The Fairy Tale Route with a 5-year-old: Keepin’ it Real

| June 21, 2013 | 3 Replies

 

Once upon a time, my grandfather took a magazine from a far-off doctor’s office because it featured an excellent article about “Fairy Tale Road” or, as it is referred to here in its native land Germany, the Maerchenstraβe.

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My grandfather had noticed that the route seemed to be near where my family recently moved, and thought perhaps we would want to take my then-five-year-old daughter, Sequoia, to “Snow White’s real home”.  It turns out the Maerchenstraβe runs through Hessen, our state, and this scenic route officially begins just north of where we live.  It is a path of storybook villages and deep, dark forests that lead to castles of legend.

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Sleeping Beauty’s Sababurg

maerchenstrasse spooky forest

I was skeptical.  I was treading on very thin ice with a child who has been to Disneyworld and met “the real” Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel.  It would not be easy to find a way to weave tradition, literature, culture, Hollywood, and Disney, without pulling the rug out from under her wonderful, fleeting suspension of disbelief; to respect what she currently felt was real, but impress upon her the integrity of the original works.

I ordered The Annotated Brothers Grimm, the Bicentennial Edition, 2012 and began reading these original tales from the Brothers’ Children’s Stories and Household Tales to Sequoia.  She had heard many of the stories in their abridged and adapted forms, but this was the first time we’d read them to her in their raw entirety.  The book contains a nice variety of illustrations from many sources.  Paul and I enjoyed the edition’s annotations as we drove–they provided fodder for academic discussion.

The Annotated Brothers Grimm, the Bicentennial Edition

The Annotated Brothers Grimm, the Bicentennial Edition, at the start of the Maerchenstrasse

In preparation of our move to Germany, we already had told her that the princesses have been around for a long time and that they came from right here in Germany—including her beloved Snow White, Cinderalla and Rapunzel.  But didn’t we already meet them and eat breakfast in Cinderella’s Castle in Disneyworld?  Yes, because one day, palaces were built for the princesses around the world, including one that Walt Disney built in Florida, which looks just like Germany’s Neuschwanstein (farther south from Hessen, in Bavaria—no affiliation with the actual fairy tale route, but certainly worth a visit as Germany’s iconic palace!).  I decided not to visit Polle (the Maerchenstraβe castle associated with Cinderella) on this trip since Sequoia had been told about Neuschwanstein so recently.

Is Rapunzel still up there?

Is Rapunzel still up there?

We talked in advance about how the Brothers Grimm collected their stories from listening to many people tell them, and how when many people tell the same story, the details can get a little muddled.  This helped explain some of the differences between the original tales and the movies.  Usually, you don’t hear about a knocked-up Rapunzel who then wanders the desert with her twins until she bumps into her prince, blinded by thorns.  And believe me, if there’s any movie my child knows by heart, it’s Tangled, so reconciling “Rapunzel” with the movie was a top priority.  We only read a few stories before actually embarking upon the trip, as I planned to read stories along the way.  But in order to stir up excitement in Sequoia, we started with well-known tales like “Rapunzel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” before taking off.

DAY 1

Fri 30 NOV

STOP ONE: HANAU

DESTINATION: Brothers Grimm monument, Neustädter Rathaus

HanauWe live just south of Hanau, the official starting point of the Maerchenstraβe and the birthplace of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.  A memorial statue of the brothers stands in front of the Neustädter Rathaus.  We visited the statue to take some pictures of the two brothers presiding over the square.

IMG_0219Hanau is where we also stumbled upon our first German Weihnachtsmarkt.  Although we knew that there were Christmas markets going on all month across Germany, we just didn’t expect one in the middle of a weekday in a smaller city.  Sequoia rode her first Christmas carousel, appropriately fairy tale themed, and we enjoyed the atmosphere before we left Jacob and Wilhelm behind.

