Berlin - Bergfreiheit, a tiny German hilltop village, is where you’ll find Snow White’s house. Pop in and you’ll see seven dwarf-sized beds and seven little hats hanging up.
Yes, it’s absurd and touristy, but there is a point.
The dirt-poor dwarfs were real – they were just short chaps suited to employment in the local mines centuries ago. And that industrial fact was somehow merged with the true story of a local beauty, Margaretha von Waldeck, who was banished and poisoned by her stepmother in 1554 at the age of 21.
Out of this came the folk tale of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, which along with 200 others, were famously collected and put into print by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel… these enchanting and often creepy yarns appeared in Grimms’ Fairy Tales long before Walt Disney.
This year, Germany is celebrating the brothers and the 200th anniversary of their world-famous book. You can join in by visiting the Fairy Tale Route, which runs from Hanau in the south to Bremerhaven on the North Sea.
The 600km trail meanders through tiny towns, villages and forests – anywhere associated with the life of the Grimms. The wonderful thing about this landscape is that the towns haven’t changed much since medieval times.
Fritzlar, for example, went to sleep about 700 years ago and hasn’t yet been kissed awake. There is no finer way to pass the time than sitting in its cobbled square eating apple strudel. Our delightful guide pointed out the only non-medieval blot on the landscape, the local sauerkraut factory. “Zat is why you call us Krauts, ja?” he said over our very German picnic lunch of sausage and gherkins.
Likewise, the almost gingerbread town of Alsfeld is so enchanting you might well be inside a fairy tale, thanks to its cake shops, cobbled alleys and timbered houses with pointed gables. Here you will find the Fairy Tale House, built in 1628. It’s gloriously naff, but great fun, too, with a riot of life-sized creatures including the big bad wolf sitting in bed wearing grandma’s nightdress.
For Grimm fans, an excursion to the city of Marburg is essential. This is where the brothers studied in the early 19th century. The city is brimming with children on a story trail, spotting the tales referred to in the statues and sculptures that dot the town. “Der Froschkonig!”, screamed one little girl on seeing the Frog-King statue.
Seven gilded flies attached to a rampart defeated me. I’d forgotten The Brave Little Tailor who swatted the lot in one go.
Marburg has a Grimm fitness path that winds up to the top of the mighty Landgrave Castle towering above the old city. It’s worth it for the view.
Kassel, not far to the north-east, was a lovely Baroque city until the RAF flattened it in World War II. Today, it is the holy grail for Grimm fans. This is where the brothers lived on and off for 30 years, working as librarians in the Hesse State Library. The highlight is the superb Brüder Grimm Museum, home to a first edition of the Fairy Tales annotated by the two authors. That little book is worth £34-million today.
If you have time, there is also Sleeping Beauty’s famous castle at Sababurg. Instead, we returned to Bad Wildungen, not far from the dwarfs’ house, to enjoy a beer.
The Fairy Tale Route is designed for children, but it’s a great excuse to soak up the unexpected delights of rural Germany. Not to mention the dark forests that echo with bedtime stories you’ve only half-forgotten. – The Independent
l More details from www.germany.travel