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29 Jul 2013

Following Germany’s Southern Fairy Tale route

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July 29, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Brothers Grimm Museum, Steinau


By Renée 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.


The most significant events, festivals and exhibitions will be held along the 372-mile Fairy Tale Route (FTR) inaugurated in 1947. The road runs from Hanau to Bremen and encompasses museums, medieval villages, winding cobblestone streets, historic restaurants and accommodations and, of course, soaring castles in towns where the tales are set or where the brothers lived and wrote. Traveling the FTR is a totally immersive activity that offers the opportunity for visitors to live the fantasy by meeting the beloved characters, spending the night in a castle, visiting the landscapes of the stories and learning first hand about the lives of the Brothers Grimm. Each town presents specific aspects of their lives and careers.


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 26-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 two-story museum there are nine 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. 


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 Café 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 seven dwarves were not even invited to the wedding, etc. You will love it.


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”.


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, cafés 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.


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 three 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.


Marburg’s Vila Vita Rosenpark is a luxury hotel that offers all the amenities and several dining options, 1,000-sq. ft. Wellness Center, Beauty Garden, Wine Bar and accessibility to city sites. Hotel specials and reservations are available online.


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. 


We still have 60-miles of the southern portion of the Fairy Tale Route to cover. During part two we will meet members of the fairytale quartet, as defined by Disney and children everywhere, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. You will relish the journey. 


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


I wish you smooth travels!


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