Of bats, princesses and many magical encounters: A Journey to Hesse - Where Many of the Brothers Grimm's Fairy Tales Originated.

Now the hundred years had just passed, and the day had come when Sleeping Beauty was to awaken again. When the king's son approached the thorny hedge, it was full of large beautiful flowers, which parted by themselves and let him pass through unharmed, and behind him they joined together again as a hedge. 

Fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty", Brothers Grimm

We see old oaks with gnarled knotholes, that look like eyes. Magical delicate mushrooms growing on dead trunks. Large ferns and deep green. Experience a great silence. In the primeval forest Sababurg in the Reinhardswald we have a picnic. Sitting on a blanket, we have a snack and read a Grimm fairy tale to the children - the one about Sleeping Beauty, of course. The nearby wildly romantic ruins of the Sababurg are said to have served Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as a model for the description of the castle in Sleeping Beauty. The children are amazed when suddenly a hunter, who looks like something out of a storybook, turns the corner: forest-green uniform, rifle over his shoulder, dog on a leash. "Is he real?" my daughter whispers, but then has to laugh herself.

View of the Sababurg in northern Hesse
The famous Sleeping Beauty Castle Sababurg is one of the cultural highlights in the Reinhardswald Nature Park © Paavo Blafield

Fairy tale as a travel guide

We travel along the German Fairy Tale Route, which is 600 kilometers long and runs from Hanau to Bremen. Here in the Hessian section, where the Brothers Grimm spent most of their lives, they collected almost all of the famous fairy tales that almost every child grows up with today. And the Reinhardswald Nature Park is such a sparsely populated and lonely low mountain range that one would not be very surprised if Little Red Riding Hood suddenly appeared - or if we did not find our way back as Hansel and Gretel once did. The imagination is certainly somewhat fired in this ancient forest. And our travel guide, besides the smartphone, is a beautifully illustrated edition of the Grimm's "Kinder- und Hausmärchen".

Be a princess once

Crunch, crunch, crunch: At GrimmWelt in Kassel, everything revolves around the brothers' fairy tales
Crunch, crunch, crunch: At GrimmWelt in Kassel, everything revolves around the brothers' fairy tales © HA Hessen Agentur/Florian Trykowski

Not far from the Sababurg lies Germany's oldest zoo - which we will of course also visit: stop by the BienenWelt and the Archepark farm, where specimens of old domestic animal breeds live. We watch bison and wild horses and experience birds of prey. My daughter is thrilled when she is allowed to have her picture taken with Mona, a female desert buzzard, after the flight show. Of course, she looks like a very brave fairy tale princess.

Refresh fairy tale knowledge

After our excursion to the animals of the forest, we will travel to Kassel to refresh our knowledge of the fairy tales at the GRIMMWELT, an award-winning museum dedicated to the life and work of the Grimm siblings. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?", the children call out at one of the interactive stations - and receive a somewhat surprising answer. In the museum, you also learn that the youngest Grimm brother Ludwig Emil was a well-known painter and graphic artist. And you can see world-famous hand copies of the Children's and Household Tales - which have since been included in UNESCO's World Documentary Heritage. In these, Jacob and Wilhelm made handwritten corrections to the texts before the fairy tales were finally printed. Incidentally, the Grimms, who lived from the late 18th to the mid-19th century, were not only collectors of fairy tales. They also initiated an important work of German studies: the German Dictionary, which they did not live to see completed. And they were committed to democracy and freedom.

On the Grimm's Path

We next stop by Marburg, where the two famous brothers once studied, because we really want to try out the Grimm's Path, which leads through the old town all the way up to the castle. Along the way, you can discover figures and symbols from Grimm fairy tales. For us as a family, it's a fun guessing game: to which story does the basket of wine belong? The pink shoe? Or the big fish in the pond? The light art project "Sterntaler" by Doris Conrad at the University Church and "Das blaue Licht" in the Marburg Castle Fountain are also nice to look at. But of course, the city with its medieval flair makes you feel a bit like you're in another time. Guided city tours and packages around the Grimms are also offered there.

Devilish sagas

In the fairy tale house in Alsfeld, another stop, we deal with the Little Red Riding Hood text, because the child's red costume is supposed to look like the local Schwärmer costume. And in Steinau, we stop by the house where the Brothers Grimm lived as children - a beautiful old Renaissance half-timbered building. Then it's off to the Devil's Cave, Hesse's oldest dripstone cave with mysterious stalactites and stalagmites - and all kinds of devilish legends and stories to go with them. The children, however, are more interested in the bats living here than in the geology of the cave, but they have their fun. And bats are also legendary creatures.

A most living monument

Only one thing remains - to say goodbye, visit the birthplace of the Grimms. There we briefly consider whether to stay the night. Although there are more than 200 Grimm fairy tales, Hanau has its very own legend - it revolves around the Brothers Grimm National Monument on the market square. Who is who, the children ask, looking up at the two linguists in bronze. Yes, well ... in Hanau, people are quite familiar with fairy tales and have therefore circulated the story that Jacob and Wilhelm secretly swap places at midnight. Of course, this makes such a national monument even more exciting. The children are eager to stay up to check it out, we rather not. No fairy tales today, and certainly no witching hour, just a clear announcement: Wilhelm sits, Jacob stands. And if they haven't swapped, that will still be the case tomorrow. The suggestion for kindness is only moderately well received: We can come back tomorrow after breakfast and have another quick look.

Cover photo: Once a year, the Brothers Grimm Festival ensemble in Hanau impresses with its productions of the popular fairy tales © Fabian Boehle

In collaboration with Hesse tourism

Hiking through quiet low mountain ranges, old beech forests or orchards, paddling on the Lahn, looking at the most beautiful medieval half-timbered houses and soaking up the atmosphere of historic spas - Hessen makes romantic souls happy all around. But gourmets also get their money's worth on wine hikes, in Hessian butcher shops and with "Handkäs mit Musik", a pickled cheese. Reasons for a Vacation in Hesse there are enough!

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