The rise of Melania Trump | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 19.04.2016
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The rise of Melania Trump

Donald Trump wants to be the next US president. Should he be elected, his wife would be the first European first lady of the United States in nearly 200 years. DW takes a tour of Melania Trump's hometown of Sevnica.

The incredible rise of the girl from Sevnica, located an hour east of the capital, Ljubljana, has triggered a small media earthquake in Slovenia. TV crews are a common sight at the inconspicuous 1960s apartment block where the young Melanija Knavs, now Melania Trump, and her older sister Ines grew up.

Srecko Ocvirk, mayor of Sevnica, is very pleased with this development. "We are just off the main route, and now more people are coming here. Melania is a role model for young girls. She shows how much one can achieve," he says.

Melania's parents have also moved to the US, the mayor explains. But they regularly come back for trips to their hometown and are still a part of the local society. Down in the city center, near the Sava River, everyone knows Melania.

"Of course we are proud of her, I think she is doing good work for Sevnica and Slovenia," says Moyca Jevsevar, a clerk.

"It would be great for our country if she would become the first lady. This way people would be more aware of Slovenia in the world," points out truck driver Boris Stamulak.

Author Igor Omerza Copyright: DW/S. Daus

Rumors that her father was a member of the Communist Party are true, according to author Igor Omerza

Father was a communist

Clearly, Slovenia has Melania fever. Former parliamentarian Igor Omerza has written a biography about the former model, together with the journalist Bojan Pozar.

According to their research, the rumors that her father Victor was a member of the Communist Party are true - a controversial issue for US Republicans.

"Viktor Knavs was not an active communist, he joined the party because it helped him," Omerza explains. "Melania and her sister had a good upbringing. Their parents took very good care of their daughters."

Omerza believes Melania would be perfect for the role of US first lady. "She is used to being in public, she dresses well and looks good. In addition, she's unpretentious. She would be a very good first lady," he says.

'Quiet, normal girl, not artificial'

Peter Butoln claims to have been Melania's first boyfriend Copyright: DW/S. Daus

Peter Butoln claims to have been her first boyfriend

With its 2 million inhabitants, Slovenia is a small Central European country. And many Slovenians are now claiming to have known Melania when she was younger.

Peter Butoln, a 47-year-old public relations specialist, claims to have been her first boyfriend. He said they met in Ljubljana and took rides on his Vespa. He says he plans to soon sell the vehicle to the highest bidder at an auction.

"She was a quiet and normal girl, not artificial," says Butoln, showing off a postcard signed "Melania." He says the then 16-year-old sent it to him from a vacation with her parents on the Adriatic Sea.

When he looks at her photos on the internet today, he lets out an admiring sigh. Back then, they lost touch because he had to do his military service. Today, he's married and has children.

Photographer Stane Jerko Copyright: DW/S. Daus

"I think she would be a fashion icon as a first lady": fashion photographer Stane Jerko

'Proud to have discovered her'

"She had a great long legs and beautiful long hair," says Stane Jerko, 79, a fashion photography pioneer in the former Yugoslavia. He discovered Melania when she was 17, while he was choosing new models in Ljubljana.

After Melania's first photo sessions in 1987, she turned her focus to her studies. But Jerko's photos eventually got the attention of the big modeling agencies, and she was eventually able to get work in Milan and Paris.

Jerko believes Melania didn't become a top model because she was shy and rarely went to parties. "She was conscious of her health and body. When she moved to the US in the 1990s, she kept her work discipline," he remembers. "A modeling friend invited her to a fashion show where she met Donald Trump." The couple married in 2005.

"I think she would be a fashion icon as a first lady," says Jerko "Like Jackie O. or Michelle Obama. Any designer would want her to wear their designs. I am proud to have discovered her."

Sevnica Copyright: DW/S. Daus

Melania grew up in the small town on the banks of the Sava River

Future first lady?

Today, Melania Trump - who has been a US citizen since 2006 - enjoys plenty of comfort and luxury, living with her husband and 10-year-old son Barron in a Manhattan penthouse at Trump Tower. Although the soon to be 46-year-old loves being a "full-time mother," she also has time for her own jewelry and cosmetics line.

She rarely travels to Slovenia, but sometimes Slovenians come to see her in the US. "When I was the candidate for my country in the elections for Miss Universe in 2006, I met Melania and Donald in Los Angeles," recalls Natasa Pinoza. "Look, there's someone from your hometown, from Sevnica," Donald said to his wife Melania, who then spoke to her in Slovenian - for Pinoza, a beautiful memory.

"Melania Trump would not only make a good first lady, but one of the best," says Pinoza. "She's calm, patient and doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve."

The fact that Melania Trump might become the next first lady of the US makes many in her native country very proud - in her hometown, at least.

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