Fairytale Road conjures up visions of gnarled forests, witch towers and
a holiday suited for children. However, the route through forgotten
villages and unspoiled countrysides offer adventure for travelers of
The region which lies northwest of Frankfurt is the land of the
Brothers Grimm, early 19th Century linguistic scholars, who never
intended for their work to be immortalized as bedtime stories or
characters at Disneyland. In fact, Grimms Fairytales have been
published in 160 languages, ranking it the world’s second most
translated book after the Bible.
The 370-mile long route called the Marchenstrasse provides us a
glimpse of rural Germany without the high costs, commercialization and
tourists of other regions. From the outskirts of Frankfurt to
Bremerhaven, its back roads are dotted with medieval towns, 11th
Century castles, baroque churches and the best examples of
half-timbered houses in Germany. Eight nature parks preserve forests
and wildlife along the route extending from the Main River to the North
The region holds varied possibilities for a great holiday even if
you have forgotten your fairytales. This is a land of enchantment with
stays in Sleeping Beauty’s castle or the tower where Rapunzel, the
captured princess, let down her long golden hair. Fairytales come to
life in places like Hameln, the home of Pied Piper, who still
enraptures children with his magic flute. Outdoor enthusiasts will find
a network of easy hiking and bike trails, as well as boat trips along
its rivers. History buffs can trace Germany’s past in university towns,
like Gottingen, where 42 Nobel prizes have been delivered.
On a recent trip our party of three retired couples delighted in the
variety of activities, as well as reasonable prices for hotels and
The heart of the route lies in Kassel, where the Brothers Grimm
lived for 30 years. The tourist bureau here is called the Deutsche
Marchenstrasse and it is an excellent source for planning your trip,
whether you’re going through a tour company or on your own. A word of
advice: If traveling on your own, it is well worth the money to hire a
private guide who speaks English. The route is well-mapped, but side
trips are missed unless you are traveling with a local. Further,
English translations are few and far between at many museums and other
tourists stops. English-speaking guides can be arranged through
Deutsche Maerchenstrasse at www.deutsche-marchentrasse.de. If you are
traveling by train, you also may consider a car rental or hiring a
driver to make the trip more enjoyable.
The Marschenstrasse(Fairytale Road) began as a tourist venture about
30 years ago. The route begins in Hanau at the birthplace of the
Grimms. Then it meanders through woodlands and river valleys towards
Bremerhaven. More than 70 towns, castles and historic sites dot the
map. Many of these places lay claim to a specific fairytale and offer
weekend entertainment to celebrate their special story. A word of
caution! Kassel was heavily bombed during World War II and was rebuilt
as a l950s industrial city. For a taste of old Germany, consider
staying at nearby Gottingen as a base for your explorations. The
brothers worked as professors and librarians at Gottingen’s prestigious
university, which still dominates life in the old section of the city
dating back to the 13th Century. Hotels are reasonable and
tavern-restaurants offer inexpensive German fare.
"The Grimm Brothers did not write the tales which bear their name,”
explained licensed guide Ulrike Ortwein on our recent trip. "They
collected the old folktales which had been handed down from one
story-teller to the next over many generations.”
Ortwein’s private tour, arranged through the Deutsche Marchenstrasse
several weeks before the trip, followed the early career of the Grimm
brothers via a loop from Gottingen including Bad Karlshafen,
Trendelburg, Hann Munden Baunatal and Kassel.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, born in l785 and l786, were university
students when their research led them to forgotten tales. Caught up in
the nationalistic movement of the era, they traveled the region in an
effort to preserve German oral traditions. Their first collection of
fairytales was published in 1812 under the name of Kinder und
Hausmarchen (Children and Household Tales). They revised and expanded
their work six times with the final versions published in stories, as
well as more than 200 l857. This volume contains familiar
obscure tales. Also known for their later work in linguistics, the Grimm brothers amassed the first German dictionary.
Ortwein’s day long tour provided us with a leisurely sampling of the
region. Riding through dense forests and mist-shrouded fields, it was
easy to envision Hansel and Gretel losing their way or the likes of
Beauty, the Frog Prince and Snow White. It seems like most of the stories you heard as a child were born here.
In many villages, the tales come to life. Stopping at Sababurg’s
Sleeping Beauty castle, which is now a hotel, is like stepping into a
fairytale itself. There is plenty to do here whether you spend the
night, stop for tea or hike Tierpark Sababurg, one of Europe’s oldest
wildlife refuges with bison, wild horses, red deer and waterfowl amid
800-year old oak trees.
The castle, completed in l334, was the hunting palace of the Hessian
landgraves. In olden times a thick hedge of thorny wild roses
surrounded the castle, which inspired the tale of Sleeping Beauty. In
full regalia the handsome prince makes regular visits to the castle,
where he still finds his princess. Roses remain a tradition at the
castle, which has a garden of more than 70 varieties and menu items
including rose-flavored muffins and rose petal marmalade. The castle
offers 18 rooms, individually decorated in fairytale themes, an
excellent restaurant that features local trout and venison, as well as
cultural events and weddings.
Settled by the Saxons and Francs in the 9th Century, the region was
ripe for folklore 1000 years before the Grimm brothers came along. Such
legends were passed from one storyteller to the next, resulting in the
19th Century fairytales. A few of these early legends have been
preserved in out-of-the-way places like the crumbling Kruckenburg
Castle, which dates back to 900 AD near the village of Helmarshausen. A
trip to the top of its restored tower with 122 steps provides a
panoramic view of the valley once reputed as the land of legendary
Other must-see stops include:
Hann Munden, with its picturesque river setting at the confluence of
the Werra and Fulda rivers, offers more than 700 half-timbered houses
that have survived the ravages of war. The town is best known as the
home of Dr. Eisenbarth, a reputed quack doctor who inspired folktales.
His tale comes to life in weekend performances during the summer.
Bad Karlshafen shows the influence of French Huguenots who added
their own twists to German legends. Their stories inspired well-known
tales as Red Riding Hood and Puss and Boots. This harbor town on the
Weser River looks like a French village with its distinct architecture,
and offers boat trips and health-related spa facilities.
Trendleburg Castle with its Rapun-zel Tower revives the famous story
of the captive maiden and her long golden hair. Now a hotel and
restaurant, the castle feels medieval with its museum-like décor of
armories, paintings and furnishings from ancient times.
Baunatal is home to the famous Hutt Brewery, which offers a taste of
local brew in its Fairytale Room, and pays tribute to Dorothea
Viehmann, known as Mother of the Fairytales. Her family still owns the
250-year-old brewery where she heard tales like Cinderella, and told
them to the Grimms.
Kassel boasts a host of Grimm-related points of interest. The
highlight is the Bruder Grimm Museum with biographical exhibits, as
well as co-llections of fairytales from all over the world.
A testimony to the success of our ad-venture came over a beer at the
end of the day’s tour on the Fairytale Road. The fellows in our group
raised their steins in a tribute to the Grimms. They had reluctantly
agreed to this out-of-the-way destination, but admitted they thoroughly
enjoyed it. Next time, they would plan a hiking trip in the region
while the women of the party vowed to bring along the grandkids.