We unfortunately took off late, had to fill the gas tank, had to return home for Sequoia’s coat and gloves, and spent a little more time in Hanau than expected–and in general were a mess on morning one.  We were able to enjoy ourselves, but we skipped Steinau, listed as Stop 2 on my itinerary.

STOP TWO: SCHWALMSTADT

DESTINATION: Museum der Schwalm

In order to drive through true Rotkäppchenland (Little Red Riding Hood Country), where the Big Bad Wolf might still lurk, we entered our route into the GPS as the Museum der Schwalm via Alsfeld via Giesel.  I read “Little Red Riding Hood” to Sequoia as Paul drove from hills into forest.  After the story, Sequoia spent quite some time looking through her binoculars for any sign of the wolf, whom she suspects still roams today.

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“I know he’s still out there.”

We arrived at the Museum der Schwalm with just enough time to enjoy all of the exhibits before closing.  The small museum, housed inside a charming fachwerk building, had something for everyone.  Exhibits were fitting for the fairy tale theme of our road trip.  Traditional dress, which is still worn on occasion today, might not be what your kids have seen in illustrations.  The costume, along with an exquisite set of Little Red Riding Hood cross-stitched scenes, set the tone for the adventure that lay ahead.

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Dolls wear the traditional dress of the Schwalm

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Museum der Schwalm

This would be a good time to note that much of the Maerchenstraβe intertwines with the Fachwerkstraβe .  Apparently the common English translation for Fachwerk is “half-timbered house”.  What a boring translation.  Fachwerk is the quintessential charming old building you imagine in storybooks.  Yes, these buildings really exist, all over Germany, and there is a scenic byway called the Fachwerkstraβe that stretches the length of the country.  Town after town of beautifully preserved Fachwerk lies along the route, which dances with the Maerchenstraβe through Hessen.  Although we, ourselves live in a beautiful little town designated along the Fachwerkstraβe , this architecture is something I never tire of seeing.  Beautiful Ziegenhain, the location of the museum, was our first real brush with the Fachwerkstraβe on this road trip.

IMG_0835We were not disappointed by our nearby accommodations at nearby Hof Weidelbach.  My German was very, very limited when I made the reservation and the gentleman who took my information spoke only slightly more English, so the mere fact that we  had beds waiting for us was a relief.  Dinner was wonderful.  I enjoyed my first Schwarzbier (YUM) and a local Schwalm-style potato dumpling (when my potato-loving self saw the word Kartoffel, I stopped reading and ordered the dish). Paul enjoyed his standby Schnitzel, and Sequoia colored her menu while awaiting her own children’s Schnitzel.  The house was charming, as was our room, a  double with a rollaway for Sequoia.  The only less-than-fantastic aspect of the stay was breakfast; the buffet food was not fresh.  Despite that, I would stay there again.

Before turning in, we read “Hansel and Gretel” in preparation for the next day’s adventures through woods.  We started “The Brave Little Tailor” since we would be in the vicinity of Bad Hersfeld the next day, but Sequoia didn’t make it to the end.  Hunting for wolves and steering clear of witches is exhausting stuff.  Sequoia’s bed butted up against the window, which looked out on a pasture that was lightly-dusted by morning, contrasting the spoooooky woods that had led us there.

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Nighttime at the hotel

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Morning!

DAY 2

Sat 01 Dec

Goats greeted us in the morning at our hotel, apparently aware that we would be paying tribute to some clever little goats later in the day.

STOP ONE: BERGFREIHEIT

DESTINATION: Bergfreiheit Mine

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Are we on Route 66?

We passed a little bit of Roadside Germany en route to Bergfreiheit!

I read “Snow White” aloud as we drove through hills and valley, along a creek across which a log was downed (most certainly the log crossed by the Seven Dwarves in the illustration in our Disney book in the back seat) until we came to Bergfreiheit.  As we drove up to a clearing, we noticed a set of statues: The Seven Dwarves.

maerchenstrasse snow white and the seven dwarves

maerchenstrasse snow white and the seven dwarves

Heigh-Ho!

