On the Trail of the Brothers Grimm
On the Trail of the Brothers Grimm
This travel guide book aims to get its readers out of their armchairs and into their cars or a train to go and explore the state of Hesse. That is its stated purpose, but of course it is hoping to do much more. Curiosity is part of the travel experience, and asking questions comes with being curious. This guide helps you form your questions – and wants to make you curious. What Hesse does not have is a sea of lounge chairs on some sunny beach. That would be far too boring!
The region you are getting to know here is one that is full of castles where sovereigns ruled and knights did battle; of grand old abbeys and dark mines; of towering Gothic cathedrals; of ancient trade routes; of tiny hamlets that are spruced up every Sunday by proud inhabitants; and of forests where witches may still dwell and dwarves may still tromp through the undergrowth. You can never be sure – not in Hesse, anyway. Whatever the case, over 200 years ago, amidst this green, undulating landscape between the Hoher Meissner peak and the Odenwald forest, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began exploring the legacy of a bountiful history, collecting legends and fairy tales, and listening to the stories being told by the people around them, about bewitched princesses and evil stepmothers, about irate goblins and benevolent kings, and about pint-sized chaps and farm boys that were funny and clever enough to fool the devil himself. The Grimm brothers of course also left a fabulous and diverse legacy of their own in Hesse. They were born here, went to school here and attended university here. They worked and celebrated grand occasions, traveled the land visiting friends and, when necessary, even stood up to the authorities.
This guide book follows the trail of those two collectors and their stories – and both the tellers are destinations in their own right. The book tells you the stories related to each location. Take Sergeant Krause, for example, who was paid with a pair of old leggings for his efforts in imparting to the Grimms the stories he had heard in the weaving rooms of town. Or the story about the painter Otto Ubbelohde, who illustrated the most beautiful places in his native Hesse to give the Grimm fairy tales a tangible home. Sometimes in life you can’t see the wood for the trees. Don’t let that happen in Hesse, please.
Great grandfather, grandfather and father Grimm – all three were active along the Main and Kinzig rivers as either pastors or chroniclers. Jacob and Wilhelm were born on Paradeplatz square (now Freiheitsplatz) in Hanau, in 1785 and 1786, respectively, not far from St. Mary’s, a Gothic church where their great grandfather preached for many years. Ludwig Emil, who later studied painting and portrayed his older brothers in many everyday situations, was born on Lang Street in 1790. Both of the houses were destroyed in World War II, but monuments as well as the impressive Brothers Grimm National Monument on the market square recall the famous pair.
The brothers’ second hometown is Steinau an der Straße. Located at a critical junction of the medieval trading route between Leipzig and Frankfurt, Steinau was for centuries a major changing station for coaches. The family moved here when the father was promoted to magistrate. Wilhelm and Jacob were four and five years old, respectively. Many of the brothers’ childhood memories are preserved in Steinau, both in written and in illustrated form: lessons with their strictest schoolmaster at the reform school in Kumpen, Mr. Zinckhan, the premature death of their father after just five years in the village, or happier moments in the Biengarten park. The highlight here is the former administrative building that is now the Brothers Grimm House featuring exhibits of the family and large play areas with fairy tale themes. The Steinau Castle even has a Grimm Room, and the popular marionette theater at the former stables continually has the Grimm fairy tales on the program.
“In Marburg, you have to move your legs, climb up and down the steps,” recalled Jacob Grimm in 1850 regarding his student days. About 50 years before that he had walked the steep alleys on the castle hills just to enjoy the stupendous views from on high. Marburg’s Old Town has remained virtually unchanged since 1750. The Grimm “Fitness” Path takes you from St. Elisabeth’s Church up to the landgrave’s castle and as a result visitors are always side-by-side with the Grimms and their contemporaries: Barfüßer-Straße 35 was home to the brothers’ first little apartment; the Wendelgasse climbs up to Ritterstraße 15, where their most important teacher, friend and pioneer Friedrich Carl von Savigny held open discussions in the Forsthof. A small exhibit in the Marburger Haus der Romantik on the marketplace recalls personalities like Clemens Brentano, his wife Sophie Mereau, Achim von Arnim and Bettine Brentano.
