BEUTELSBACH - The Italian restaurant has a Hawaiian Pizza on the menu, "also some very nice dark pizzas" says a staff member helpfully – but no Barack Pizza. There are no drinks or dishes named after Obama at another eatery two streets over – or indeed any other references to the American president anywhere else in Beutelsbach-bei-Stuttgart, in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, a picturesque municipality in the heart of wine country.
And yet according to American genealogists, this is the place where one of Barack Obama’s forbears grew up before sailing to the New World on the “Patience” in 1750. In America, the German immigrant fathered a child whose grandson was the grandfather of the great-grandmother of the woman who, on August 4, 1961 in Hawaii, gave birth to the son she called Barack.
Much has been made of Obama's Irish roots on his maternal grandfather's side. But in Germany, the would-be favorite son has not generated quite as much buzz. In view of the fairly direct line between this town, with its population of 8,000, and the White House, the lack of interest seems rather odd. If Martin Goll, a 65-year-old retiree, picked up on the news at all he says it was because when it broke (shortly before Obama’s visit to Germany in 2009) he was doing research to compile an anecdotal genealogical history of the area.
Municipal spokesman Jochen Beglau said that the news was reported in the official paper at the time. But that’s about it.
The crux of the issue – and the reason researcher Goll and town archivist Dr. Bernd Breyvogel may not be pursuing the tidbit with alacrity – is that they are not so sure the information provided by genealogists from the American firm Ancestry.com is really accurate. There is documentary evidence that the son of a local military doctor migrated to Pennsylvania – but from there to saying that a line can be traced from this Johann Conrad Wölflin to Obama’s mother is, well, another matter.
To their mind, U.S. researchers may be laying it on a bit thick if assertions such as President Obama is a cousin (nine times removed) of Brad Pitt’s, or that George W. Bush and Obama are distantly related, are any indication. Ancestry.com is of course interested in making headlines – the firm, listed on the stock exchange, earns a great deal of money from genealogy.
But in another community, about 35 kilometers to the north of Beutelsbach-bei-Stuttgart, there is less skepticism. In Besigheim, you can buy postcards and posters that show a beaming Obama standing against a backdrop of half-timbered architecture. The text, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner,” has Obama saying: "Ich bin ein Besigheimer."
["I am a Besigheimer" / Photo: Stadt Besigheim]
Obama’s purported connection to Besigheim is that the aforementioned Johann Conrad Wölflin -- while he may have grown up in Beutelsbach-bei-Stuttgart -- actually first saw the light of day here, where his father the military doctor was stationed, in 1729. And the genealogical link is solid enough in the mayor’s mind for an official invitation to visit the town to have been extended to President Obama.
The White House has yet to reply. But town guide Katrin Held is upbeat anyway. Since the news broke, she has a new highlight on her tour: the handsome half-timbered house at Türkengasse 6 where Johann Conrad Wölflin was born. Instead of doubting the genealogy, she says, it would make more sense to demand proof that Obama is not Wölflin’s descendant.