Review: Kings of Kallstadt, a film about Trump’s ancestral home

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Review: Kings of Kallstadt, a film about Trump's ancestral home

By John Ruberry

Deep in south­west­ern Ger­many in the Rhineland-​Palatinate state lies the small vil­lage of Kall­stadt, which has about 1,200 residents.

It is well-​known for two rea­sons. It’s a stop on the Ger­man Wine Route and it’s the ances­tral home of Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the H.J. Heinz Com­pany, and Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump. In fact, Heinz and Trump’s grand­fa­ther, Kallstadt-​born Friedrich Trump, were sec­ond cousins.

I was dig­ging deep – very deep – on Net­flix for some­thing inter­est­ing to watch when I stum­bled across Trump’s face on a movie poster for Kings of Kall­stadt, a doc­u­men­tary by Simone Wen­del, a Kall­stadter. It was filmed in 2012 and released in 2014; her movie prob­a­bly would have been for­got­ten out­side of Rhineland-​Palatinate had the Trump Train not steam­rolled into Wash­ing­ton last year.

Much of the dia­logue is in Ger­man – with sub­ti­tles of course.

There is a Gar­ri­son Keillor’s Lake Wobe­gon feel within Kall­stadt, because Wen­del tells us that “the sun always shines and the wine never runs out.” And while Kall­stadt has only 1,200 inhab­i­tants it counts 1,600 mem­bers in its 27 clubs. “That amounts to 135 per­cent of love,” Wen­del beams. Does Kall­stadt have a Miss Kall­stadt? No, it has a Wine Princess. No, make that two of them, which is a sit­u­a­tion you might expect to find in the Andy Grif­fith Show’s May­berry. Kallstadt’s culi­nary del­i­cacy is sauma­gen, that is, stuffed sow’s stomach.

Yummy!

Trump is inter­viewed here, along with the fam­ily his­to­rian, Trump’s cousin John Wal­ter. If you ever imag­ined what our pres­i­dent would be like if he was a mod­est accoun­tant – that’s Wal­ter. Because he’s a mod­est, albeit retired, accountant.

Fas­ci­nat­ingly, even before he offi­cially entered the polit­i­cal world, the man who was then sim­ply known as the King of New York felt com­pelled to bring up his trou­bled rela­tion­ship with the media.

Okay, I think (there are) a lot of mis­con­cep­tions about me,” Trump explains to Wen­del in a Trump Tower con­fer­ence room. “I’m a lot nicer per­son than the press would have you think. I don’t want to ruin my image by telling you that, but I believe that.”

Not dis­cussed in the film is what Don­ald and his father, Fred­er­ick, said about their her­itage – the Trumps were Swedish – which the legions Trump-​haters jumped on dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But the Swedish fib is an under­stand­able dis­tor­tion of the truth. Dur­ing World War I it was quite com­mon for German-​Americans to hide their eth­nic­ity. I reg­u­larly run into peo­ple who tell me sto­ries of a grand­fa­ther or great-​grandfather who changed his name from say Muller, to Miller, after being hounded out of a town as Amer­i­cans fought the Kaiser’s army. After World War II Trump’s grand­mother, Eliz­a­beth, and Fred­er­ick rented many apart­ments and sold many houses to Jew­ish New York­ers, who under­stand­ably had extremely uncom­fort­able feel­ings about Germans.

He had thought, ‘Gee whiz, I’m not going to be able to sell these homes if there are all these Jew­ish peo­ple,’” Wal­ter told the now-​failing New York Times last year about the dilemma of Trump’s dad.

More on Grandma Eliz­a­beth in a bit.

After the war, he’s still Swedish,” Wal­ter con­tin­ued. “It was just going, going, going.”