In Lahntal-Goßfelden, just a few miles north of Marburg, the Grimm brothers frequently paid visits to Pastor Heinrich Bang, who helped them with ancient languages during their university days and later with research for their fairy tales and their German dictionary. Otto Ubbeholde’s home and studio, meanwhile, was located in an enchanting, idyllic country setting, where he illustrated the Grimm fairy tales and stories using motifs from the Upper Town of Marburg and the Lahn Valley – his images helped give Hesse its reputation as a land of fairy tales.
Between 1798 and 1841 (with interruptions), Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm lived in Kassel, the hometown of their mother, Dorothea Zimmer. They completed secondary school, collected fairy tales and legends, and spent their happiest years here. Until her marriage, sister Lotte took care of the household in the siblings’ shared apartment. Jacob played breadwinner, working from 1806 for the state of Hesse before joining Wilhelm as a librarian in 1816 at the Electoral Library in the Fredericianum. They worked part-time their to make sure they had time to dedicate to their own language research. The “Brothers Grimm Museum” on Schöne Aussicht (street) has a superb exhibit on the lives, works and influences of the forefathers of German philology. The work of their younger brother Ludwig Emil is also given ample appreciation here. He was a professor at the art academy in Kassel after years as a traveling artist and teacher.
Anyone looking to pay respects to the Viehmann storytelling legacy – responsible for nearly 40 of the fairy tales dictated to the brothers – should make their way to Niederzwehren and Baunatal. The Knallhütte brewery tavern here is the actual origin of many of these now famous tales. Dorothea Viehmann, daughter of the Huguenot tavern owner, got an early start listening to the stories of families and travelers in the pub. Even today, a female storyteller appears every Saturday at 17:30 to recall the Grimm tales.
With its giant brackens and ancient woodland oaks, getting lost in the Reinhardswald forest can be a real adventure. You won’t run into the wicked witch, but Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty are still around, along with loads of wild animals in Europe’s oldest existing zoo near Sababurg castle. Landgrave Wilhelm IV created the park in 1571, and 80 different types of animals live here today. The majestic birds of prey, scraggly European bison and the adorable young goats in the petting zoo are of course a major attraction for kids. For adults, a visit to Sleeping Beauty at Sababurg castle is a must, especially when the roses are in bloom from late-May to mid-July. The princess and the king’s son perform their love story on weekends as a theater piece. According to the legend, the castle was built for Saba, daughter of a giant, just like Trendelburg castle was built for her sister, Trendula. Every Sunday, Rapunzel lets her golden hair down from the 125-ft tower, after which children can get an autograph.
Both castle hotels offer fairy tale-style dinners and cozy overnight accommodation.In Gottsbüren there is an exciting natural monument to discover: the Nasse Wolkenbruch (wet cloudburst), a nearly 200-ft-deep sinkhole that is also the fabled grave of Trendula, the giant’s daughter. Nearby Immenhausen has declared itself “Hans-im-Glück” city, and a 10-mile trail through the region leads you to sites of local legends.
A magical spot here is the Felsenmeer rock pile, easily accessible along the award-winning Nibelungensteig trail or via the Nibelungen-Siegfried road. This ancient quarry in Odenwald forest is considered a climber’s paradise for both young and old. Legend has it that the pile resulted from two giants throwing boulders at each other from the Felsberg and Hohenstein peaks nearby. The Hohenstein giant emerged victorious and beneath the rocks of the Felsenmeer (which means “sea of rocks”) lies the giant from Felsenberg. The energy with which the Grimms collected these stories inspired a real enthusiasm for their legends in the 19th century. People everywhere began exploring their own mythical roots.
Another important stop in “Nibelungen territory” is a fountain in the forest near Grasellenbach where Siegfried, the hero of the saga, is killed by Hagen of Tronje – though a few other Odenwald towns claim this bloody act for themselves. In 1851, however, despite their protestations, a historian from Darmstadt declared Grasellenbach as the scene of the crime, which now has bars, wellness oases and plenty of exploring on offer.
The most well known Odenwald legend is the one about Rodenstein castle, which the Grimms published in the first volume of their “German Legends” series. It is worth taking an excursion to the secluded ruins of Rodenstein before visiting the Hofgut tavern down the hill. The castle’s occupant was in fact never seen, but it was always heard when a battle was nigh and its ghostly figure coursed through the sky.
