BERLIN — When it became clear Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, the German village of Kallstadt suddenly became a destination for journalists and tourists curious about the unlikely candidate’s roots.
Trump’s grandfather had been born there and migrated to the United States in search of opportunity. Many of the 1,200 residents of the town, uncomfortable with the spotlight and the populist rhetoric Trump espoused, wished the eventual American president would forget about their quiet corner in Germany.
Now, in the aftermath of Trump urging four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came,” some in this once economically depressed town are urging the U.S. president to remember where his own family came from.
“Seeing the not-so-imposing homes of his ancestors might bring him back to earth,” said Thomas Jaworek, the conservative mayor of Kallstadt, where Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was born and then left as a teenager.
Jaworek said many of his constituents align with the rest of Germany’s views that President Trump is a threat. While he has little interest in hosting the U.S. president — citing the security and media frenzy it would cause — the mayor said that if Trump were to visit, he hoped the president would at least leave Kallstadt with a changed view on migration, citizenship and belonging.
After all, Friedrich Trump was a migrant.
“Everyone has his or her roots somewhere — and to demand of others to simply leave the country is paradoxical for him,” said Beatrix Riede, 61, who heads an association for women in the town.
“I can only wish Americans that they will elect someone who turns on his mind before saying something,” Riede added.
Born in 1869 into a modest family that ran a small vineyard, Friedrich Trump initially worked in a barbershop in a neighboring town. But opening his own barbershop in Kallstadt proved difficult. There already was a barber in town. Friedrich Trump was also expected under German law to serve in the military for some time.
“The stifling lack of opportunity in the village seemed to close in on him. Without any apparent opportunity for a better life, he saw what lay ahead was dreary, difficult, and poor,” author Gwenda Blair wrote in her 2001 book, The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire. “He seemed to have no choice but to leave."
The 16-year-old found his escape by migrating to the United States, where he arrived in 1885.
He later came back and married a Kallstadt local, Elizabeth Christ, but eventually returned to the United States. Local authorities considered him to be a draft dodger.
More than a century on, one of his grandsons is pursuing a hard-line immigration policy that — if it had been in place in the 1880s — would have likely disqualified Friedrich from staying in the United States.
The irony has not been lost on Kallstadt residents.
Cornelia Seidl, 67, who represented Germany’s Social Democratic Party in Kallstadt’s local council for decades and now heads a women’s association, said immigrants are the engine powering the United States.
“It’s the same as in Germany — we need foreign workers,” she said.
Seidl noted that Trump had previously tried to conceal his German family heritage. More recently, he has falsely claimed that his father was “from Germany,” even though it was his grandfather.
Beyond its link to Trump, Kallstadt is now known for its wineries, which draw tourists and have given the town and its residents a measure of prosperity. But it wasn’t always like this.
Many had left the region around Kallstadt toward the end of the 19th century, said Seidl, because “things just weren’t going too well economically at the time.”
Late last year, locals were in a frenzy after the U.S. Embassy indicated that Trump would be interested in eventually visiting the town. Though the town’s residents are generally against Trump’s hard-line stance on migration, many would have welcomed him.
Now, after his racist tweets targeting four critical minority lawmakers, some residents said he is not welcome and that even his distant link to the town is a source of embarrassment.
The owner of a local holiday home, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was afraid of a negative impact on her bookings, said she did not expect Trump to ever make it to Kallstadt.
“It’s sad that this man has origins here,” she said. “It almost makes me personally ashamed."