 

There was a small parking area alongside the field in which the statues stood (from a brochure I later read, I gathered that these dwarves stand in “Snow White Village Bergfreiheit”).  While Paul and Sequoia walked a path around the perimeter of the field, I asked a restaurant owner across the street how to get to some nearby locations.  The house claiming to have ties to the Seven Dwarves was closed (not a huge disappointment since we weren’t seeking out all of the hokey attractions), but he was able to give me directions to the mine entrance I sought.  He also recommended we stop by the rock and gem shop on the way out of town.

I’ll be honest: I could give a little bit of help here with getting to the mine, but I feel like I’d be handing you the adventure on a silver platter.  If you’re not wandering around on your own, you’re not doing it right.

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Sequoia knew that we would be searching for the dwarves’ mine in the area.  She had been watching Snow White on the DVD player to get her in the mood as she played with Snow White figures.  We had already passed the downed log, amidst exactly the type of woods that Snow White would run through while fleeing the Wicked Queen; surely this was where the dwarves would have a cottage and work in a mine.  Sequoia was on the lookout as we passed lovely pastures and hills.

We spotted the mine, pulled over, and ascended the small hill to the barred entrance (I did hear that they conduct tours at the mine during warm seasons).

maerchenstrasse mine

Definitely where the Dwarves were mining

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Here at the mine, we brought all of the Snow White characters out of the car: Barbie dolls, Disney figures, and a stuffed Dopey.  We reenacted scenes and set up photos.

We climbed around a little bit, discussed theories, and enjoyed the hill until it was too cold to stay outside any longer.  Whatever really happened here, it’s not a place Sequoia would take a bite out of an apple.

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“This could be where they came up the path singing ‘Heigh-Ho’…or Snow White fled the Huntsman…or the Dwarves chased the Queen…”

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On the way back out of town, we popped into the gem shop, Edelsteinschleiferei, where we made a few small souvenir purchases.

 

STOP TWO: BRAUHAUS KNALLHÜTTE 

The Brothers Grimm acquired many of their stories from Dorothy Viehmann, an innkeeper’s daughter.  Her family’s inn is a historic landmark in the care of the brewhouse Brauhaus Knallhütte.  I had read in a few articles that one could order a Cinderella meal, which consists of a slipper carved out of a baked potato.  Perfect, right?  I attempted to reserve the meal when placing a reservation about a month in advance and was informed that we could only order the Cinderella meal with a large group.  I was disappointed, as I thought it would have been a nice treat for my daughter on the fairy tale road trip.  To be honest, the whole reservation process was unpleasant; however, our table was ready upon arrival.   The food was adequate, the brew was good, and the atmosphere in the restaurant was very tastefully fairy-tale themed.  (Note about the location: I read that the inn was on the autobahn, but didn’t expect it to be ON the autobahn! It’s not the charming little place that comes to mind when lumping together the rest of the trip’s stops.)  Lunch cost what it would cost at any normal German pub for the three of us, 35,80€.  I personally would recommend visiting the restaurant for its historic importance, though, not for the culinary experience.

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STOP THREE: WOLFHAGEN

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Wolfhagen was home to a favorite fountain along the route

It was time to read “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids” in the car.  The Wolfhagen Rathaus was on my list of sites to see, as the cellar features reproduced fairy tale artwork of the younger brother of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Ludwig Grimm.  Unfortunately, the Altes Rathaus is only open in the evening (and on Sundays for brunch) so we arrived to find it closed.  The town was charming and featured a wonderful fountain tribute to “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids”.

We walked around the beautifully fachwerk-preserved town, where I purchased the fourth quarter 2012 (4/12) edition of Die Zeit, Die Brüder Grimm, which highlights the 200th anniversary of the Grimm’s fairy tales (in German).

