By bicycle, car, or of course seven league boots, Germany's Fairy Tale Road zigzags for 375 miles (603 km) through five German states, 70 medieval towns and villages, passing 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 the 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 the Grimm brothers, and although their home no longer exists the town still retains much that the brothers would recognize. Not however the bronze statue that has been standing in their honor on the historic market square only 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 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 cobblestoned crooked lanes with intact 17th century fishermanís cottages, standing in the beautiful and atmospheric market square is a bronze donkey.
With his 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 not only with picturesque landscapes and romantic medieval towns but with culture, history and fairy tales, and it's easy to relive those childhood dreams of long ago as, despite the passage of time, much of the Fairy Tale Road remains unspoiled and unchanged.
Steinau was the family home from 1791. A large turreted stone house that doubled as the local courthouse because their father was a district magistrate, now it is a Brothers Grimm museum and filled with manuscripts and memorabilia.
Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty are some of the Grimms most famous fairy tales and the settings for those fables, and many others, are found on Die Deutsche Maerchenstrasse.
Legend is that Lohr am Rhein is where Snow White, Schneewittchen, and the Seven Dwarfs lived after she had escaped the evil queen, with the story believed to be based upon the life of Maria Sophia von Erthal. Her family castle still stands, and she did have a stepmother who behaved much like the one in the fairy tale.
While the setting for Little Red Riding Hood lies alongside the Schwalm River, the area from Alsfeld to Fritzlar where townspeople still wear traditional costumes, with red caps for unmarried girls although not exactly like the one portrayed by Disney.
There the local dark dense forests that inspired the Grimm Brothers tale are still to be found.
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 Grimmís 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 covering their whole life story and achievements.
"Dornroeschenschloss Sababurg" is Sleeping Beauty's 675 year old castle in the forest of Reinhardswald, between Kassel and Goettingen, where she 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 Goettingen 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 now it is more usual to decorate the statue with flowers so 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, rescuing her from an enchantress's imprisonment. The castle is still there and exactly as it was when the Grimm brothers first saw it.
Even before there were television programs centered around fairy tales a tour down the Deutsche Maerchenstrasse was one of Germany's tourist highlights, a trip into fairyland and childhood memories for young and old. Never ending enchantment.
Meandering through central Germany to the sources of Grimmís 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
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