The Märchenstrasse, or Fairytale Road, wends its way 600 km amid the rolling hills and patches of dense forests in the heart of western Germany. Established in 1975 and listed as a UNESCO heritage site, this fabled road retraces the footsteps where the 19th-century German folklore writers, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, lived, studied, wrote and adapted original stories that would ultimately create the beloved Children’s and Household Tales. What better way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this legendary publication than to visit the places where fairy tales came true.
Once Upon A Time…
In the German state of Hesse, country roads ramble through an area known as Rotkäppchenland, or Little Red Riding Hood Land. As the local story goes, the Brothers Grimm saw inspiration in the region’s traditional dress, which women accessorized with a red, bun-shaped cap – contrary to the cape in Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood.
Within the heart of this area is the quaint town of Alsfeld, whose cobblestoned streets and colorful, half-timbered houses create an enchanting fairy tale atmosphere. The town’s Märchenhaus (Fairy Tale House) not only hosts an exhibition of doll houses from the last two hundred years, but it’s also a place where children can listen to readings from their favorite Grimm tales.
To reminisce about those nights of bedtime stories, fall into a pleasant slumber at the inviting Märchenhaftes Bed & Breakfast in Alsfeld. From Snow White to the Frog King rooms, this unique B&B in a five-hundred-year-old, half-timbered house offers six tastefully-appointed accommodations, with each one reflecting a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. When tucking in to a hearty breakfast, take a gander at the numerous paintings of Alsfeld’s town hall, all of which mirror that of the artistic styles of history’s illustrious painters.
While journeying along the Fairy-Tale Road, a stop in the hamlet of Fritzlar is certainly a must. Beautiful St. Petri cathedral, founded by St. Boniface himself, looms behind the town’s grand market square and, to top it all off, don’t forget a snapshot of the information center’s half-timbered house near the cathedral; for it’s quite apparent that it has been dependent on the mercy of time for support all these centuries.
Located between Alsfeld and Fritzlar lies the picturesque village of Homberg, where visitors can pass through the narrow “Wedding Gateway” before trekking up to the ruins of Hohenburg Castle for a spectacular view.
Although Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm were born in the city of Hanau, where statues of the renowned Brothers stand in front of the stately town hall, the university city of Marburg captures their literary spirits.
Once arriving in Marburg’s striking old town, which rises to the occasion upon the steep slopes of a hill above the Lahn River, it is difficult to believe that, while the the Brothers Grimm lived and studied here, they didn’t particularly care for the city. They characterized it as dirty and ugly with badly lit alleyways and skewed houses. Albeit referring to their short stay in the early 1800s, the charm it beholds today, with a myriad of half-timbered houses doning vivid colors, whimsical characteristics and designs, is what makes Marburg so alluring.
The old Market Square boasts not only the city hall, where Wilhelm and Jacob had frequently attended plays and comedies, but also one building in particular that showcases seven giant, metal flies upon its façade, emulating the Grimm’s fairy tale The Valiant Little Tailor. As the story goes, the young tailor is about to eat his jam when the seven pesky insects settle on the sweet substance; however, with one blow he kills them all.
When the Brothers Grimm were studying law at the 16th century Philipps University, which at that time only had 170 registered students, the inseparable Brothers lived together in small, modest conditions in the 400-year-old building at Barfüsserstrasse 35. From here, the narrow lanes wind their way to where Marburg’s 13-century Landgrafenschloss (Landgraves’ Castle) crowns the hill.
One section of the Castle’s museum recounts the story about how the Brothers Grimm created the Children’s and Household Tales. Legend has it the two Brothers listened to the local lore by older women for fairy-tale writing inspiration while traveling through the villages of Hesse. The truth of the matter is that Wilhelm and Jacob heard the stories told by aristocratic women over cups of tea and then put pen to paper to adapt those to become the fairy tales known today. Many of these stories have their roots in original Italian and French writings that include pieces by Charles Perrault, noted for his Tales of Mother Goose and that certain beauty who slept for 100 years. By the first edition in 1812, Wilhelm and Jacob had assembled 156 fairy tales and by 1857, after revisions and additional stories, the number increased to 211. Although not all of these made it to publication, those that did have become timeless works in 160 languages.
Another Road Traveled
The Half-Timbered House Road (Fachwerkhaus Strasse) also navigates through northern Hesse, where hamlets throughout the region present a motley array of one-of-a-kind structures that will enhance the fairy tale ambiance. Many of these architectural treasures appear to have been leaning on each other like best friends for the last few hundred years, exhibiting a character and a story all unto their own.
Step back to the Middle Ages by entering the Jerusalem Gate in the old walled town of Büdingen and stay a night or two at the 12th-century castle. Then, imagine the days of knights in shining armor and fair maidens by taking a detour to Ronneburg Castle’s lofty location. Explore this drafty stone edifice whose highlight is a 96-meter well—toss a bucket-full of water inside and wait for the splash-filled finale; it’s a hit with kids, along with the castle’s afternoon falcon show.
While navigating the Fairytale Road, coupled with quintessential German villages off the beaten path, it won’t take too long to be enveloped by those fables of yore.