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Germany's Southern Fairy Tale Route

Article and photos by Renee S. Gordon

 "Once upon a time." That phrase serves as a signal that the listener is about to enter a magical realm filled with fantastic tales that will, no matter how harrowing, end with the characters living "happily ever after." From 2013-2015 Germany is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the December 20, 1812 publication of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's fairy tale collection titled "Children's and Household Tales." Though they were not the first to gather folktales, that distinction is usually attributed to Charles Perrault who published eight French stories in 1697, it is their works that have been published in 140 languages and this year the first edition was listed n the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Witch costume
Witch Costume

Germany is focusing on the cities where the brothers lived, worked and wrote and the very real places where the stories were set. The Fairy Tale Route includes not only the towns and villages mentioned but has the added attraction of including Grimms Brothers themed accommodations, dining establishments, festivals, events, museums and historic sites. To the pleasure of many travelers the itinerary can include nights spent in a castle and more than 330 restaurants serving meals made from recipes that belonged to Wilhelm's wife Dorothea. The route is 372-miles long, from Hanau to Bremen, and includes more than 45 towns and villages and each town presents specific aspects of their lives and careers.  For those wishing to leave the planning to someone else organized tours can be booked online and for as little as $80 per night you can enjoy one of the featured vacations in "Great Holidays on a Small Budget." The brochure is available online

Hanau, a mere 17-miles from the Frankfurt Airport, the beginning of the southern portion of the route, is the natural starting point because it is the city of their birth and early childhood. The Grimm family resided in Hanau as early as the 1500s. A historic marker at Freiheitsplatz, once 1 Paradeplatz, indicates the location of their birth home, destroyed in WWII. In 1896 an iconic bronze monument depicting the two brothers was erected in the Neustadt Market Square 

The annual Brothers Grimm Fairytales Festival is held here from May through July in the amphitheater at Philippsruhe Castle. The town is first documented in 1143 but the baroque palace and gardens were constructed in 1701 for Philipp Reinhard von Hanau-Lichtenberg. The festival has been held since 1985.              

Long before the birth of Hanau's most famous citizens the city was referred to as "The Gold and Silver City." At the beginning of the 1300s gold and silversmiths settled in Hanau and by the end of the 16th-century Dutch and Belgian goldsmiths had founded New Town and established the Gold and Silversmith's Guild. The German Goldsmith's House, a museum interpreting this historic period, is located inside the former 1537 City Hall. On exhibit are examples of the jeweler's art and a century old metal workshop. Hanau offers visitors nine museums and several types of guided tours including walks with the Brothers Grimm.             

The Grimm family relocated  -miles to Steinau in 1791. At that time Steinau was on the most important overland trade route between Frankfurt and Leipzig. The 43-mile journey from Frankfurt took two days and traders often stopped over here. The city is a gem and visitors feel they have stepped into the middle of a fairytale. The oldest structure was constructed in 1520 and the winding lanes frame half-timbered houses and stone streets.        

Jacob and Wilhelm's father, Philipp Wilhelm Grimm, a lawyer, was appointed a district magistrate for the Count of Hanau and he and his wife Dorothea moved into the local magistrate's house. The family lived on the first floor and court was held on the second floor.              

The 1562 Renaissance House of the Brothers Grimm has been a museum since 1998 dedicated to presenting the family life and works of the brothers. Inside the 2-story museum there are 9 galleries but the tour begins in the courtyard with a portion of the original road complete with wagon ruts on display.

The kitchen has the original wood, door and sink, the furnishings are from the era but not original to the house. Additional exhibits on the first level include family portraits, the scientific works of the brothers and a room with the artwork of their brother Ludwig Emil, a noted artist of the time.

Brothers Grimm Museum Steinau
Brothers Grimm Museum in Steinau

Second floor exhibits focus on the fairytales and the first gallery features rare copies of pre-Grimm fairy tales. Gallery two highlights the Grimm Brothers as collectors of existing folktales for purposes of academic study. There is no copy of their first book on display. It was published for libraries and scientific study, with 58 pages of commentary. There is a first edition from 1823 and the two-volume edition, illustrated by Ludwig Emil, containing 50 stories. Additional highlights on this level include a gallery of shoebox-sized dioramas of scenes from the tales, a witches' costume from Humperdink's opera "Hansel and Gretel" and a small theater for plays or weddings. The final room gives visitors a chance to put on a crown for a photo op. 