Wilhelm Grimm, who suffered from poor health his whole life, spent some recuperative time in Wiesbaden from 1831 to 1834, then in Bad Soden am Taunus in 1855. In fact, he stayed right near the present-day Champagne Fountain, whre today you find the Hundertwasser House (1990), which is a based on the “fairy tale from 1001 Nights”. Wilhelm was in good company here: Many scholars and great intellectuals of the time had come in the 19th century to enjoy the healing waters in the southern Taunus and along the Rhine. Along these “blissful shores”, as he wrote in a letter in 1833, Wilhelm also visited Mainz, Hochheim and the more introspective towns of the Rheingau region. In 1815 he had traveled with Friedrich Carl von Savigny and his painter brother Ludwig Emil through Winkel am Rhein, where the Brentano family still has its charming estate. The property has vineyards and an original Goethe room with guided tours on certain days of the year (Goethe spent time here the same year as Grimm, he wrote the West-östliche Divan here). The lovely terrace on the ground floor has a southern-European feel to it and is an inviting place to tuck in for a bite and some refreshments.
A splendid walk takes you from Vollrad castle, a moated structure in medieval times, to the world-famous Riesling and white wine region around Johannisberg castle. The latter was originally a Benedictine monastery (located precisely on the 50th parallel) that was later remodeled by Klemens von Metternich.
The brothers Grimm lived at Goetheallee 6 in Göttingen from 1829 to 1837. In the very same house, left of the entrance, was the auditorium where they held their readings as of 1830. Seven years later, the brothers and five other colleagues were evicted by King Ernst August von Hanover for prioritizing their loyalty to the constitution over that of the sovereign. In 2010, Günter Grass, sculptor and Nobel laureate for literature, erected a monument to the “Göttingen Seven” in front of the Georg August University.
Three professors who had made names for themselves as defenders of freedom and democracy were forced to leave the city – one of those three was Jacob Grimm. While fleeing to Kurhessen, he was greeted by a throng of student supporters on the Werra Bridge near Witzenhausen. They were so thrilled that they unbridled his horses and drew his carriage by hand to the front of the newly built town hall and held a rally. Jacob stayed at the Krone tavern that night.
Fairy tale fans will find Witzenhausen worth a trip. The Burghotel is home to the Frau Holle Center, where visitors can find out everything there is to know about the mythical maid as well as the fairy tales and legends surrounding her. With some luck, visitors can even be appointed Frau Holle ambassadors. Atop Hoher Meißner mountain is a statue of the famous chambermaid as well as an idyllic pond named after her. It is on the east side near the peak and, according to legend, it is where babies come from.
As little kids, the Grimm brothers traveled regularly from Hanau to Frankfurt, but the city was always too “full” and “hectic” to ever be an option for a long-term spell. The “Römer” has not only been home to Frankfurt’s town hall for 500 years, but was also where the German emperors, crowned in the nearby cathedral, would enjoy their feasts. Their portraits still hang on the wall here, but in September of 1846 an entirely different event took place: 200 German philologists gathered here (Germanists, a title invented in Frankfurt at this meeting). They ultimately voted Jacob Grimm as leader of the new Germanist Association while Wilhelm spoke about the work they were doing on a German dictionary.
Two years later, when the first democratically elected national assembly gathered in St. Paul’s Church, Jacob was once again present among the 600 elected officials. His petition for the protection of basic liberties became famous despite its failure to find a majority at the time: “The German folk is a free folk, and German soil will tolerate no servitude. Foreign prisoners dwelling here are made free by this soil.” Jacob had to live for several months in the Frankfurt inner city, but it quickly became too hectic for him, not least due to a number of his “admirers”. He preferred strolls to Bockenheim and Rödelheim, where he would join reading circles and meet up with like minds in the romantic setting of Georg Brentano’s Petrihaus villa on the Nidda river.
Over 200 letters exchanged between Paul Wigand and the Grimm brothers still exist here. Wigand was a school friend from their Kassel days but remained an important lifelong companion with whom they could discuss everything from children and canaries to literature. Paul and Wilhelm followed the older Jacob to Marburg in 1803. By 1808 Paul was already a magistrate in Höxter an der Weser. Three years later, Wilhelm became the delighted godfather of Paul’s newborn son, Wilhelm Wigand, “through which our friendship was transformed into a spiritual bond”.
After fleeing from Göttingen, their old friend was more than happy to provide the brothers with asylum in Wetzlar, where he had been the director of the municipal court since 1833, but a move to this charming town on the Lahn was not an option. Still, the Phantastische Bibliothek here does great justice to the tales and legends of the two brothers. In addition to the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of fantasy literature, the Wetzlarer Tage der Phantastik (Wetzlar Fantasy Days) in September are a joy for fans of the genre. Gießen, meanwhile, is home to the Mathematikum, a place Jacob would have surely felt at home.
