By bicycle, car, or seven league boots, Germany's Fairy Tale Road zigzags for 375 miles (603 km) through five German states: 70 medieval towns and villages, past stunning landscapes with ancient castles, fortresses, half timbered houses and grottoes.
The tales of Brothers Grimm are not soft gentle stories that guarantee a dreamless sleep, but the "Fairy Tale Route" follows in their footsteps through a scenic and magical world of fairy tales, sagas and legends. Along a route the brothers took to gather their stories, and inspiration, for what became a world famous collection of German fairy tales.
It begins in Hanau, birthplace of Die Brüder Grimm, and although their home no longer exists the town still retains much that the brothers would recognize. Although not the bronze statue that has been standing in their honor on the historic market square since 1895.
The Fairy Tale Road ends in Bremen, famous for the "Town Musicians of Bremen", the tale of four elderly mistreated animals, a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster, who after escaping their masters decide to become musicians in Bremen. A city in those days that was known for its free way of life and thinking.
Of course in the fairy tale that has fascinated generations of children the animals never reached Bremen, having found a home in a cottage on their journey. Nevertheless surrounded by the Altstadt, Old Town, medieval buildings, and ancient cobble stoned crooked lanes with intact 17th century fishermen’s cottages, a bronze donkey stands in the beautiful market square.
With shining front hooves, touching them is said to make wishes come true so they have been "touched" for generations, he isn't alone because on his back stands a bronze dog, a cat with an arched back balances on the dog and, completing the pyramid, a rooster sits at the top surveying the world around him.
The distance between Hanau and Bremen is filled with picturesque landscapes, romantic medieval towns, culture, history and fairy tales, and it's easy to relive those childhood dreams of long ago. Much of the Fairy Tale Road remains unspoiled and unchanged; despite the passage of time.
Steinau was the Grimm family home from 1791. A large turreted stone house that doubled as the local courthouse, their father was a district magistrate, now it is a Brothers Grimm museum filled with manuscripts and memorabilia.
Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are some of the Grimm's most famous fairy tales and the settings for those fables, and many others, are found on Die Deutsche Märchenstraße.
Legend is that "Lohr am Rhein: is where Snow White, Schneewittchen, and the Seven Dwarfs lived after she had escaped the evil queen, and the story is believed to be based upon the life of Maria Sophia von Erthal. Her family castle still stands, and her stepmother behaved much like the one in the fairy tale.
While the setting for "Little Red Riding Hood" lies alongside the Schwalm River. In the area from Alsfeld to Fritzlar where townspeople continue to wear traditional costumes, with red caps for unmarried girls, although not exactly like the one portrayed by Disney.
The dark dense forests that inspired the Grimm Brothers tale are still there.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm described their time in Kassel as being the most fruitful period of their lives, and it was here that they not only compiled Grimm’s Fairy Tales but also began their study of German language and literature.
The stunning Palais Bellevue, built in 1791 as an observatory for a local Duke, is home to the Brothers Grimm Museum that covers their whole life story and achievements.
"Dornröschenschloss Sababurg" is the 675 year old castle in Reinhardswald forest, between Kassel and Göttingen, where Sleeping Beauty slept for 100 years before being saved "by a kiss from a Prince". It is also one castle where it is really possible to retrace the steps of the story, as it no longer belongs to fairy tale princes but is an hotel.
The brothers were professors at the University of Göttingen and in the central square of the old town is a statue, Ganseliesel, "The Little Goose Girl", another of their tales.
She used to be the most kissed girl in the world as successful students would kiss her for luck, although as it is more usual now to decorate the statue with flowers much of the time she is covered with multicolored blooms.
Not to forget "Rapunzel" and Burg Trendelburg. The medieval castle with the tower climbed by a prince using Rapunzel's unpinned long blond hair as a ladder, and rescuing her from an enchantress's imprisonment. The castle is still exactly as it was when the Grimm brothers first saw it.
Even before there were movies and television programs centered around fairy tales a trip down the Deutsche Märchenstraße was one of Germany's touring highlights, a journey into a fairyland and childhood memories for young and old. Neverending enchantment.
Meandering through central Germany to the sources of Grimm’s fairy tales, with their picturesque and symbolic sights, the traveler could almost believe that hundreds of years ago witches, heartless stepmothers, musically inclined farm animals, wolves who could talk, gallant handsome princes and princesses with long blond hair were alive and well in the land beyond the seven hills.
But perhaps they were...
Illustrations: 'The Town Musicians of Bremen', in front of the Bremer Rathaus, photographer Gerhard Marcks, de.Wikipedia - 'Map of Fairytale Route', Expandable, Photoshop Postcards - Trendelburg, 'Rapunzel's Castle', Hessen, Photographer Presse03, de.Wikipedia