Donald Trump likes to refer to Germany as the land of his ancestors, who came from a small southern German town called Kallstadt.
His grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf, came to the United States in 1885, he recalled in the documentary “The Kings of Kallstadt.”
“He joined the great gold rush; he did fantastically well; he loved this country,” he said.
But the Republican front-runner for president has another German history — one he doesn’t dwell on.
In August 2000, the self-proclaimed King of New York became co-owner of TD Trump Deutschland AG, a real estate joint venture that aimed to enrich Germany with Trump-like skyscrapers.
“Donald Trump just kept saying he would soon pay capital into our joint company, but nothing ever came.”
The project came to nothing, and the story of its birth and quiet death provide insight into the tycoon who could soon become the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.
It appears Mr. Trump contributed little more than showmanship to the venture.
That, at least, is the impression he left on his former 50-percent partner in TD Trump Deutschland, Ulrich Marseille, a Hamburg-based entrepreneur who has set up a network of medical clinics.
Mr. Marseille met Mr. Trump 16 years ago. The two later sealed their deal in New York, with Mr. Marseille becoming supervisory board chairman of the new German company and his new American friend, the deputy.
The German entrepreneur recalled his disappointment at what he described as Mr. Trump’s lack of commitment to their deal.
“Donald Trump just kept saying he would soon pay capital into our joint company, but nothing ever came of it,” Mr. Marseille said. “At some point, we gave up working with him. For such projects, you need people you can trust.”
Some €4 million in capital, the right to use the Trump name, several illustrious locations and the appointment of a former management board member of steel group Thyssen as chief executive of the company weren’t enough to help Trump and his German partners build a single tower in Germany.
The first idea to evaporate was construction of a high rise on Berlin’s downtown Alexanderplatz square. It was to be at least 150 meters (492 feet) tall, a “bridge between New York and Berlin,” as Mr. Trump put it, Mr. Marseille said. But he cancelled a visit to Berlin, his former partner said, at the last minute. Many guests who had asked to an attend an event to greet him in the luxury Adlon Hotel had to be uninvited.
The plan for a “Trump Tower Europe” in the financial capital Frankfurt along the Main River turned into another non-starter, though Mr. Trump had told Frankfurt’s mayor at the time, Petra Roth, the project could represent a 1.5 billion deutsche marks ($870 million) investment. When he finally made an appearance in Frankfurt in November 2000, the plan was sounding considerably more modest.
He quickly left Frankfurt for the southern city of Stuttgart — to the final project of TD Trump Deutschland.
His partner, Mr. Marseille, said he knew nothing of the Frankfurt project. “Trump tried to play us,” he said.
Mr. Marseille recalled how Mr. Trump charmed and flattered him during their first meeting one evening in his office on the 60th floor of Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue. He described a giant picture next to the desk showing the magnate swinging at a golf ball.
After the conference, Mr. Marseille, recalled Mr. Trump had pointed down at a beggar on the street and remarked, “he’s eight million richer than me.” When asked to explain, Mr. Trump said: “It’s simple: He has no debt.”
Mr. Trump’s companies filed for bankruptcy four times, in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009.
Mr. Trump had considered running for office back in 2000
The American had grand plans in Stuttgart, the home to automaker Daimler. He proposed a tower 220 meters tall. The mayor of Stuttgart at the time, Wolfgang Schuster, proudly presented the project for southern Germany’s tallest tower. DT Trump Deutschland even took over some plots of land but the city council halted the project in January 2003 amid uncertainties over the financing and eventual leasing plans for the building.
By then, Mr. Trump had bailed out. He had left the supervisory board of the German company he had started with Mr. Marseille a year later, in 2001. A legal battle over unkept promises ensued.
Mr. Marseille said his erstwhile partner had been “friendly, vain and pushy.” His true strength was in having a “group of exceedingly skillful lawyers by his side.”
Mr. Marseille said Mr. Trump had considered running for office as far back as in 2000. “He wanted to run in the primaries – right up until he had to disclose his assets,” the German businesmann said about the conversation with his former American partner.
Why? Because becoming politically active generates publicity, and that, Mr. Marseille recalled Mr. Trump saying, “is priceless.”
Hans-Jürgen Jakobs is a senior editor at Handelsblatt. To contact the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org