Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, scholars and linguists, scoured Germany and beyond to find lessons and warnings hidden in oral accounts that, for centuries, were passed from generation to generation. They immortalized that folklore and forever memorialized those accounts into the worlds’ most beloved stories.
This December marks the 200th anniversary of their first book: Tales of Children and Home. According to information from the Deutsche Marchenstrasse (German Fairy Street) the first book appeared in 1812 and is officially a UNESCO Memory of the World Document. And, rightfully so. The book, in a more modern form, sits on every library shelf (and in every language) around the globe. The original is in the Grimm Museum. Next year Germany and the Deutsche Marchenstrasse Association celebrate this milestone with Grimm 2013. The website (www.german-fairytaleroute.com) lists the events.
Relive those stories and the Grimm brothers’ history on the almost 373-mile German Fairy Tale Route that runs through the scenic and magical states of Hesse, Lower-Saxony and the city-state of Bremen.
These memorable tales fascinated people then, now and probably forever. That’s probably why German officials mapped out the official Fairy Tale Route in 1975. Since then, visitors live the stories where they originated and see the cities and towns where the brothers lived, researched and wrote.
During the last few years there’s been a cinematic resurrection of those magical tales. Once Upon a Time, an ABC television show takes viewers to a magical land hidden in Storybrooke, Maine. It includes many of Grimm’s heroes and villains. Grimm, an NBC television show, focuses on a varied and darker version of those stories.
On the bigger screen Charlize Theron plays the wicked queen in Snow White and the Huntsmen while Julia Roberts takes on a similar role in Mirror Mirror.
Once Upon a City or Town ...
Every great story has a beginning, middle and end - even the Fairy Tale Route, which officially starts only 20 minutes from Frankfurt in Hanau and nearby Steinau, and ends in Bremen. Some may opt to start in Bremen and end in Hanau. You’ll enjoy the trip no matter where you begin. No worries, fairy-tale themed road signs will help guide the way. Hanau is reachable by train from Frankfurt and although it is possible to reach the towns by train, it is much easier and faster to rent a car.
Those who want to savor the experience should plan on spending one entire week savoring the mapped route, says Deutsche Maerchenstrasse Marketing Director, Brigitte Buchholz-Bloedow.
Even one week might not be enough for some. There are specific stops along the road, but some have seasonal festivals, reenactments, parades, parties and appearances. Although the route always includes stops in Hanau, Steinau, Marburg, Kassel, Sababurg, Trendelburg, Hannoverische-Muenden, Hameln and Bremen, additional festivities also occur somewhere along the route. It’s important to check the websites for ongoing and seasonal activities.
Once in Germany get to Hanau, where Jacob and Wilhelm were born in 1785 and 1786. Here you’ll see the Grimm Brothers National Monument, which officially starts the Fairy Tale Route. Buchholz-Bloedow also recommends visiting the Goldsmith Museum and the Hessian Doll Museum while in Hanau. Spend the first night nearby in one of the area’s hotels (listed with this article).
When choosing accommodations, opt for one of the many restored castles or at least one with a castle view. It’ll make the journey even more authentic. Even better, you’ll have the same view as the Grimm brothers. Who knows, maybe you’re sleeping where they found one of their stories.
Steinau is the first stop after Hanau, about 32 miles away. Jacob and Wilhelm lived and wrote there. The Brueder Grimm-Haus or the House of the Brothers Grimm, is now a museum run by Herr Burkhard Kling. A visit here will launch you into a fairy tale mentality.
Steinau’s 16th century castle sits behind a lively marketplace, its center a fairy-tale fountain honoring Jacob Grimm. According to Buchholz-Bloedow’s information, Steinau, “is a lovely, dreamy small village with framework houses....” There are also puppet plays and a devil’s cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. It’s a fair guess the boys found lots of story fodder in this old city.
Herr Kling said that portions of the museum are so well preserved the Jacob and Wilhelm would recognize their home. “...Visitors are able to feel a little bit of the world of the childhood of the Grimm children.”
“The ground floor ... shows the time, the area and the life of the Brothers Grimm. Also, there is something about the political work and their work as scientists in language,” Kling tells us. “The whole upper floor, with 10 rooms, is dedicated to the fairy tales... you can see, you can hear, you can feel fairy tales.”
“Once upon a time there was a dear little girl who was loved by everyone who looked at her, but most of all by her grandmother, and there was nothing that she would not have given to the child. Once she gave her a little cap of red velvet, which suited her so well that she would never wear anything else; so she was always called ‘Little Red-Cap.’” - Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Brothers Grimm.
