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"Big Ben" touches down in the Emmental

Patted calf: Ben Roethlisberger (left) with a two-day old calf, which he named Benita Keystone

American football star Ben Roethlisberger has visited the home of his ancestors who emigrated from the Emmental region to the United States more than 130 years ago.

This content was published on May 8, 2006 - 18:41

His trip to Switzerland is part of a special Swiss Roots campaign organised by the government and the tourist board.

Accompanied by his family, the 24-year-old quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers was welcomed by the mayor and the people of the farming community of Lauperswil. The village lies in the Emmental region east of the Swiss capital Bern.

Roethlisberger's great-great-grandfather had left Lauperswil in 1873 and emigrated to the US in search of a better future.

"Big Ben", who in February led the Steelers to victory in the Super Bowl, told reporters on Monday that he was beginning to feel at home in the country of his ancestors.

The mayor of Lauperswil, Bendicht Loosli, in his welcoming speech pledged to learn English if Roethlisberger promised to come back at a later date.

Officials said they hoped Roethlisberger's highly publicised trip to the Emmental region – famous for its cheese – would encourage many of his compatriots to follow in his footsteps.

Soccer and football

On Sunday Roethlisberger visited Bern and was a special guest at a soccer match and also a football match. His Swiss tour, which ends on Thursday, also includes a trip to the mountains and to Zurich, Switzerland's largest city.

Roethlisberger is the first personality from the United States to visit Switzerland as part of the Swiss Roots campaign organised jointly by a Swiss foreign ministry agency, the tourist board and the Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.

The aim of the campaign is to reach out to the more than one million Americans with Swiss ancestry.

Other events of the high-profile campaign in the US include an exhibition on immigration and a road show visiting some of the thousands of town with Swiss names.

Swiss Roots was officially launched in Washington at the end of March, with the unveiling of a website to help Americans trace their Swiss forefathers.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

One of the main aims of the Swiss Roots campaign is to motivate Americans of Swiss origin to discover the homeland of their ancestors and get in touch with Swiss relatives.

Swiss Roots also offers a platform for exchange between the US and Switzerland in various fields such as politics, business, culture adnd education.

There are about one million Americans of Swiss descent and about 5,000 towns and cities have Swiss names.

Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin will open the Ellis Island exhibition "Small Number - Big Impact", in at the end of July 2006.

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