History could have been different. Twenty years after he arrived in the United States, Friedrich Trump tried to return to Kallstadt for the sake of his homesick wife. But having left without doing mandatory military service, he looked to German authorities like a draft dodger and faced threats of deportation, said Paul, the historian. The couple returned to New York.
Still, the family legacy lingers in the village. Friedrich had a brother who stayed in Kallstadt, and the Trump name appears on a bench in the vineyards and on a headstone in the graveyard.
And on the Weinstrasse at the north end of the village is a winery that went out of business a few years back. After the owner died, his wife and their son struggled to stay afloat before selling and moving away.
There were a number of reasons why family wineries like that one failed, said Messer, over a glass of dry Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling. The boom of the ’70s and ’80s created expectations that couldn’t be sustained. Some vintners developed flashy tastes.
A sign hangs over the entrance advertising “wine for sale” in shiny gold script. Just above are the faint outlines where five letters have been removed, spelling the word Trump.
Michael Kranish in New York contributed to this report.