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Germany: Traveling through a Fairy Tale

Posted By Helen V. Diepenbrock, Monday, June 22, 2015
Updated: Thursday, September 30, 2010
Germany’s 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 all ages.

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 Sea.

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 restaurants.

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 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 Cinderella, Sleeping 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 giants.

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.

Tags:  Brothers Grimm  Germany  Grimms Fairytales  Rapunzel 

Permalink | Comments (3)

Comments on this post...

Joyce Fowler says...
Posted Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Please let me know if the tour in Germany is available in late August or early September . I'd like to know the price and how I make reader actions. Thank you! My name is Joyce fowler 3302614822. My email is
Permalink to this Comment }

Joyce Fowler says...
Posted Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Please let me know if the tour of Germany is available in late August or early September . Also how much it costs and how do we make a reservation with you. My name Joyce fowler 330-261-4822. My email is
Permalink to this Comment }

Joyce Fowler says...
Posted Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Please let me know if the tour of Germany is available in late August or early September . Also how much it costs and how do we make a reservation with you. My name Joyce fowler 330-261-4822. My email is
Permalink to this Comment }

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