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A WHIMSICAL JOURNEY - THE GERMAN FAIRY TALE ROUTE
 
(2014 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: JOSEPHINE MATYAS



Two centuries after publication, the book of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm is just hitting its stride.

The first run of 900 copies began as an academic study in linguistics—far from a bestseller as it rolled off the printing press—and took 20 years to move through the bookstores. It was only after the German brothers added illustrations and fiddled with some of the endings (making “happily ever after” the norm) that the public cottoned on to the appeal of the fairy tales and sales exploded worldwide.

Armed with the popular fairy tales, cobblestone streets, dark and secret forests and a few medieval castles, the tourism fairy added some spit and polish and came up with the 600-kilometre German Fairy Tale Route. It’s authentic. It’s historical. And it’s just what the imagination ordered.

Hanau

Once upon a time there were two brothers who were born in the city of Hanau, just outside Frankfurt. In the marketplace, the statue of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm marks the beginning of the official Fairy Tale Route, one of Germany’s oldest holiday routes.

“The brothers studied justice when they were older, but their hobbies were always books,” explains Dr. Wolfgang Hasenpusch, a city guide. “In all, they collected several hundred fairy tales, but a handful are the most famous—tales like The Frog King, Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel. We celebrate the Brothers Grimm in Hanau with a summertime fairy-tale festival and open-air plays.”

With the warm weather, tourists and the people of Hanau come out in droves to watch the magical performances. Richly coloured fabrics imported from India are stitched into sumptuous costumes, German directors vie for the honours and professional actors from all across Europe audition for a part in one of the season’s four productions.

Steinau

When the brothers were school age, their family moved to Steinau, a small town of half-timbered houses and narrow cobblestone laneways, where their father worked as a local administrator. Their 16th-century home survived the bombings of the Second World War intact and has been transformed into a museum, the Brüder Grimm-Haus Steinau.

The two-storey museum is a snapshot in the life of the two brothers and their seven siblings. The Grimm’s kitchen would feel familiar to many readers—the brothers used it as a template for many of the tales. There are dioramas of the fairy tale favourites including Red Riding Hood and Snow White, original illustrations, a collection of rare books and iPod recordings, which you can listen to by donning a golden crown headset.

Steinau has dedicated itself to the celebration of the Grimms. A whimsical fountain in the town square incorporates Rapunzel’s golden hair, a tall stone tower and a frog king that is half frog and half man. Steps away from the square, the town castle houses a collection of Grimm family photos.

Marburg

Drawn to university at Marburg, the brothers studied under Professor Friedrich Carl von Savigny who fuelled their fascination with history and preoccupation with linguistics. While studying justice, Jacob and Wilhelm began to collect historical stories and old German manuscripts—through languages they found their way to fairy tales. The tales were filled with information on diverse living conditions of the 19th century plus the ideals and morals of the time.

“The Grimms learned that language is the property of mankind and that language is based on human heritage,” says historical guide Anngret Hoffmann-Meschede who leads walks through the medieval city. “They studied and found judicial structures in the fairy tales.”

Trendelburg and Sababurg

The medieval castles in the villages of Trendelburg and Sababurg mark the halfway point on the Fairy Tale Route. Visitors can overnight at the castle Trendelburg—originally a knight’s castle—peeking into the ancient dungeon and dreaming (as the Brothers Grimm did) of how Rapunzel lowered her golden locks from the imposing stone tower.

In neighbouring Sababurg, the architecture of the castle is a perfect match for the Grimm’s text of Sleeping Beauty: there is a tower where the princess fell into a deep sleep and thousands of white rose blooms clinging to the stone walls opened and allowed the prince to pass through.

Kassel

It was in the city of Kassel that the Brothers Grimm intensified their mission to protect traditional folk tales from being forgotten. The large Brothers Grimm Museum is dedicated to the role of fairy tales as well as the work of the two brothers. Visitors can browse through original illustrations, letters and a manuscript of the initial 1812 edition with no illustrations (the archive is on the UNESCO World Document Heritage List).

To the Grimms, language was a pathway that traced the development of history. They collected old documents and looked to the traditional folk tales that were told from generation to generation. Jacob and Wilhelm may have collected them with a scholarly eye to their meanings, but eventually they were able to realize widespread commercial success.

Which just goes to prove: a slow start to sales can be overcome and you might just live happily ever after.

Grimm Facts

The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales have been translated into 170 languages and are the most popular German books in print.

The characters in traditional German fairy tales have special significance: The forest is an enchanted place, symbolic of dreams and desires. The wolf is a creature with two faces. The dove signifies beauty and gentleness. The raven gives sage advice.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit germany.travel and german-fairytaleroute.com.

 
 
 
 
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