Swiss village invites Obama to explore ancestral roots
While thousands in Switzerland have signed a petition to ban President Donald Trump from visiting the country, it seems former President Barack Obama would be welcomed with open arms by one Swiss village in particular.
Ried bei Kerzers in the canton of Fribourg has a special claim to fame: according to a local genealogist, Obama’s maternal grandfather seven generations back was born there.
Hans Gutknecht, as Obama’s relative was called, was born there in 1692, according to a birth certificate unearthed by genealogist Hans Herren.
Gutknecht’s son emigrated to the US in 1747 and changed his name to Goodnight.
The revelation that Obama is officially 0.97 percent Swiss isn’t new; Herren uncovered the link in 2010 and the village authorities, proud of their link to the then US president, made him an honorary citizen and invited him to visit.
According to local papers Obama was informed of his Swiss roots by former Swiss minister Joseph Deiss, and said he would visit – one day.
That was six years ago. Now the ex-president has a little more time on his hands, Ried bei Kerzers is hoping he’ll make good on his word and pay them a visit. As such, the president of the commune Heinz Etter has written a letter reinviting Obama to the village, reported Swiss media.
If he were to come, Obama may need a few pointers on his ancestral home. Thankfully The Local is here to help him with a rundown of the essential facts.
1. Ried bei Kerzers has 1,249 inhabitants, 319 of whom are foreigners.
2. It is a predominantly German-speaking commune in the bilingual canton of Fribourg. But Obama, who has previously said he is “embarrassed” he speaks no foreign languages, shouldn’t worry – there are bound to be a few English speakers.
3. It’s situated at 511m altitude, significantly higher than the White House, at just 21m.
4. Largely agricultural, the village boasts of being one of the most important vegetable-growing regions in Switzerland, producing one quarter of domestic veg. That may be music to the ears of healthy eating advocate Michelle Obama, who planted a vegetable garden at the White House to grow 55 varieties of fruit and veg, some of which was donated to local soup kitchens. But the residents of Reid should be warned not to make her husband eat beetroot – according to the New York Times he doesn’t like it.
5. There’s plenty to do and see in the local area, including the beautiful medieval Old Town of nearby Murten/Morat, where Obama’s ancestor was baptized. A stroll around its cobbled streets and ‘lauben’ (covered walkways built in the 17th and 18th century) should give the former president an idea of the environment in which his ancestor lived.
6. He may also be interested in the nearly tropical butterfly house, the Papiliorama. In 2015 Obama launched a strategy to protect the nation’s winged pollinators by creating a ‘butterfly highway’ from the US to Mexico following the annual monarch butterfly migration.