STOP FOUR: KASSEL Weinachtsmarkt

I read that the Kassel Weihnachtsmarkt was unique because the theme was entirely fairy tale driven.  I had high expectations.  Parking was a nightmare (causing us to miss Santa), but once we found a spot, we set off excitedly in search of the fairy-tale themed Weihnachtsmarkt–and some food!  We had read “The Brother and the Sister” on the way (not to be confused with Hansel and Gretel, which I had done before the trip) since this was the fairy tale theme of the 2012 Christmas market.

The ferris wheel was the largest we’d seen in Germany up until that point, offering a nice view of the market and city below, but my absolute favorite feature of the Kassel Weihnachtsmarkt was the Steif department storefront display.  It was magical and nostalgic, one of my favorite parts of any Christmas market we’ve visited.  Window upon window of circus animals setting up for a show, some of them in motion.  It was simply magical.

maerchenstrasse kassel christmas market maerchenstrasse kassel christmas market maerchenstrasse kassel christmas market

My daughter  enjoyed herself on the rides and I would call the evening an overall success.  However, while market was worth our visit,  it didn’t live up to “fairy tale” expectations.  It’s true that there were nice displays of fairy tale scenes throughout the market,

maerchenstrasse kassel christmas market

The Brave Little Tailor

maerchenstrasse kassel christmas market

Mother Holle

but I didn’t notice a discernable “The Brother and the Sister” presence during our one evening.  I had been hoping to purchase a unique fairy tale Christmas souvenir of some sort, but the offerings were much like any other German holiday market.

From Kassel, we drove to our nearby accommodations: Landhotel-Restaurant Schwalbennest.  Although the bed was not über-comfortable, the room was what you’d expect of a Landhotel: the owners were very friendly, the setting was lovely in the morning snow, and we had everything we needed.maerchenstrasse

Our dinner was plentiful and tasted great, and breakfast was good.  Their bar was completely filled with locals enjoying a soccer game when we arrived in the evening, providing a nice hometown atmosphere, and the restaurant was nearly full—clearly they do good business.  We woke to find sheep behind the hotel, which was a charming way to start the day.

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An older Dutch woman staying at the hotel told Sequoia at breakfast that sheep are said to whisper fairy tales in our ears at night.

DAY 3

Sun 02 DEC

STOP ONE: “The wrong Münden”

Here’s where I should note one of the most important lines from the Washington times article Germany’s Fairy Tale Road is a Grimm Adventure:

“Traveling the Fairy Tale Road is a driving tour that requires, at a minimum, a rental car, a good map, patience and a sense of humor.”  – Bob Taylor, Travels with Peabod

Equally important is the mention in several articles of Fairy Tale Route’s Hannoversh Münden (Hann. Münden).

As we set out for Münden, we  popped Puss in Boots in the DVD player in anticipation of the day’s later destination.  By all accounts, Münden promised to be a stunning example of fachwerk sitting right on the river Fulda; and although there were no specific fairy tales tied to the city, it was touted as a worthwhile stop.  A great fan of fachwerk, I entered Münden into the GPS off we went.  I was unfazed by the lack of river anywhere in the vicinity of the drive.  I was oblivious to the great distance we were traveling—much farther out of the way than I recalled planning.  Paul did not question my navigation.

This route was quite curvy, but beautiful in the snow.  The Münden route is where we turned off my Volvo’s alarm that alerts the driver when you drive over the center line.  On these rural roads, you spend the majority of your time straddling the middle line.

When we arrived in the wrong and riverless Münden, we found it quite small.  There were only a few fachwerk structures; beautiful enough, but I was surprised that they would be fussed over in comparison to any other town along the Maerchenstraβe.

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The wrong Münden

We headed in the direction of rejoining the official Fairy Tale Route and did not speak of Münden for a bit.  I stared at the map, my itinerary, and the articles I’d brought along.  And there I saw it: Hannoversch Münden.  I looked up Hannoversch Münden.  There it was, on the river, right smack in between Kassel and our afternoon’s destination.  Turns out that instead of driving 29 miles/32 minutes to Hann. Münden followed by 25 miles/39 minutes to our next destination, we had driven 34 miles/over an hour of windy, snow- and ice-covered back roads to the wrong Münden, and were faced with 68 miles and nearly two hours to our next destination.  I repeat (as I read aloud to Paul when breaking the news to him), “…patience and a sense of humor.”