Another war to set things in motion: October 1813, the Battle of Leipzig. A coalition of Prussians, Austrians, Swedes and Russians had driven Napoleon into retreat and Gerhardt Wilhelm von Reutern (1794–1865) came back wounded to Willingshausen in the Schwalm region. Originally from the Baltic region, von Reutern was fighting for the Russians when he lost his right arm. Upon his return, he was nursed back to health by the Schwertzell family, lords of the castle of the same name and relatives of his by marriage. He then traveled to Weimar where he met Goethe, who was impressed by the young officer’s talent. “Paint!” he told von Reutern, and quickly the soldier found a new purpose in life. The colorful traditional costume of the Schwalm provided him with plenty of material to train his eyes and hand, after which he composed genre works and representations of the gently rolling countryside. He later married Charlotte von Schwertzell, a daughter of the lord of the castle, and made Willingshausen his permanent home, where he lived off commissions from the Russian tsar’s family. As a result, many of his paintings ultimately ended up in the Hermitage in St Petersburg.
Ludwig Emil Grimm joined his brothers in 1824, after studying at the art academies in both Kassel and Munich. He knew Willingshausen and loved the landscape and rural tranquility there. At the time, von Reutern was also looking to expand his horizons and improve his skills, traveling to the academy in Dusseldorf, where he met his teacher Theodor Hildebrandt and his colleague Jakob Fürchtegott Dielmann, whom he then brought back to Willingshausen. The circle of friends developed into a painters’ colony that is now the oldest artists’ collective in Europe. The discoveries and styles of the Dusseldorf faction mixed quickly with the Munich schools and the academies of Berlin, Frankfurt, Dresden and Weimar to form a new amalgated style that attracted increasing numbers of artists. The idyllic village in the Schwalm became the focal point of their domains.
During the Romantic period, Willings-hausen turned international, and up until the era of Impressionism, the name was an institution: Ludwig Knaus and Otto Ubbelohde came to the picturesque village along with Otto Piltz and Fritz Grebe, who found a fan in Adolph von Menzel and was influenced by Max Liebermann. Paul Baum had trained his eye at the art school in Barbizon in France and studied the Belgian Neo-Impressionist version of Pointillism. His colleague Carl Bantzer went on to become an influential teacher of modern art whose students included expressionist Conrad Felixmüller and Hanover dadaist Kurt Schwitters. In a traveling exhibition in 1892, Bantzer’s piece from 1891, the “Hessian Sacrament”, impressed audiences from Vienna to Munich and from Wrocław to Berlin. The late-Impressionist painting took its strength from the severe and barren setting that the artist had chosen for the piece, the 12th-century fortified church in Wenkbach near Marburg – a strength that can still be felt there.
In terms of the development of art history in general, the significance of the Willingshausen colony may not be what it once was, but artists still create their works before nature’s backdrop here. Experienced artists offer courses, the association Ma-lerstübchen Willingshausen e.V. has exhibitions on the history and current state of painting in Hesse, and young artists can apply for scholarships at the Hirtenhause. Fortunately, the town is surrounded by the landscape that inspired so many artists in the past.
Fritzlar was not one of the main stations in the lives of the Grimm brothers, and no historian is attempting to prove that Little Red Riding Hood, on her way to grandma’s house, walked past St Peter’s Cathedral, the construction of which began in the 11th century, with expansion and reconstruction work continuing for centuries. Still, since that fateful fall day in 723, when a shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and instilled in the Chattis, the local pagan tribe, a momentary reason to doubt the power of their gods, this city on the Eder River has been a place of inspiration for the many myths, heroes, serendipitous moments and catastrophes that shaped the history of this region. There is a rich past in the old watchtowers, monastery walls and patrician houses; many things can still be researched and documented; while some of it can only be sensed and fabricated, just like the Brothers Grimm storytellers did back in those days. Fritzlar is a gem.
In his efforts to sway the doubters in this faraway corner of the Franconian kingdom to accept Christianity, it was the Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface (roughly 672–755) who benefited most from the unexpected heavenly sign from God. The papal emissary had chosen a rather stalwart path and felled the sacred Thor’s Oak himself with an axe. The heavens they did rumble, according to the tale. But as the holy tree of the ancient Germanic tribe fell, Thor, the god of thunder, did not arrive to unleash a wrath worthy of his powers – instead, a ray of sun shone down upon the henceforth Christian west.
