Friday, April 1, 2016

A Grimm family adventure traveling Germany’s Fairy Tale Road

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German brothers who wrote down the fairy tales so familiar to us all  (wikipedia)
GERMANY Almost every child grows up listening to or watching fairy tales were written down two centuries ago by the brothers Grimm of Germany. Today, an imaginary “path” along a serpentine route through the back roads and countryside of Hesse and Lower Saxony known as the Fairy Tale Road traces the sites where the stories originated.

Once upon a time, Volume I of several books was published called Children’s and Household Tales. While the title might not send you racing to, it was a collection of children’s stories now known worldwide as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Story telling in Bremen (wikipedia)
The collection was the collaborative work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm who published 86 stories in their first manuscript. Among them were familiar tales including Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Thumblina (Tom Thumb), Little Briar-Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Snow White and The Fox and The Geese.

For lovers of quaint villages and towns nestled amid pastoral landscapes, the Fairy Tale Road is an ideal tour for parents and grandparents seeking to relive their childhood and for children to explore the sights where the stories took place.

The Grimm’s stories can be viewed on multiple levels. First, they represent folkloric narratives that have become familiar to us all thanks largely to Walt Disney and television. But there is also a deeper, more political, layer of intrigue that many people do not know about.
Steinau is a popular stop on the Fairy Tale route  (wikipedia)

During World War II the Nazis used these legends as propaganda to instill concepts of racial purity. So influential were they that other collectors were inspired by a similar nationalistic spirit that reflected their own cultures.

Initially, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were harshly criticized because the stories were considered unsuitable for children. Boiling pots and children thrown into ovens and cutting off limbs were not the stuff of sugar plum dreams. Some subject matter dealt with missing children, infanticide, abandonment and other assorted atrocities.

In the original version of Rapunzel, though the prince was no doubt “Charming,” the golden-haired damsel became pregnant after one visit from her suitor.

Jacob and Wilhelm were linguistics  (wikipedia)
Beginning just east of Frankfurt in Hanau where the Grimms were born, the Fairy Tale Road follows the lives of the brothers, as well as the fables themselves, all the way to Bremen. Maps are  available at many places along the route.

Travelers should allow four days to do the entire route without being rushed. A word of caution however, be wary of villages using contrived alliances that pose vaguely as backdrops for the tales. Then again, the half-timbered towns and rural settings more than make up for the sins of the pretenders.

The Grimms were highly educated linguists who spoke more than ten languages between them. Though born into prominence, they fell upon hard times after the death of their father, eventually winding up in the nearby poorhouse where they struggled to survive. 

Eventually, Jacob was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia in 1808. Wilhelm later joined his brother in the ideal environment for their pioneering work in gathering traditional folklore.

Traveling the Fairy Tale Road is a driving tour that requires, at a minimum, a rental car, a good map, patience and a sense of humor. Many landmarks may be difficult to locate. There are no neon signs or billboards saying “This way to the wicked witch’s house,” or “Seven dwarfs, next right.” But that’s part of the adventure. “Seek and ye shall find.”
Masks in the village of Hamlin made famous by in the story about the Pied Piper  (wikipedia)
Most of the stories were handed down orally from approximately forty sources, a large number of which were provided by a loose-knit group of upper-class women and relatives.

Dorothea Viehmann was the biggest contributor  (wikipedia)
The most prominent tipster was Dorothea Viehmann, an innkeeper’s daughter in Kassel who gathered tales from passing travelers. Viehmann’s most famous story is that of Cinderella.

The Viehmann family inn, Brauhaus Knallhutte, still exists today, where visitors can order a Cinderella meal including a slipper carved from a baked potato.

Though Jacob and Wilhelm only contributed two stories of their own, their dedication to the preservation of German folklore sealed their legacy as pioneers of mythology.

The marketplace in Bremen is typical of the settings along the Fairy Tale Road  (wikipedia)
It is believed that many of the narratives had already been written down during the Middle Ages and were then rewritten again in 17th century before the Grimms did their own editing.

As Maria Tatar, an American scholar with expertise in children’s literature, expresses, “the brothers’ goal of preserving and shaping the tales as something uniquely German at a time of French occupation was a form of ‘intellectual resistance’, and in so doing they established a methodology for collecting and preserving folklore that set the model to be followed later by writers throughout Europe during periods of occupation.”

After more than two hundred years, the stories of Jacob and Wilhelm endure. While some were, indeed, “Grimm,” they rank second only to the Bible in the number of translations.

The Fairy Tale Road is well worth a visit. You might even say it’s “enchanting.” Just follow the bread crumbs and live happily ever after.