As for the Swedish tale, Don­ald repeated it for his best-​seller, The Art Of The Deal. Fred­er­ick was still alive then. But by 1990 the Swedish stuff was dead lutefisk.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_98698” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] Out­side Chicago’s Trump Tower in 2017[/caption]

Friedrich Trump left Kall­stadt at age 16 for Amer­ica where he enjoyed great suc­cess in Seat­tle, Yukon, Alaska, and then New York. Wal­ter tells Wen­del that Grand­fa­ther Trump mar­ried Eliz­a­beth Christ, a Kall­stadter. She demanded that he sell his Amer­i­can prop­er­ties and return to Kall­stadt, which, in a story Trump con­fides to Wal­ter that he never heard, Prince Leopold of Bavaria deported Friedrich. Yes, a Trump was deported! Friedrich died in 1918 in Queens, likely an early vic­tim of that year’s flu pan­demic. Eliz­a­beth and Fred­er­ick then founded Eliz­a­beth Trump and Son Com­pany, now known as the Trump Organization.

Back to the almost present: a group of Kall­stadters are invited as guests of New York’s German-​American Steuben Parade. Trump was the parade’s grand mar­shal in 1999. They also visit Pitts­burgh and the Heinz His­tory Cen­ter, where amaz­ingly, no mem­bers of the Heinz fam­ily meet them. Say what you will about Don­ald J. Trump, but he earnestly tries to make him­self acces­si­ble except to those who are openly hos­tile to him. Trump could have eas­ily dis­missed Wendel’s request for an inter­view for her quaint lit­tle film. But Trump has alway been a salesman.

The Kall­stadters attend a Pitts­burgh Pirates game – big league base­ball – but one cranky woman con­stantly com­plains that there is “no action” in the game.

But is there is a lot of action in a 00 soc­cer match, frau? Other than the brawls in the bleachers?

Then comes the Steuben Parade. As the Kall­stadters – two of whom are car­ry­ing a giant model of a sauma­gen – and Wal­ter gather on the route, an “Obama 2012″ sign is seen from a win­dow behind them.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_95236” align=“alignright” width=“211”] Blog­ger in Wash­ing­ton State last year[/caption]

Late in the film Wen­del asks Trump if would like to visit Kall­stadt. “When I’m over there I will cer­tainly visit,” he replies. “Absolutely.”

The pres­i­dent will be in Ger­many next week for the G20 sum­mit. No word of a Trump home­com­ing yet, along the lines of his visit to the birth­place of his mother in Scot­land in 2008. Although Trump isn’t very pop­u­lar in Kall­stadt, at least accord­ing to media reports, since his polit­i­cal rise.

Believe me,” Trump just might respond to such sto­ries, “that’s just fake news, believe me.”

In addi­tion to Net­flix, Kings of Kall­stadt is also avail­able on Ama­zon. It’s an enjoy­able, wun­der­bar, and yes, big league movie. Even if you hate Trump. Believe me.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

By John Ruberry

Deep in southwestern Germany in the Rhineland-Palatinate state lies the small village of Kallstadt, which has about 1,200 residents.

It is well-known for two reasons. It’s a stop on the German Wine Route and it’s the ancestral home of Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the H.J. Heinz Company, and President Donald J. Trump. In fact, Heinz and Trump’s grandfather, Kallstadt-born Friedrich Trump, were second cousins.

I was digging deep–very deep–on Netflix for something interesting to watch when I stumbled across Trump’s face on a movie poster for Kings of Kallstadt, a documentary by Simone Wendel, a Kallstadter. It was filmed in 2012 and released in 2014; her movie probably would have been forgotten outside of Rhineland-Palatinate had the Trump Train not steamrolled into Washington last year.

Much of the dialogue is in German–with subtitles of course.

There is a Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon feel within Kallstadt, because Wendel tells us that “the sun always shines and the wine never runs out.” And while Kallstadt has only 1,200 inhabitants it counts 1,600 members in its 27 clubs. “That amounts to 135 percent of love,” Wendel beams. Does Kallstadt have a Miss Kallstadt? No, it has a Wine Princess. No, make that two of them, which is a situation you might expect to find in the Andy Griffith Show’s Mayberry. Kallstadt’s culinary delicacy is saumagen, that is, stuffed sow’s stomach.

