Germany Holidays: The Brothers Grimm

Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were deliberately obscure when it comes to nitty-gritty detail.

Their stories are some of the most famous folk tales and fairy tales in the world. Hänsel and Gretel, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Snow White, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, amongst many, many others, most of which have long since been re-versioned by the likes of Disney, given happier endings and become universal stories. But these tales were originally sourced from rural village life in western Germany by two academics who spent their childhood days in the countryside north-east of Frankfurt, and their adult years at universities in Kassel and Göttingen. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

The Grimms were story collectors, not authors. Most of what they published was already widely known, and very generic (‘Once there was a rich man….’) and several probably originated in France, but there are also stories that have become associated with certain locations, and that is what concerns us here. And some are distributed along what the German Tourist Board markets as the ‘Fairytale Road’ (Deutsche Märchenstrasse), which begins in Bremen and ends at Hanau, where the Brothers were born.

The Grimms were story collectors, not authors

In Bremen itself, there’s the story of the Town Musicians, four ageing animals who outwit a gang of robbers. In Hamelin, to the south, it’s the turn of the Pied Piper (for more detail see the North section of this website).

The 15th century Sababurg Castle, between Kassel and Göttingen in the Weserbergland hills, is supposedly Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and the neighbouring town of Hofgeismar is meant to be her birthplace. Meanwhile Kassel itself has a museum dedicated to the brothers and their work.

Bad Wildungen, a mining district south-west of Kassel, was once the home to Margarethe von Waldeck, a count’s daughter who was poisoned at a young age and it is believed that her fate inspired the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And the Schwalm region just to the south is considered to be the birthplace of Little Red Riding Hood, while Amönau, further west, has what’s known as Rapunzel’s Tower, although the direct connections to the tale of that name remain obscure.

Of course, the actual origins of all these stories are eminently debatable, with the Brothers on the whole careful to avoid mention of specific locations within the texts. When they do (as in Bremen and Hamelin) tourism can benefit considerably, but Swabia, a region south of Stuttgart, probably regrets the way its people are portrayed in another rare case of naming names: the Grimms’ story of the Seven Swabians, in which the seven travel the world looking for adventure but constantly make fools of themselves. Lampooning specific populations in this manner probably wouldn’t be politically correct today.

With the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Grimm’s Fairytales, 2013 is going to be a Grimm year. More details are here.

The Grimms Museum in Kassel.

Kassel’s tourist office has a Grimm page.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Western Germany

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