A modern bronze sculpture in front of the cathedral recalls the events from this myth-enshrouded past. But such sophisticated depictions of the legends and stories of the region weren’t really necessary. The city itself is a magnificent historical panorama of unique density that includes the Romanesque church rising above the monastery founded after Boniface’s original mission had arrived in the area; the Gothic wings of the church with its cloisters and collegiate buildings, where the cathedral’s treasure is kept; and the baroque high altar. The city hall here was first officially documented in 1109, making it the oldest administrative building in Germany. The Ursulin order’s school was attended by Bettine von Armin, a close friend of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
The city comes alive as you stroll through the market square lined with stunning half-timbered houses and adorned with the Roland Fountain, past the city walls, with magnificent views from the gray tower, to the stately Hochzeitshaus (wedding house). Then you can head to the Büraburg castle ruins in the ancient city district of Ungedanken, where the chapel dating from the 6th century is dedicated to the Irish saint Bridget – it is so old that it once served pagan worshippers. Then Boniface arrived in the 7th century, felled the holy oak and the rest, as they say, is history
At this point, science and legend seem to be converging: There may have been a real-life Snow White figure, and her name was Margaretha. Born in 1533 at Castle Altenwildungen, she was the daughter of Count Philipp IV of Waldeck (1493–1574), and actually experienced a fate surprisingly similar to that of the fairy tale princess. The facts are: She was considered extraordinarily pretty. She died in 1554 at 21 years of age under mysterious circumstances, beyond the Seven Mountains in faraway Brussels, the capital of Brabant Province at the time. And she had a stepmother, Katharina von Hatzfeld, who apparently had reason to persecute her with jealous vehemence.
Margaretha was the sixth of 11 children from the count’s first marriage with Margarethe von Ostfriesland and was sent to the Habsburg court in Brussels at the young age of 16 for two reasons. At the time, Maria of Bohemia and Hungary, sister of Emperor Charles V, ruled there as proconsul of the Spanish Netherlands. As an honorable maiden, the young woman from Wildungen was sent on the one hand to look out for a worthy husband, and on the other hand to help effect the release of Hessian Landgrave Philipp (1504–1567, later called the “The Magnanimous”) from his imprisonment by the emperor. Both Philipps – Margaretha’s father and the landgrave – had early on given strong support to the Reformation in their home territories. Back in 1521, Philipp von Waldeck had actually met Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms and became an instant and fervent follower. Philipp von Hessen later established the first Protestant university in Marburg, in 1527, but 20 years later, after being defeated in the Schmalkaldic War, he was incarcerated by the Catholic emperor. Enter Snow White.
There are conflicting theories. Did Margaretha’s beauty perhaps beguile the wrong men? Crown Prince Philipp II of Spain (1527–1598) is said to have been close to her, but he was to marry his much older aunt, Mary I of England (1516–1558), who had sentenced hundreds of Protestants to be burned at the stake as heretics, hence her ignominious nickname among the common people: “Bloody Mary”. Did Margaretha need to be “removed” for reasons of dynastic integrity? Or was it jealousy? Lamoral, Count of Egmont (1522–1568) in the Netherlands, was also madly in love with the young beauty and even gifted her a portrait of himself. Or was it really the actions of her stepmother whose marriage would remain childless? The chronicles tell of arsenic, and toxicologists would agree that the slow-working poison may have been the explanation for the shaky handwriting in Margaretha’s will. That document, notarized with seven seals, is in the Hessian Office of Public Records in Marburg, file 115.1, number 251. Chills may run down your spine when you read it!
As is often the case in science, every theory has its rivals. In the now Bavarian town of Lohr on the Spessart, 200 km (130 mi) south of Bad Wildungen, there is a mirror that apparently once whispered to the chatelaine Claudia von Venningen that her stepdaughter Maria Sophia von Erthal was much more beautiful than she. And the “Snow White Walking Trail” leads from the castle to Bieber by Gelnhausen in Hesse, where dwarves once worked in the mines. Today, the legend that was collected, distilled and composed by the Grimms has been published in 75 versions around the world. Snow White is a global household name. The castle in Lohr now houses the Spessart Museum, where the masterpiece of Electoral Mainz mirror manufacturing is still on display for all to see. The mirror, however, is quiet on the subject.