Yummy!

Trump is interviewed here, along with the family historian, Trump’s cousin John Walter. If you ever imagined what our president would be like if he was a modest accountant–that’s Walter. Because he’s a modest, albeit retired, accountant.

Fascinatingly, even before he officially entered the political world, the man who was then simply known as the King of New York felt compelled to bring up his troubled relationship with the media.

“Okay, I think (there are) a lot of misconceptions about me,” Trump explains to Wendel in a Trump Tower conference room. “I’m a lot nicer person than the press would have you think. I don’t want to ruin my image by telling you that, but I believe that.”

Not discussed in the film is what Donald and his father, Frederick, said about their heritage–the Trumps were Swedish–which the legions Trump-haters jumped on during the presidential campaign. But the Swedish fib is an understandable distortion of the truth. During World War I it was quite common for German-Americans to hide their ethnicity. I regularly run into people who tell me stories of a grandfather or great-grandfather who changed his name from say Muller, to Miller, after being hounded out of a town as Americans fought the Kaiser’s army. After World War II Trump’s grandmother, Elizabeth, and Frederick rented many apartments and sold many houses to Jewish New Yorkers, who understandably had extremely uncomfortable feelings about Germans.

“He had thought, ‘Gee whiz, I’m not going to be able to sell these homes if there are all these Jewish people,'” Walter told the now-failing New York Times last year about the dilemma of Trump’s dad.

More on Grandma Elizabeth in a bit.

“After the war, he’s still Swedish,” Walter continued. “It was just going, going, going.”

As for the Swedish tale, Donald repeated it for his best-seller, The Art Of The Deal. Frederick was still alive then. But by 1990 the Swedish stuff was dead lutefisk.

Outside Chicago’s Trump Tower in 2017

Friedrich Trump left Kallstadt at age 16 for America where he enjoyed great success in Seattle, Yukon, Alaska, and then New York. Walter tells Wendel that Grandfather Trump married Elizabeth Christ, a Kallstadter. She demanded that he sell his American properties and return to Kallstadt, which, in a story Trump confides to Walter that he never heard, Prince Leopold of Bavaria deported Friedrich. Yes, a Trump was deported! Friedrich died in 1918 in Queens, likely an early victim of that year’s flu pandemic. Elizabeth and Frederick then founded Elizabeth Trump and Son Company, now known as the Trump Organization.

Back to the almost present: a group of Kallstadters are invited as guests of New York’s German-American Steuben Parade. Trump was the parade’s grand marshal in 1999. They also visit Pittsburgh and the Heinz History Center, where amazingly, no members of the Heinz family meet them. Say what you will about Donald J. Trump, but he earnestly tries to make himself accessible except to those who are openly hostile to him. Trump could have easily dismissed Wendel’s request for an interview for her quaint little film. But Trump has alway been a salesman.

The Kallstadters attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game–big league baseball–but one cranky woman constantly complains that there is “no action” in the game.

But is there is a lot of action in a 0-0 soccer match, frau? Other than the brawls in the bleachers?

Then comes the Steuben Parade. As the Kallstadters–two of whom are carrying a giant model of a saumagen–and Walter gather on the route, an “Obama 2012” sign is seen from a window behind them.

Blogger in Washington State last year

Late in the film Wendel asks Trump if would like to visit Kallstadt. “When I’m over there I will certainly visit,” he replies. “Absolutely.”

The president will be in Germany next week for the G20 summit. No word of a Trump homecoming yet, along the lines of his visit to the birthplace of his mother in Scotland in 2008. Although Trump isn’t very popular in Kallstadt, at least according to media reports, since his political rise.

“Believe me,” Trump just might respond to such stories, “that’s just fake news, believe me.”

In addition to Netflix, Kings of Kallstadt is also available on Amazon. It’s an enjoyable, wunderbar, and yes, big league movie. Even if you hate Trump. Believe me.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.