To celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the Brothers Grimm, Germany is in the midst of a yearlong, countrywide festival to honor and pay homage to the famous siblings.
The 373-mile-long Fairy Tale Route stretches from Hanau (a city near Frankfurt) to Bremen, and follows the Grimm brothers’ lives as well as the tales they wrote and adapted. Some towns are more closely connected to the lives of the brothers and their family, while others are the bases for the stories they penned.
The Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were influential in not only German, but also European, culture and history. They recorded legends, folk tales and lore, some of which had been in existence for generations, not only in the German culture but adapted from others as well.
We began our visit to the Fairy Tale Route in Steinau, a lovely, storybook-quaint town. The brothers spent their childhood here, living with their parents and siblings in a picturesque, half-timbered estate. Located about an hour from Frankfurt, the home they lived in is now a museum that is open for visits. See china that the family ate on, portraits and drawings by brother and artist Ludwig Emil Grimm, and more. Upstairs there are displays on the many stories penned by the brothers and rooms for children to play and interact in.
Steinau also has a puppet theater, with live performances daily. Puppets from all over the world, as well as posters and other paraphernalia describing and detailing the history of puppets and their variety, are on display. The puppet theater itself is a great attraction for kids and families.
We then went onto Kassel, the center of the celebration, where the brothers lived and worked for the longest amount of time. The Expedition Grimm, housed in the documenta-Halle, takes you inside the lives and minds of the Brothers Grimm on this hands-on and interactive display. Beginning with the “life and work” of the brothers (set up to be historically accurate), it progresses to the present day with the “work and influence” of the famous duo. Other highlights are a 3-D virtual visit to the apartment of the siblings, a Bremen Musicians stacking animal set and a “living book” that injects technology into the fairy tales, bringing them to life as you turn the pages.
My 5-year-old son very much enjoyed all the hands-on activities in the Expedition Grimm. There were animals to dress up, wires to connect to one another (to see if you could get all the tales correct), animals to stack, swords to unsheath and movie clips to see over several generations of cartooning. He enjoyed acting out the fairy tales, and learning some new ones that we were unfamiliar with.
(Some are more popular in Germany then in the United States and we had not heard of them. But we did purchase a “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” book while there and have read them since. It was a great cultural opportunity for us all as a family.)
English-language guides that you take with you for the duration of your stay at the documenta-Halle are available at the front desk, which is very helpful to those of us who don’t speak German.
The Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel is not to be missed, as it is the home to the original “Children’s and Household Tales,” which were edited and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812. This is what is popularly known today as “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” In 2005 this was added to the UNESCO World Document Heritage List, and you can see the books for yourself in the museum, preserved under glass.
An amazing sight is Sababurg Castle, also known as Sleeping Beauty Castle. The castle that the Germans identify with “Sleeping Beauty” is in Hofgeismar, right at the center of the Fairy Tale Route. It was rescued and restored by the current owners’ grandparents after World War II, and has many rooms available for stays.
The beautiful castle is on a hill in a charming historical town. There, you can take a tour of the primeval forest in Reinhardswald, tour the magnificent castle grounds or dine in a lush garden courtyard on organic and locally grown food. Children’s menus are mini-dishes of adult meals, meant to engage and enhance their taste buds and let them act like little princes and princesses, eating on silver platters just like mom and dad. The kids’ meals themselves won’t cost you any more than a Happy Meal at McDonald’s — minus all the salt and sugar. The food and ambiance are fitting for a castle environment, and the scenery can’t be beat.
After the war, the castle did resemble the Sleeping Beauty Castle of myth, being surrounded by unkempt hedged and bushes. Today, it is immaculately maintained with graceful gardens, roses growing up the castle walls, and lovely artwork representing the history of the location. The rooms are inside the castle itself, and have an elegance and historical feel. Climbing the winding staircase to your room at the top of a turret, passing antique armor and spinning wheels, it is easy (and fun) to imagine what might have happened in the very places you are walking, many years ago.
IF YOU GO
Taking the route: An easy way to book your tour or travel the Fairy Tale Route is with toeurope.eu. You also can rent a car or use public transportation such as trains and buses, but if you are unfamiliar with the language or landscape, a tour might be easier, especially if traveling with children. Much of the Fairy Tale Route is out of the main cities, and announcements are not made in English as well as German, making it is easy to get lost or confused. For more information, go to the website or email email@example.com.
Other INFO sources
Multiple routes: There are more than 60 such designated routes in Germany. They include the Saale-Unstrut Wine Route, the Romanesque Route, Lower Saxony Asparagus Route and German Toy Road. Learn more about each route at germany.travel/en/leisure-and-recreation/scenic-routes/scenic-routes.html.
Further details: This site offers more information about towns along the route and recommendations for other such trips. Go to gogermany.about.com/od/sightsandattractions/a/faiyrtaleroad.htm.
More information: Additional route information is at, deutsche-maerchenstrasse.com/en.