By Susan JAMES
It may be the Year of the Water God in India and the Year of the Snake in China, but for Germany 2013 marks the Year of the Big Bad Wolf.
On Dec. 20, 1812, German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first book of fairy tales. “Children’s and Household Tales” contained 86 stories collected from various sources over a period of six years. Surprisingly, the world paid little attention. Nine hundred volumes were published and it was 20 years before all of them were sold. Today the world has caught up.
Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood have all become household names. Together with the books, now translated into 160 languages, TV shows, films and the Disney Corporation kept the source material alive. In 2005, the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales became part of the UNESCO World Document Heritage List.
There’s no need to confine yourself to books or even movies to experience the fairy tales first-hand. One of the highlights of touring in Germany is a trip along the Fairy Tale Road. Connecting sites where the brothers lived and places where their stories were set, the road runs north 370 miles from the Grimm brothers’ birthplace of Hanau, just northeast of Frankfurt, to Bremen where, according to one of their most popular stories, an animal orchestra of town musicians foiled a nefarious gang of robbers. On the 200th anniversary of their work, the Fairy Tale Road is the place for all things Grimm and the best place to begin is with the life-sized bronze sculptures of Jacob and Wilhelm in front of Hanau’s City Hall. Wilhelm, the frail one, sits reading a book; Jacob, the protective one, looks over his shoulder. A small museum of Grimm memorabilia is located in Hanau’s lavish Baroque palace of Philippsruhe. Every year since 1985 between May and July, a Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale Festival has been held in Hanau. This year it included three plays and a musical version of “Snow White and Rose Red.”
Only 30 miles away is the tiny town of Steinau where the Grimm family lived during the boys’ childhood. The Steinau Tourist Office offers a selection of seven costumed fairy tale guides to show you around. Mine was the Great Wizard from “Puss in Boots.” The house where the brothers lived is now the Grimm Museum and just down the road is the building (now a restaurant) that once served as the local poorhouse. The boys’ father, Philipp, was the town magistrate and the most important man in Steinau. When he died unexpectedly in 1796, his wife and six young children found themselves penniless, homeless and forced to live in the poorhouse. But the story had a happy ending when their aunt provided money to send Jacob and Wilhelm to school.
All around this area stretch miles of rolling hills covered by the dense forest that features in so many fairy tales. Rapunzel’s tower is now a hotel (Trendelburg) as is the rose-covered castle of Sleeping Beauty (Sababurg). Visitors can see Little Red Riding Hood’s house in Alsfeld and the Snow White Museum in Bad Wildungen or the town of Hamlin of Pied Piper fame. Besides numerous museums dedicated to the Brothers Grimm, the 200th anniversary of the publication of their tales is being celebrated with special events like Hanau’s Festival and in Steinau’s Marionette Theatre. There are also live appearances by Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty at their respective castles. In restaurants like Dornroschenschloss at Sababurg and Rosengarten in Steinau, recipes from the cookbook of Mama Grimm are featured on the menu.
Traveling the Fairy Tale Road lets visitors leave the present and step into their own personal storybook together with the authors who gave the world the phrases “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after.”