by Amanda White
Germany is the home to rolling hills, winding rivers, and forests so densely wooded they’ve been termed black — in all, the perfect setting for fairy tales to be woven into folklore. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm knew their homeland was ripe for the picking, as if each story was an apple just waiting to be tasted. The brothers mapped out a route within this country, making their way through its heart in order to discover the origins of the stories they had heard since childhood.
But the Grimm route hasn’t been trodden down as much as other tourist road trips throughout the country. Travel enthusiasts are well versed in the storied landscape of the Romantic Road. A tourist destination in itself, many travelers to Germany will rent a car in this country with the sole purpose of driving the meandering course in search of ancient castles and quaint towns. But the Fairy Tale Road — the mapped out section of Germany that the Brothers Grimm explored in the early 19th century — has sights and stories of its own.
The road itself runs from Hanau — birthplace of the Grimms — and ends in the booming town of Bremen. 600km (360 miles) worth of Germany is dedicated to this route, with over 60 stops along the way. Popular tales such as Snow White and Red Riding Hood are boasted to have their origins in the towns along the road, as well as tales and legends less known to a modern, Western audience.
After spending a month in Europe to research local folklore and children’s book authors, I set my sights on the motherload. Leaving Holland and arriving by train to Bremen, Germany, I hopped in a rented Peugeot and decided to begin discovering this fairy trail backwards.
The week was spent in what some in the fairy tale community might consider the equivalent to heaven. Half-timbered villages were separated by thick groves of gnarly trees as far as the eye could see, allowing my imagination to run rampant with tales of evil sorceresses and talking beasts. With a playlist of soundtracks and classical tunes to count off the miles, I alighted on each town and headed directly for the tourist information center. Each was chock-full of reading material that kept me busy when the main attractions closed for the evening. The locals were friendly to the point of neighborly, even to an American girl who spoke only a handful of German. The food ranged from traditional brats to comforting Mexican, and ice cream shops were everywhere. Perhaps the most loved evening activity was the sampling of various beers, and Bremen provided the kickoff point with its Becks Brewery. One thing is certain; Germany certainly knows how to cash in on vacationing sightseers.
And sightseeing I did in abundance. Each town proved to be fiercely proud of their local folkloric traditions. Some had erected monuments to commemorate the stories that made the town famous, while others could boast of actual historic landmarks. Castle ruins were prevalent, as were inns and cottages where fairy tale characters were said to have laid their heads. What each town had in common was their insistence that each fairy tale came from more than an old wive’s tale. They proclaimed that truth could be found within the pages of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and anyone interested in discovering it could simply ask a local.
This fairy tale road helped me to find the hint of reality that lies within lore. Beginning at the end was the perfect way to embark on The Fairy Tale Road. Bremen would prove to be the model for what a Märchenstrasse town should aspire to be — full of stories, sights, and mysteries yet to uncover.
Amanda White is a writer and graduate student in Nashville, TN. She is earning her degree at Belmont University under the Literature and Writing track, and has a personal focus on Children’s Literature and Folklore. In 2010 she traveled abroad for research on a fiction novel for young adults, and completed this work in the Fall of 2011. She is now looking for representation while continuing to freelance and contribute to her personal blog.