Once upon a time, Volume I of several books called “Children’s and Household Tales” was published. While the title might not send you racing to Amazon.com, it was a collection of children’s stories now known throughout the world as “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”
December marks the 200th anniversary of the collaborative work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who published 86 stories in that first manuscript. Among them were familiar tales including “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Thumbling” (“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, touring western Germany’s Grimm-inspired Fairy Tail 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.
It stretches 373 miles, between Hannau (the brothers’ birthplace in Hesse, east of Frankfurt am Main) to Bremen (in northwest Germany, and the locale, of course, for “The Town Musicians of Bremen”).
To do the full itinerary without racing through it, allow four days. While you need to be wary of villages using contrived alliances to pose vaguely as backdrops for the tales, the half-timbered towns and rural settings more than make up for the sins of the pretenders.
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.
The Grimms’ stories can be viewed on multiple levels. First, they are folkloric narratives that have become familiar to us all thanks largely to Walt Disney and television.
Initially, Jacob and Wilhelm were harshly criticized because the stories were considered unsuitable for children. Boiling pots, being thrown into ovens and cutting off limbs were not the stuff of sugar-plum dreams. Some subject matter dealt with missing children, infanticide and abandonment and other assorted atrocities.
But after two centuries the stories by the brothers endure. While some may have been 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 enchanting. All you need to do is follow the bread crumbs and live happily ever after.