To celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the Brothers Grimm, Germany is in the midst of a yearlong, countrywide festival to honor the famous siblings.
The 373-mile Fairy Tale Route stretches from Hanau (near Frankfurt) to Bremen, and follows the Grimm brothers’ lives as well as the tales they wrote and adapted. Some towns are closely connected to the lives of the brothers and their family; others are the bases for stories they penned.
The Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were influential not only in Germany, but also in European culture and history. They recorded legends, folk tales and lore in German and other cultures.
We began our journey along 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. See china that the family ate on, plus portraits and drawings by brother and artist Ludwig Emil Grimm. Upstairs are displays on the many stories written by the brothers, and rooms in which children can play.
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.
Fairy tales come to life
We motored on to Kassel, center of the celebration, where the brothers lived and worked for the longest period of time. The Expedition Grimm there takes you inside the lives and minds of the brothers with hands-on and interactive displays. Beginning with the “life and work” of the brothers (historically accurate), the show progresses to the present 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 see if you could get all the tales correctly), animals to stack, swords to unsheathe and movie clips to see over several generations of cartooning. He enjoyed acting out the fairy tales and learning some new ones. (Some are more popular in Germany than in the United States, and we had not heard of them.) English-language guides for the expedition are available at the front desk.
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 it was added to the UNESCO World Document Heritage List, and you can see the books for yourself in the museum, preserved under glass.
Castle makes a nice stop
An amazing sight is Sababurg Castle, also known as Sleeping Beauty Castle. The castle, which the Germans identify with “Sleeping Beauty,” is in Hofgeismar, 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 this charming historical town. 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 ambience 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 hedges 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 elegant 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 to imagine what might have happened in the very place you are walking, many years ago.
It’s enough to make you feel part of a fairy tale.