Standing at the edge of a forest along Germany’s Fairy Tale Route surrounded by dense canopies of dark towering evergreens, I fully expected to see Little Red Riding Hood skipping along to Grandma’s house with the Big Bad Wolf lurking somewhere behind a tree. We all grew up with them – fairy tales filled with princes and princesses, castles, evil stepmothers, children venturing into the woods and big scary wolves. On Germany’s Fairy Tale Route the folklore comes to life and, after a few days along the route, you might start believing in happily ever after.
The German Fairy Tale Route stretches 375 miles winding through a landscape of picturesque villages, fortified castles and sinister forests as it follows the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm. The city of Kassel is the capital of the German Fairy Tale Route and the Brothers Grimm. The brothers lived in Kassel for much of their lives and it was here that they collected, documented and revised more than 200 fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm Museum chronicles their lives and work and has on display their personal copies of the Tales of Children and the Home with notes and comments – part of the world document heritage of UNESCO. In summer, there is a Brothers Grimm Festival and in winter, a fairytale Christmas fair.
In the early 19th century, Jacob and Wilheim Grimm studied in the university town of Marburg. The town served as the inspiration for the brothers’ idea to collect the fairy tales ultimately published in The Brothers Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales which has become one of the world’s most famous books from German cultural history.
As I walked the narrow alleys of Marburg’s medieval center, I discovered fairy tale statues and sculptures on houses, steps and walls. There was a statue of the Frog-King, Red Riding Hood’s basket and cape, and even Snow White’s wicked stepmother’s mirror – on the wall, of course. And perched high above the town on the climb up to the imposing Landgrave Palace I found Cinderella’s slipper.
The tiny hilltop village of Bergfreiheit is home to Snow White and her seven dwarfs. Inside the cozy house there are seven little beds, seven little hats hanging on a rack, a table with place settings for seven, and, of course, seven little chairs.
The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was inspired by a true story of a local beauty, Margaretha von Waldeck, the daughter of Count Philip IV who lived in the Baroque hilltop castle, Friedrichstein. She died young (presumably poisoned) and it was her brother who founded the mining village of Bergfreiheit. The seven dwarfs were real too, but they were actually children who worked in the local copper mines centuries ago.
I left the tiny little house behind to visit the copper mine where the dwarfs went each day as they set off singing "Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go." And wouldn’t you know it, crossing the meadow between the village and the mine were statues of those seven little guys.
In one of the best-known fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Mother Hulda shook the beds from her mountain, the High Meissner, which then snowed feathers down on the earth covering the village of Hessian Lichtenau. The fairy tales, myths and legends about Mother Hulda still come alive here. In fact, Mother Hulda herself greeted me (pillow in hand) when I arrived in the charming village. As we walked through the village filled with iconic half-timbered houses, a 17th century old city hall and an early 15th century Gothic town church, children rushed to Mother Hulda’s side for photos and autographs. The entire experience was a bit surreal – but utterly enchanting.
Located in the forest of Reinhardswald, Sababurg Castle was built over 675 years ago. It stood in ruins covered by a thorny hedge for several years in the 16th century when it was named "Castle of the Sleeping Beauty". Today, the castle houses a romantic hotel, a café serving homemade baked goods, and a gourmet restaurant that focuses on locally sourced cuisine. Throughout the castle grounds the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is illustrated with steel cuttings. And the medieval castle garden is filled with historic roses, tulips, shrubs and herbs. Theatre plays, lectures, and concerts are staged in the medieval vaulted cellar and on the open air stage in the inner court of the castle ruins.
The fairy tale truly came to life as Sleeping Beauty and her Prince shared their love story with me over champagne cocktails. And when I was shown to my room in the castle tower where a four-poster bed with a wooden canopy filled with tiny little starlights awaited, I became the princess – at least for one night.
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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