Philipp died in January of 1796 and Dorothea was forced to move with her six children to Hutten'schen Hospital, the local poor house, built in 1616. The house still stands and is today the Cafe Restaurant Rosengarten. After getting enough money Dorothea moved the family to an area in the Alte Kellerei, a wine cellar. Though the brothers left in 1798 this is the town that receives credit for shaping their lives. In 2006 it was designated the "Town of the Brothers Grimm." 

Steinau's main street is Bruder Grimm Strasse and the historic sites are all within easy walking distance of this street. Their grandfather preached at St. Catharine's Reformed Church for 47-years. His tombstone is in the rear of the church. The nearby 1690 vicarage was both the home of their grandparents and their father's birthplace. 

The stellar location on the walking tour is the Market Plaza. Located here is the circular columned memorial Fairytale Fountain erected in 1985 for the bicentennial of Jacob's birth. The column is adorned with bronze fairytale figures so detailed that you can see the frog actually turning into a king. 

Two of the most interesting sites are the Witches' Tower and a dunking cage. The tower was used to imprison people suspected of being witches. To obtain a confession they were placed inside the cage and dunked into the river until they drowned or confessed. 

A great place to stop for a while is the family owned marionette theater, "Der Holzkoppe," the "Woodenheads." The theater puts on productions daily and many of their plays are tales from the Grimms. Their gift shop is filled with unique objects and the walls are adorned with marionettes from all over the world. 

Steinau offers several themed tours including one-of-a-kind tours led by characters from the tales. What makes these tours so special is the fact that they take the approach that some characters are treated unfairly, the 7 dwarves were not even invited to the wedding, etc. You will love it.

Steinau  Tour Guide
 Steinau Guide

One of the lesser-known but significant towns along the route is Marburg. Jacob Grimm attended college in Marburg from 1802-1805 and Wilhelm from 1803-1806. The university was founded in 1527 as the first Protestant university in the country.  

Two indelibly important events occurred there. It is believed that in Marburg they became committed to the idea of "wohngemeinschaft," communal living, and never again lived apart for any extensive period of time. When Wilhelm wed in 1825 his wife and children were part of the household and the children referred to Jacob as "also father". 

Equally significantly it was at the university that they were inspired by Professor Carl von Savigny to develop their love of the German language and to gather and codify folktales and songs. The Marburg years were filled with scholarly interaction and intellectual discourse that greatly influenced their lives.  

Marburg is a true fairytale town that seems to be arrested in time, and in some ways it is, having escaped bombing in WWII. The streets are steep and filled with winding stairs, medieval architecture, cafes and shops, all set on the rising mountainside. The Altstadt or Old Town pedestrian zone is accessible by elevator, the only such elevator in Germany.

Marburg Home of the Grimm Brothers
Marburg Home of the Grimm Brothers

St. Elizabeth's Cathedral, the earliest pure Gothic hall church in the nation, is now a Protestant parish church. The church was built in the Lower Town by the Teutonic knights in honor of Elizabeth of Thuringia who was canonized in 1235 as a result of her good works for the impoverished. During medieval times the church was painted red to symbolize love. A triptych inside the church and the Gothic stained glass windows relate St. Elizabeth's story. 

Highlights of the interior are a crucifix by Ernst Barlach that a parishioner hid during the war because Hitler declared it degenerate art, 13th-century wall paintings and the elaborately decorated Golden Shrine of the Holy Elizabeth dating from 1240. The pilgrimage route taken from the church to the Market Square required that the poor walk on the left, nobility on the right and pilgrims in the center.  

The start of the tour is the former half-timbered home of the brothers at Barfüßerstraße 35. The house was built circa 1600. In 1946 it served as the hiding place of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. Adjacent to the apartment is Wendlegasse, a steep-stepped alley that leads to the university.  

The fortified, Gothic and Renaissance, Landgrave Castle was erected around 1122 AD in a highly strategic location at the junction of valleys and 3 rivers. Tours of the castle are offered. The Museum of Cultural History is located in the East Wing and currently they are featuring an outstanding exhibit on the Brothers Grimm, "Authentic Hessian? Land, Living, Fairy Stories."  

