The Donald’s disreputable grandad

It's time Donald Trump embraced his German heritage.


Donald Trump isn't letting on to where he came from

To understand Donald Trump, says Ben Macintyre in The Times, you first need to know about his grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf, who skipped military service in his native Germany and arrived in America as a penniless 16-year-old immigrant. Most presidential candidates, as Macintyre says, make political capital out of their antecedents, but Trump seldom mentions his grandfather and in his autobiography even suppressed his Germanic origins entirely and claims to be Swedish.

Grandpa Drumpf certainly led a colourful life. After departing the little village of Kallstadt in southwest Germany in 1885, he boarded a ship bound for New York, where he spent his first six years working as a barber. It is tempting, says Macintyre, "to see Trump's elaborate comb-over as simply a throwback to his grandfather's first profession, a touching tonsorial tribute".

But Drumpf, or Trump as he eventually became, was ambitious, successfully opening a restaurant in Seattle called the Poodle Dog: it was "French" in other words, debauched. Then, in August 1896, when gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon, thousands of prospectors hurried north. Grandpa Trump was among them. His aim, though, was to make money out of "mining the miners" and to this end he opened the New Arctic Restaurant and Hotel in a growing town on the Dead Horse Trail.

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According to Macintyre: "Initially no more than a huddle of tents, it grew into a two-storey building, with a restaurant offering such delicacies as caribou and horse meat, and plenty of private boxes' for assignations. A set of scales on the bar enabled miners to pay in gold dust or nuggets."

A letter written to the Yukon Sun gives the flavour. "For single men the Arctic has excellent accommodations as well as the best restaurant in Bennett, but I would not advise respectable women to go there to sleep as they are liable to hear that which would be repugnant to theirfeelings and uttered, too, by the depraved of their own sex."

With the gold rush slackening, and Canadian Mounties cracking down on prostitution, gambling and illegal liquor sales, Grandfather Trump decided to sell up (though not before he had opened a second establishment). He returned to Germany, where he married a former neighbour. The German authorities, however, decided he had dodged military service and tax and he was expelled back to America. A son, Fred, was born in 1905, and went on to sire Donald. In 1918, at the age of 49, Friedrich died, a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic, leaving behind about $582,000 in today's money. His widow and son invested this in New York property, as E. Trump & Son.

Understandably, perhaps, Trump is vague about his background. As Macintyre says, he would not be the first German-American president: Eisenhower's family came from Karlsbrunn, Herbert Hoover's from Baden. The Donald's attitude to his forbears may stem partly from his father's qualms about being identified as German during World War II. But, says Macintyre, in the interests of historical accuracy, it's time he embraced his heritage.

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