After your visit, wander 41 miles into the Alsfeld realm. Yes, Alsfeld is known all over the planet as Little Red Riding Hood’s neighborhood. She’s better known in Germany as “Rotkappchen,” literally Little Red Cap. She even has her own museum. Alsfeld old city is filled with half-timbered houses and a City Hall built in 1512. Maybe, just maybe you’ll see Red or her granny, even if only in statue form.
The next stop, 28 miles farther, is Marburg, an old university town. Marburg is considered the Cradle of German Romanticism and, where the two brothers studied. From Marburg, head toward Kassel, via Baunatal, Homberg and Fritzlar. Kassel, 56 miles from Marburg, is the center of the Fairy Tale Route and offers half or full day fairy tale tours that include, among others, Mother Goose and Sleeping Beauty. Red Riding Hood makes another appearance here too.
Kassel is also home to the Deutsche Marchenstrasse and the Brueder Grimm Museum, run by Herr Dr. Bernhard Lauer, Brother Grimm’s Museum Director and Secretary General of the International Association of the Brothers Grimm. Both museums have original material from the Jacob and Wilhelm, so make sure and visit both.
The Grimm stories are known around the world, Lauer said. He did a bit of research and estimates that between 1812 and 2012 about one billion copies were published. Lauer notes that the brothers “kept detailed documentation of all their sources, from India to Europe, from the past to their present in Hesse.”
Unlike Hans Christian Anderson, the brothers kept their stories short and to the point. “They are meant to be short. When the message is done, the story ends.” The messages were sometimes cautionary and often times moral. Hansel and Gretel wander away from home, prodded by a less-than-loving mother. In the end, using their wits, they turn the tables on the witch and push her into the oven. OK, a bit dark, but stay close to home, don’t talk to strangers and keep your wits about you are messages that came through loud and clear in that one.
After leaving Kassel, go directly to Baunatal and find the Brauhaus Knallhuette. Have a meal at this 18th century pub where storyteller Dorothea Viehmann lived. She shared her stories with Jacob and Wilhelm and her tales appears in their books. Lucky diners may just catch a glimpse of “Dorothea Viehmann” sharing a yarn or two. Please don’t miss this one.
From there, head about 20 miles toward Trendelburg and Polle. The castle there sits on a rock and rises above the Diemel Valley. Stay if possible and immerse yourself in all that is magical. Every castle, every forest and every road will remind you of Aschenputtel (Cinderella), Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstilzchen and Schneewittchen (Snow White).
From Trendelburg, drive six miles to Sababurg, located in North Hesse’s Forest of Reinhardswald. Immerse yourself in the splendor of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. If there’s time, visit the local theater and cultural center.
If you can pull yourself away from Kassel, Trendelburg and Sababurg, head 12.5 miles to Hannoverische-Muenden. The German Fairy Tale Route information states that it is “one of the seven most beautifully situated towns in the world.” (Yes, that’s believable, but then again most of Germany’s cities and towns are breathtaking.)
From Hannoverische-Muenden head 37.5 miles toward Fuerstenberg. The castle here is perched on a cliff and hangs over the River Weser, offering a breathtaking view. Furstenberg also has an operating porcelain factory that is more than 250 years old and still produces some of the best porcelain in Europe.
Polle, only 16 miles from Fuerstenberg, is home to Cinderella. Fairy tale festivals occur from May to September. Not to worry if you miss this one, there are other seasonal events.
Twenty-two more miles takes you to Hameln. Sound familiar? This is home to the Pied Piper of Hameln.
Wait a while and you’ll see the elf ish Pied Piper blowing into his flute and luring the town’s children away. Bad Oeynhausen, 31 miles past the Pied Piper, is a resort town. There are spas, gardens, regal buildings, a magical water park and theater and even another fairy tale museum.
The last stop (or the first) is Bremen, 75 miles from Bad Oeynhausen. Bremen, home of Beck’s Beer, is so full of history it’s a good idea to stay more than a day. Walk through the center and visit the Bremen City Musicians. The statue of four animals, one atop the other, is yet another fairy tale immortalized in bronze.
Have lunch or dinner in the 600-year-old Ratskeller. It’s about 14 steps away from the Bremen Musicians. Before you go, rub the foot of the statue. You’ll know where, it’s worn to a golden sheen from all those who have rubbed before.
You’ve ended the Fairy Tale Route in Bremen, but not the Grimm’s Fairy Tale Journey. As Herr Kling said so aptly, “The Fairy Tale collection of the Brothers Grimm is not just a book for children, it’s a book for us all!”