This exhibit explores the characters, themes, motifs, moral concepts, philosophy and cultural implications in the stories. The oral tales were written down by the brothers originally as academicians. This is a wonderful and thought-provoking exhibition presented in several interactive galleries.  Emphasis is placed on the recurrence of the wicked stepmother, the forest as both shelter and menace and the lack of upward mobility in medieval society. 

Great places to dine are abundant but there are, as always, several you should not miss.  Two are historic enough to have been frequented by the Grimms. Zur Sonne, The Sun, is located in the Market Square and dates from the mid-1500s. It serves traditional German cuisine. Restaurant Weinladle is situated in the Old Town at the foot of the path from the castle. The restaurant focuses on seasonal local dishes and offers more than 60 wines. 

Marburg has designed several trails that follow in the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm but no matter which you choose be certain to purchase a Marburg Frog King. The frog is designed to accompany you on your Fairy Tale Route travels and he loves photo ops! Information on the Frog King and visiting Marburg is detailed on the website.

The Frog King-Icon
The Frog King-Icon

Trendelburg Castle is situated on a crag high above the Diemel Valley overlooking the village of the same name. The earliest records of the town or castle date from 1303 when the site is noted as "Trindirberg." The castle was built as a knight's castle, a moated stronghold from which to control his property. The chapel was the first portion of the building that was completed and the remainder of the castle was built around it. The banquet hall on the lower level retains its original appearance. 

A tower was constructed in the 1220s and it is believed to have been the model for Rapunzel's Tower. Tours of the tower are achieved via steep winding stairs. The dungeon was on a lower level and prisoners were lowered into it. At the top of the tower visitors are greeted by Rapunzel and invited into her tiny chamber.

Rapunzel's Tower
Rapunzel's Tower

During WWII US troops occupied the castle. In 1949 the castle was transformed into the first-class Hotel Burg Trendleburg. The service is excellent, breakfast is included, WIFI is free and the view from the restaurant is incredible.  Each room has a private bath and upon arrival the coverlet is folded into the shape of a heart and placed on the canopy bed. The facility can be rented for meetings and weddings. 

The Grimms stated that the years they spent in Kassel, totaling almost thirty, were their happiest and most fruitful and they considered it their homeland. After the death of their father their aunt took them from Steinau to Kassel in 1798 to receive a better education. In the early 1800s the brothers moved back to Kassel after attending school in Marburg. They worked as court librarians in the Fridericianum Museum while they published their academic studies and German folktales and worked on completing a German dictionary.  

Nine hundred volumes of the first edition of "Tales of Children and the Home" fairytale book were published in 1812. It was not immediately successful and it took 20-years to sell them. The book was designated a UNESCO Memory of the World document in 2013. 

The premier anniversary exhibition is being held in the Documenta Hall from April 27 through September 8, 2013. Expedition Grimm 2013 is located on two levels with the first level exhibits interpreting their personal lives, careers, politics and works through extensive use of artifacts, personal belongings, manuscripts and memorabilia.  

On the lower level visitors encounter nine adventure trails each with its own interactive station. After completing the activities at a station you receive a stamp. An exhibition highlight is a 3-D model of the brother's apartment. A diagram is outlined on the floor and as you step into a room it appears, fully detailed, on a screen. By moving your hand you can rotate the room to obtain different views. 

The Baroque Bellevue Palace was built in 1714. It was purchased by the city in 1956 for use as an art museum and in 1972 it became home to the Brothers Grimm Museum. The extraordinary item here is Jacob and Wilhelm's, personal, hand-annotated copies of their first book. 

Europe's largest mountain park, Berpark Wilhelmshohe, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in June of 2013. Its induction was based on its being deemed "an outstanding and unique example of monumental water structures."  

The Landgrave Carl constructed the Hercules monument and accompanying water structures on a hill that was once a volcano beginning in 1689. Water flows from the octagonal base of the 231-ft. statue down the hillside into a large lake. Visitors can follow the watercourse by walking down a series of 585 steps.  The park also includes Lion's Castle, several spectacular waterfalls, a museum and the Grand Fountain, a 164-ft. geyser. Kaiser Wilhelm often visited the park, as it is believed, did the Brothers Grimm.

 Hercules steps
Hercules steps

Kassel's 4-stat Hotel Gude is a perfect stop on the route. The hotel has all the standard amenities and offers fine dining, nonsmoking rooms, free parking and conference spaces and the hotel has embraced the Brothers Grimm's place as iconic figures. Huge portraits of them grace the hotel's façade, encased in the lobby is a copy of their German language dictionary and words from the dictionary are etched on the floor. Hotel Gude's greatest homage to the brothers is the Grimm's Brother dinner presented in the restaurant based on Dorothea Grimm's recipes. 

