Last week I had the great opportunity to drive one of my new favorite driving routes, the Fairy Tale Route in Germany. Working with the Germany Tourism Board, I tackled nearly the entire route, tracing not only the lives of the Brothers Grimm, but visiting many of the towns, cities and natural escapes that inspired some of their most famous Tales. The road took me through tiny hamlets, dark woods, peaceful rural farms and even large cities, all the while learning more about the power of myth and legend not only in German culture, but world culture. It was fun, it was interesting and I learned more than I thought I would along the way. I also did a lot and while I’ll be sharing all of those details soon, I first wanted to step back and look at the trip holistically, reflecting on the few moments that were most important to me and when assembled, I think do a nice job of representing the entire experience driving along the German Fairy Tale Route.
Climbing Around Marburg
One of Germany’s great university cities, this is also where the Brothers Grimm went to school and where, some say, the ideas that eventually led to collecting fairy tales originally came from. Today it’s still a very active university town, but it’s also a colorful and dramatically beautiful town to explore, just make sure you have your walking shoes. Marburg is built on a series of hills, which means that stairs are just a part of life for visitors to the city, but I also knew that meant one thing – great views. As I slowly walked through town and then up, up and up to the castle overlooking the town and nearby area, I smiled as I finally found what I’d been looking for all afternoon. The panoramic view of Marburg and the beautiful countryside was definitely worth the trek to the top, but that wasn’t the only benefit. Since the city is built on hillsides, it was a great way to experience the city and to get to know it a little better; admiring the appeal of the classic downtown along the way.
Taking the Cure at Bad Wildungen
People have been traveling to this spa town for more than 700 years, thanks entirely to the many natural springs found throughout town and in the nearby mountains. Said to help with any number of health issues, a visit to the city at one time was also part of the German health care system until the costs became too great. While I was there to learn more about the real life noble who many believe to be the inspiration for Snow White, I couldn’t help but also fall under the spell of the curative waters. A large facility in town is free and open to the public to come, drink some water, fill up bottles to take home and enjoy the health benefits as a result. While an acquired taste, the slightly fizzy water actually wasn’t that bad and if people have put their trust in it for so many centuries, there must be something good about it.
Visiting The Brothers Grimm World in Kassel
The impetus for my drive along the German Fairy Tale Route all came from the recent opening of the Brothers Grimm Museum, or GrimmWelt, in Kassel. Called one of the most impressive museum openings in the world, this incredibly engaging experience was everything I’d hoped it would be. I chose that world “experience” carefully, because this certainly isn’t your typical museum. The goal is to share the lives and times of the Brothers Grimm, naturally including the fairy tales, but so much more as well. Their life’s work was the creation of the definitive German dictionary, a massive feat that actually took around 175 years to complete. The experience in Kassel shares all of that, along with the ramifications of their work on German history and culture. It’s a visually spectacular space, incredibly immersive and engaging, educational for sure and just a lot of fun.
Hiking through the forests of Frau Holle
While not very well known in the English-speaking world, the story of Frau Holle is arguably one of the most important fairy tales within Germany itself. It’s also a very old tale, taking inspiration from pagan mythology and even the oldest worship of the Mother goddess that was common amongst the original Europeans thousands of years ago. Because of that connection, the natural elements of the story are very important, and that’s how I found myself wandering around the ponds and forests that many people believe to be the real life inspiration for our earliest ancestors. Located near the extremely small town of Hessisch-Lichtenau in the Nature Park Meissner-Kaufungen Forest are the very real traces of Frau Holle. Even though the hiking path through the forest was just a few feet from the road, instantly the canopy created a dark, shadowy scene, instantly reminding me of those many fairy tales I read as a kid. This is also the location of the Frau Holle pond, the entrance to her underworld kingdom. But research also shows the area to have been important to early Europeans, pointing once again to the evolution of this story throughout the ages. That’s one thing I love about many of the fairy tales, their inspiration comes from our earliest shared history and together tell our story in a way that’s absolutely unique.
Spending the night in a castle – Schlosshotel Münchhausen
My trip wasn’t all about chasing after fairy tales in dark forests though, it also involved my own personal fairy tale moments, especially when I spent the night at the luxury castle-hotel, Schlosshotel Münchhausen. Originally a 16th-century castle, today both the main building and the incredible grounds surrounding it come together to form one of the best hotels in Germany. A luxury, 5-star hotel-resort, this wasn’t only my favorite hotel experience of the trip, it was the most relaxing. Sitting on the terrace, enjoying a fantastic dinner as the sun slowly set was leisurely and fun, exactly what you want from any great hotel experience. The rooms though aren’t what one expects from a 400-year old castle. Inside, the rooms and public spaces are modern, but in keeping with the castle’s tradition, light and airy and incredibly comfortable. It’s also located within just a few miles of Hameln, making it the perfect stop along the German Fairy Tale Route.
Dinner along the river in Bremen
It seems that Bremen has always been an important city, thanks to its long history of business and shipping. A city-state, Bremen today is a large town of more than 500,000 people; cosmopolitan and hip in a way that only northern German cities can achieve. My favorite moment in town though wasn’t learning more about its impressive history, or even looking for the more than 1,000 statues devoted to the Town Musicians of Bremen. No, my favorite moment was another leisurely dinner, this one along the city’s expansive waterfront area. There, dozens of biergartens and restaurants have set up shop, creating a peaceful and relaxed pedestrian zone that combines great food and drink with stunning views. I was there on a warm summery evening and it seemed that the entire city decided to join me in hanging out with friends, talking and laughing and of course eating. I splurged on a traditional dinner from the region, chatted with new friends and enjoyed a perfect evening of just appreciating the city for its atmosphere and the people who call it home. There’s really nothing better in my opinion and for me was the most important moment of my time in beautiful Bremen.
These are just some of the many experiences along the German Fairy Tale Route that were important to me. There are many others and I can’t wait to share those stories too, because after spending a week driving along this creative and fun route I can say without hesitation that it’s one of the best ways to explore the more rural regions of Germany.