The story of the dwarves, on the other hand, is authentic. In Bergfreiheit, a rather rural part of Bad Wildungen, the table-high copper mine shafts could only be accessed by very small people back in the 16th century. Typically they were children, but that was normal in many mines at that time. After years of crawling around in the damp, cold, cancerous, radon-gas-filled darkness they came into the light of day in a pretty withered state. Robbed of their childhoods, they came out deformed, pale and aged well beyond their years. Mining has greatly shaped the history of the town, and one sees this in the Snow White House. Some of the houses in Bergfreiheit still look as if the seven dwarves could come home at any minute, sit down at the table in front of their plates and …
The small town of Bad Wildungen is a true gem. High above the village, where the old Altenwildungen once stood, is the baroque castle Friedrichstein with its collections of primarily hunting and military history. The only remains of the original castle, completely rebuilt in 1714, is the tower. The magnificent winged altar in the Protestant church is a masterpiece by late-Gothic painter Conrad von Soest. The spa gardens are Europe’s largest and the city features an unusual contrast of half-timbered houses and magnificent buildings from Bad Wildungen’s heyday as a spa resort. Bad Wildungen was also important for Charlotte Grimm, who spent a lot of time here with brother Ludwig Emil trying to battle ill health. During those stints they stayed with relatives of the Wild family from Kassel. Jacob and Wilhelm also visited regularly. And so things came full circle once again … The fairy tale forest is at your doorstep. Kellerwald-Edersee National Park is a massive birch forest covering 57 sq km (22 sq mi) and featuring creeks, glades and bizarre rock formations, a paradise for hikers and a natural wonder for children and researchers. The national park administration is in Bad Wildungen. Since June 25, 2011, the area has been a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site and in the middle of it all is Waldeck Castle, ancestral seat of the Waldecks, high above Lake Eder and rising out of a sea of birch trees. An ideal fairy tale landscape.
People called him Henne Gensfleisch, and the fact that his biography is filled with gaping holes is probably because the world back then was completely different. His invention would change things in a fundamental way. But at a time when every word of every entry in a church register had to be written by hand with a quill, and only a small group of elite, educated citizens could read and write, while books only existed in church scriptoriums, it was not uncommon that a few things slipped through the cracks of time and history.
So was Johannes de Alta Villa, who appeared at the university in Fulda in 1418/1419, really the same Johannes (commonly shortened to “Henne” in the region) who, the son of patrician Friele Gensfleisch and his wife Else Wirich im Hof “zum Gutenberg”, appeared in Mainz at some point between 1393 and 1404? “Alta Villa“ was the Latin name for Eltville. Indeed, it is likely that the father moved from Mainz to the Rheingau region in 1411, where the family on the mother’s side had inherited a house. Henne would then have gone to the “common school” at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. What is certain is that his brother Friele moved into Burghofstrasse in Eltville in 1434.
And Henne disappeared. He returned to Mainz to the “zum Gutenberg” house, working, experimenting and ultimately becoming the first European to invent (as Johannes Gutenberg) a movable type printing press. (Roughly the same technology had already been invented in Korea prior to Gutenberg.) He died on February 3, 1468, in Mainz and was buried in the Franciscan Church there. The grave no longer exists as the church was torn down and rebuilt elsewhere in the city.
The world after Gutenberg entered a new age in which reading, education, indulgence letters and soon the Martin Luther bible became commonplace. Literacy, pamphlets, revolutions, philosophical treatises, a new idea of man – indeed, the modern age itself – was being formed. He also set the technical stage upon which the Grimms would eventually reach circulation figures of 10 million copies for their collection of tales!
Mainz commemorates the famous man in the Gutenberg Museum opposite the cathedral, but it is very possible that as a young child he learned to read and write in Eltville. This small town in the Rheingau, with its twisted alleyways, a riverbank promenade and magnificent villas on the Rhine has also dedicated a memorial to him in the electoral castle. On January 17, 1465, Elector Adolf II of Nassau appointed the inventor as courtier with an endowment of 20 malters of grain (19 barrels) and two fuders of wine (2,000 liters). And of course at tax exemption.
