The Fairy Tale Road: Germany’s Grimm family adventure

(Photo: Stadt Kassel)

GERMANYMarch 8, 2014 – In 2012 Germany celebrated the 200th anniversary of the contributions of the brothers Grimm to the realm of children’s literature throughout the world.

Today, the Fairy Tale Road, which exists only as an imaginary route tracing the sites where the stories originated, is a serpentine 400 mile “path” through the back roads and countryside of Hesse and Lower Saxony. Once upon a time, Volume I of several books was published called Children’s and Household Tales. While the title might not send you racing to, it was a collection of children’s stories now known worldwide as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The collection was the collaborative work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm who published 86 stories in their first manuscript. Among them were familiar tales including Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Thumblina (Tom Thumb), Little Briar-Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Snow White and The Fox and The Geese.

Steinau along the Fairy Tale Road  (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)
Steinau along the Fairy Tale Road (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)

Germany Fairytale Road

For lovers of quaint villages and towns nestled amid pastoral landscapes, this is an ideal tour for parents and grandparents seeking to relive their childhood and for children to explore the sights where the stories took place.

The Grimm’s stories can be viewed on multiple levels. First, they are folkloric narratives that have become familiar to us all thanks largely to Walt Disney and television. But there is also a deeper, more political, layer of intrigue that many people do not know about.

During World War II the Nazis used the legends as propaganda to instill concepts of racial purity. So influential were they that other collectors were inspired by a similar nationalistic spirit that reflected their own cultures.

Initially, Jacob and Wilhelm were harshly criticized because the stories were considered unsuitable for children. Boiling pots, being thrown into ovens and cutting off limbs were not the stuff of sugar plum dreams. Some subject matter dealt with missing children, infanticide, abandonment and other assorted atrocities.

Masks in Hamelin  (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)
Masks in Hamelin (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)

In the original version of Rapunzel, though the prince was no doubt “Charming,” the golden-haired damsel became pregnant after visits from her suitor.

Beginning just east of Frankfurt in Hanau where the Grimms were born, the Fairy Tale Road follows the lives of the brothers, as well as the fables themselves, all the way to Bremen. Maps are readily available at many places along the route.

To do the full itinerary without racing through it, allow four days. While you need to be wary of villages using contrived alliances to pose vaguely as backdrops for the tales, the half-timbered towns and rural settings more than make up for the sins of the pretenders.

The Grimms were highly educated linguists who spoke more than ten languages between them. Though born into prominence, they fell upon hard times after the death of their father, eventually winding up in the nearby poorhouse where they struggled to survive.

Marketplace in Bremen  (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)
Marketplace in Bremen (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)

Eventually, Jacob was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia in 1808. Wilhelm later joined him and the environment could not have been richer for their pioneering work in gathering traditional folklore.

Traveling the Fairy Tale Road is a driving tour that requires, at a minimum, a rental car, a good map, patience and a sense of humor. Many landmarks may be difficult to locate. There are no neon signs and billboards saying “This way to the wicked witch’s house,” or “Seven dwarfs, next right.” But that’s part of the adventure. “Seek and ye shall find.”

Most of the stories were handed down from approximately forty sources. Many were provided by a loose-knit group of upper-class women and relatives.

Dorothea Viehmann  (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)
Dorothea Viehmann (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)

The most prominent tipster, and one of the few who was identified, was Dorothea Viehmann, an innkeeper’s daughter in Kassel who heard the tales from passing travelers. Viehmann’s most famous story is, arguably, that of Cinderella.

The Viehmann family inn, Brauhaus Knallhutte, still exists today, where traveler’s can order a Cinderella meal which includes a slipper carved from a baked potato.

Though Jacob and Wilhelm only contributed two stories of their own, it was their dedication to the preservation of German folklore that sealed their legacy as pioneers of mythology.

It is believed that many of the narratives had already been written down during the Middle Ages and then rewritten again in 17th century before the Grimms did their own editing.

Storytelling in Bremen  (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)
Storytelling in Hanau (Photo: Germany Fairytale Road)

Storytelling in Hanau  (Photo: Germany Tourism)

As Maria Tatar, an American scholar with expertise in children’s literature, expresses, “the brothers’ goal of preserving and shaping the tales as something uniquely German at a time of French occupation was a form of ‘intellectual resistance’, and in so doing they established a methodology for collecting and preserving folklore that set the model to be followed later by writers throughout Europe during periods of occupation.”

After two centuries the stories of Jacob and Wilhelm endure. While some may have been Grimm, they rank second only to the Bible in the number of translations. The Fairy Tale Road is well worth a visit. You might even say enchanting. All you need to do is follow the bread crumbs and live happily ever after.   (

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

 His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod


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