We are going to end our southern Fairy Tale Route tour with what was the first site visitors connected with the fairytales. People saw the strong architectural resemblance between Dornoröschenschloss Sababurg and the castle of Sleeping Beauty in the tales in the 1890s and began coming to the area to picnic and visit the castle. A National Tokens souvenir coin has been issued that pictures the Brothers Grimm on one side and Sleeping Beauty's Castle on the reverse side. 

The Sleeping Beauty Castle, 13-miles from Kassel, is truly worthy of a fairytale. The castle is situated in an oak forest and the views of it and from it are magnificent. In the early 14th-century a miracle occurred in Gottsbüren 3-miles away. Suddenly the road was filled with travelers and in 1334 Dornroeschenschloss Sababurg was constructed by the Archbishop of Mainz to protect the religious pilgrims on their way to Gottsbüren. In 1490 a hunting castle was built on the site and abandoned in the 1800s. The structure began to crumble from neglect and soon the turrets and towers were covered with impenetrable foliage. In 1955 a private family restored it and the seeds of the route were sown.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Sleeping Beauty's Castle

The castle and gardens are available for an eleven-stop Sleeping Beauty tour that begins just outside of the tower and inner courtyard. The tower is partially covered by a beautiful, sprawling rosebush, one of the largest in Germany. Sculptured icons indicate the stops and visitors are treated to the sight of the sleeping King, Queen, servants and even the flies on the wall. Showcased in the garden is a unique sculpture of the Brothers Grimm.  

Dornroeschenschloss Sababurg is today also a boutique hotel and a visit to the tower can be truly immersive. A spinning wheel greets you as you begin to ascend the winding tower stairs. Guests can lodge in the tower in fairytale rooms with ultra-modern amenities. Rooms retain their original animal names and are designated by pictures because servants were not literate at that time. Suffice it to say that these rooms are romantic in unusual ways that I am not allowed to divulge because the hotel wishes to "surprise" the guests. A stay here is the stay of a lifetime.    

There are more than 1,000 pieces of Sleeping Beauty artwork throughout the hotel and a full roster of concerts, dramatic presentations and events is scheduled. The restaurant serves an outstanding gourmet meal of regional cuisine based on Dorothea's more than 400 recipes.

 Other adventures near the castle are Tierpark Sababurg, established in 1571, Europe's oldest zoological gardens and the forest of Reinhardwald.              

 A river runs through it aptly describes Frankfurt as the city is bisected by the River Main. It is the largest and most international and cosmopolitan city in Germany. It has the biggest shopping street in the country and the cutting-edge American and international designers are represented on Goethestrasse, the most exclusive street. There are more than 40 museums, 13 of which are strung out along Museum Row.

Frankfurt View
 Frankfurt View

Archeologists have uncovered evidence of human habitation around 3,000 BC but the first mention of the city is in 794 AD. The city's name was derived from the fact that the French (Franks) forded the Main River there.  In 1342 it became a free imperial city and 14-years later Frankfurt Cathedral started holding the elections of Germany's kings. In 1806 the city walls were converted to parks and now the city has a 44-mile greenbelt around it. During WWII Frankfurt suffered great damage, prior to WWII it was the best-preserved city in the world and there are plans to reconstruct Old Town following the original footprint. 

Sightseeing in Frankfurt is a joy because it so easy. Many of the sites are within walking distance, there is an excellent public transit system and Hop On-Hop Off Tours are regularly scheduled. Additionally visitors an purchase the Frankfurt Card that offers free travel on public transit and shopping, museum and restaurant reductions from 20-50%. 

The Brothers Grimm are credited with creating the phrases, "Once upon a time" and "They lived happily ever after." They were lawyers, linguists, scholars and most of all, to the world's children, collectors of folktales. If you follow the Fairytale Route you will see the places that shaped them and the landscapes that influenced them. You can follow the fantasy. Planning tools are available at the websites listed.


If you enjoyed this article take a 
Virtual Personal Tour of Heidelberg Germany and its castles.

 Get a copy of Grimms Fairy Tales They make a great gift for children or a great memory for adults.


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