Works such as the “Vocabularius ex quo” – a sort of forebear of the Grimms’ dictionary – were created in the house of brothers Heinrich and Nikolaus Bechtermünze, likely under Gutenberg’s supervision. The tower contains copies, tools and an early printing press from Italy. And to think, the catalyst and inspiration for this groundbreaking invention may have been a machine that was indeed a very familiar sight in this region: the winepress.
Today’s cityscape is defined by half-timbered houses, most of which were built between 1550 and 1850 in the Old Town and other districts. At the start of the 18th century, interest in wooden architecture had waned and many of the houses were plastered over. During the course of the 20th century the town was completely renovated and these gems were brought back to their original state. Now they can be admired everywhere in Eltville.
F: In the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm – but why in Hesse?
A: It’s simple really. Hesse is where the brothers are from. They were born here, spent their boyhoods here, studied here and spent their most important professional years here. From Hanau to Steinau and from Marburg to Kassel, the Grimms travelled from end to end of our narrow state. Our recommended routes take you through authentic locations or show you places that were influenced by the diverse work of the two brothers.
F: The wolf that eats little girls; the hungry witch who likes to fatten up delicate children; princesses who hobble themselves; queens who poison their beautiful rivals. Grimm fairy tales are quite full of barbarities. Which one frightened you the most?
A: I wasn’t easily scared as a kid and thought the passages that were often questionable, from a parent’s standpoint, were quite exciting. For me it was always important that the stories ended on a happy note. Star money fell from the sky for the poor and lonely girl, a poisoned Snow White spit the apple back up and Sleeping Beauty was awakened from her unconscious state by a kiss from the charming prince. Even the Big Bad Wolf spits out the already devoured Little Red Riding Hood and receives his fair punishment. As a kid that was always extremely important for me. It may even be possible that this sense of justice in the fairy tales had a subconscious effect on my decision to study law – an interesting thought, anyway.
F: Do fairy tales have an educational element to them?
A: Certainly, broad spectrum of stories has been passed on verbally throughout the different regions and over many generations. Many of them were not even children’s stories, as we typically think these days. Long before radio and television, when most people couldn’t even read, storytellers also entertained adults. Sure, important morals and values were communicated to people, and those stayed with the listeners over the long term, but looking behind the scenes at the true messages of these tales is an interesting challenge for science, actually. The Grimms are the subject of continuing research at the universities in Marburg and Kassel in Hessen.
F: The brothers Grimm are synonymous with fairy tales, but you mentioned it already – we have inherited much more from them.
A: Absolutely. Of course, everyone first thinks of the children’s stories and household tales, and it’s no surprise. No other book from Germany is as widely known around the world. The fairy tales have been translated into 170 languages at this point. Nearly everyone knows them. Still, for the Grimms it wasn’t just about collecting fairy tales. They wanted to explore the origins of German literature and in the process became forefathers of the systematic study of languages. Just think of the German dictionary. It’s a monument to literary science that took 120 years to complete. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm also researched the history of law and were constantly involved in politics. It’s an enthralling story, really.
F: In what ways were the brothers political?
A: When the Grimms grew up, Napoleon was rampaging through Europe, destroying political structures in Germany that were hundreds of years old. Those were then replaced by an order influenced by the French, but that caused uproar among the Germans, who had developed an awareness of their own culture and yearned for a German nation. The brothers Grimm, meanwhile, were exploring “ancient German law” and “German grammar”, which was giving Germans an even stronger sense of self. They proposed the idea of a German nation and in 1848 Jacob became an elected official in the first German national assembly in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt. Both brothers also spoke out publicly against the tyranny of territorial lords, a subject that forced them out of Kassel in 1829 and got them expelled from Göttingen in 1837. The brothers Grimm were not your average scientists holed up in their laboratories.
F: It seems to be worth finding out new things about the Grimms, since so much is unknown about them. How does one go about that?
A: Explore their homeland: Hesse! The Brothers Grimm Anniversary Year 2013 will see numerous locations staging interesting events. The State of Hesse web site (www.grimm2013.de) will have an overview of the Grimm cities and institutions that are involved. Anyone interested in finding out more about the brothers, their scientific efforts or, in particular, the fairy tales, should go to the main anniversary exhibition at Kassel’s documenta exhibition hall, which will have all of that in one space. It begins in April 2013, and from there it is easy to follow in their footsteps through the surrounding areas. The four Grimm cities in Hesse (Hanau, Steinau, Marburg and Kassel) will be featuring some especially creative ideas regarding the brothers. I’m already looking forward to it!