Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Thu May 07 2015

Germany's Fairy Tale Route Celebrates 40 Years

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | May 07, 2015

Germany's Fairy Tale Route Celebrates 40 Years

PHOTO: The musicians of Bremen Town found a better life in a new place. (Photo by Ingrid Krause)

Germany’s Romantic Road first opened in 1950 and became an immediate prototype for the idea that a route could be a destination in itself if properly promoted. Now the idea has become something of a foundation with “route destinations” all over the world. There’s the Inca Trail in Peru, Rout 66 in the American Southwest, Western Australia’s Margaret River wine trail and too many others to list. The Cold War origins of the creation and promotion of the Romantic Road took root when the U.S. State Department came up with the idea as a way to soften Germany’s postwar image.

In the immediate aftermath of WWII, the battle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union required strong relations with Germany, and the route, with its emphasis on Bavarian and Alpine folk culture, was an ideal way to remind people that there was more to Germany than its recent history.

This year, another important German route is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The market square of Hanau is home to a statue of the Brothers Grimm, which marks the southern terminus of a 373-mile-long network known as the Fairy Tale Route. Hanau’s Castle Philippsruhe will once again host the Brothers Grimm Festival (May 15 to July 26) with medieval market stalls and performances of Rumpelstiltskin and Hanzel & Gretel.

Located about 15 miles from Frankfurt, Hanau is the birthplace of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm who set out more than 200 years ago to collect the oral folk literature of Germany. The brothers, who were serious literary scholars, published their first collection, German Legends in 1816. In collecting the tales they were trying to nurture the folk roots of German literature in the same spirit that Richard Wagner did later on with his operas. The tales are deeper than their “fairy” delineation would indicate.

The Bremen Town Musicians, for instance, is a tale of escape from a labor environment where the unappreciated head to a new place, Bremen Town, to be appreciated. When the Grimms added this tale, Bremen was about to send massive waves of immigration to the New World. The Pied Piper of Hamelin, another example, is a fable of the Black Death.

Anyone who was raised on the fairy tales will recognize the landscape of the Fairy Tale Route. Once an area of small kingdoms, the area is dotted with castles, forests and villages with timber-framed houses just like the world of the fairy tales. After all what fairy tale doesn’t have a castle towering off in the distance? Most of the tales seem to take place in the shadows of castles. Between Hanau and Bremerhaven, the road rambles through all these plus such bigger towns as Bremen, Hamelin, Kassel and Marburg.

Kassel, where the brothers lived for 30 years, is also home to the Brothers Grimm Museum in the Castle Bellevue. On Sept. 4, GRIMM WORLD will open in the town with original exhibits, film and art installations, multimedia and hands-on activities about the Brothers Grimm. Smaller towns like Wolfhagen, for instance, where the tale of the Wolf and the Seven Children is set, have classic medieval town centers. Wolfhagen’s center is 775 years old and it has many half-timbered houses, the 13th century Gothic church of St. Anna and a marketplace fountain with a life-sized bronze wolf whose belly is filled with stones.

Hamelin, the Pied Piper’s town, is located along the Weser River and in the foothills of the Weser Mountains. Dominated by Renaissance architecture, medieval alleyways and smaller streets capture the tale’s atmosphere. The tale is acted out in the Horsemarket on Wednesdays in the summer at 4:30 in the afternoon. The Rheinhardswald Forest, located between the rivers Weser and Diemel, is home to the Sababurg Castle a.k.a. the castle of the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood. If you travel there, stay away from any houses made of candy and cake.

For those interested in traveling the original, the Romantic Road won’t disappoint. The route has evolved as a travel destination to the point where it’s loaded with different options for the style of travel preferred. The 240-mile route is marked by brown direction signs for cars and green signs for the Romantic Road Long-distance cycle route. Hikers can follow the blue direction signs on the Romantic Road long-distance hiking route and are rewarded by a long series of picturesque landscapes.

The easiest way to travel is on board one of the Romantic Road buses that link the holiday route with the international airports at Frankfurt am Main and Munich. The Romantic Road is also the world’s longest hop-on, hop-off sight-seeing tour. You can also contact Palm Beach Garden, Fla.-based, which offers a full range of tours and self-drive options for both the Romantic and Fairy Tale Roads. Germany’s Romantic Road Launches Longest Hop On/Hop Off Coach calls at 28 towns and villages from the River Main to the Alps.

The road itself is with such medieval gems as Rothenburg ob der Tauber and the fairy-tale castles of the Bavarian kings, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau as well as three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Prince Bishop's Residence in Würzburg, the 'Limes' near Dinkelsbühl and the Wieskirche church in the Pfaffenwinkel. 

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