German Legends & the Brothers Grimm

by George McDonald

The brothers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm traveled around Germany in the early 19th century to gather local folklore tales. They published these in their compendium, Kinder-und Hausmärchen, the famous Grimm's Fairy Tales. Although not purely morality tales, the stories were instructive and had strict rules of reward and punishment. Their enduring appeal lies in their giving a voice to childhood anxieties while affording children a safe vantage point from which to observe and explore the adult world.

From Hanau, on the Main River just east of Frankfurt, where the Brothers Grimm were born, the Fairy-Tale Road (Märchenstrasse) stretches northward along the Weser River for 595km (369 miles), past gnarled forests, and timber-frame cottages, cobblestone streets, medieval villages, and castles, to end in Bremen. Your ideal reading companion for the trip is a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, the Pied Piper, Cinderella, fairies, wizards, dwarfs, goblins, and wicked witches are all associated with the Fairy-Tale Road. Some stops along the way include:

  • Hameln (Hamelin) The Weser River town is the setting for the famous tale of the Pied Piper, recalled in a weekly open-air theater performance in summer.
  • Höxter Noted for its timber-frame buildings and a crooked old tower, this Weser River town lays claim to having inspired Hansel and Gretel, and presents the drama on the first Saturday of each month from May to September.
  • Kassel The Waldeck region and the Reinhardswald forest around Kassel were the birthplace of many legends about witches, sleeping princesses, strange beasts, and magic spells. These tales had a profound influence on the Grimm brothers, who lived in Kassel from 1798 to 1830.
  • Neustadt A circular tower here is said to be the one from which Rapunzel let down her golden tresses.
  • Sababurg The Dornröschenschloss, a castle near Hann. Münden, is a persuasive setting for the Sleeping Beauty (Dornröschen) legend. Briar roses bloom in the courtyard.
  • Schwalm River Germans have dubbed the route along this river Rotkäppchenland, or Little Red Riding Hood country.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.