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on the way down the wrong path

This detour took us through an interesting town, Bad Arolsen.  We were visually drawn to its beautiful yellow Baroque palace; later research revealed that the town is home to the International Tracing Service, an institution which preserves Holocaust records, assists victims’ families in research, etc.

STOP TWO: OBERWESER

DESTINATION: Oedelsheim

We headed to Oedelsheim, land of the legend of “Puss in Boots”, in search of a trail of carved overhanging signs, which I’d read leads through the streets.  I was actually surprised to learn that “Puss in Boots” was a Grimms fairy tale.  In town, we were unable to locate any overhanging signs or trail, but we found the large wooden carving of Puss at the parking lot of the Village Museum / Parkplatz Göttinger Str. Ecke Goldene Aue.  Of all things for my daughter to decide was beyond her suspension of disbelief, this was it: she had to be dragged out of the car for a photo, because this carving was most decidedly not a likeness of the “real” Puss and Boots (whom she also met, at a Dreamworks weekend at National Harbor…I need to do a better job of sheltering this child).

"THAT looks like a CHIPMUNK"

“THAT looks like a CHIPMUNK”

You can’t win ‘em all.

DESTINATION: Gieselwerder

IMG_1033We drove across the bridge to Gieselwerder, where there were more ties to Snow White.  I did not elaborate on these ties because we’d had such a great Schneewitchen (the original German title, “Little Snow White”) experience with our visit to Bad Wildungen.  Both here in Oberweser and in Bad Wildungen there are claims of ties to Snow White.  If not for the similar fairy tales in other cultures, some could argue that the life of Countess Margarete Von Waldeck tips the scales in the direction of Bad Wildungen…we’ll never know.

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STOP THREE: TRENDELBURG

Our Trendelburg approach was absolutely magical.  For anyone who has seen Tangled (and I assure you my daughter has seen it a thousand times by now), you will not be disappointed by the perch of Rapunzel’s tower atop a knoll.  Despite Trendelburg being surrounded by land and not water, the town otherwise resembles the shape of the kingdom on the hilltop, cascading down the hill. It brought up a bit of discussion regarding why the tower was atop the hill and not deep in the woods, but we worked through it.

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the approach to Trendelburg

DESTINATION: Laternenweg

In Trendelburg, you can follow the Laternenweg through town.  Lanterns featuring cutouts of the Grimms’ fairy tales line the streets.  Winter is not the best time to enjoy the lanterns, as they were dirtied from snow and infrequent cleaning.  However, it was a nice stroll that one must take when experiencing the Maerchenstraβe.  The different panes of glass around each lantern feature different scenes from that lantern’s story.  We enjoyed trying to identify the tales being depicted.  Although I’d read that the tourism office, where you can obtain leaflets explaining the motifs of the lanterns, was open every day, the office was closed with a sign giving hours for Monday through Friday.  It was unclear whether those were winter hours, so I’d recommending calling ahead.

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Bremen Town Musicians

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Pied Piper

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Little Red Riding Hood

DESTINATION: Burg Trendelburg

The castle’s tower itself is well-preserved.  Rapunzel’s braid hangs out the window, leaving you to hypothesize whether she really did escape, or perhaps returned, or whether it was just her hair remaining (we know how the movie ends).  I was surprised when my daughter’s suspension of disbelief truly kicked in here: she interprets the braid to mean that Rapunzel is still stuck up there.

I have mixed feelings about my experience with the castle: I had emailed management at Hotel Burg Trendelburg in advance to confirm that “Rapunzel” would be making her appearance as scheduled, Sundays at 1500, to let her hair down from the tower to her prince below.  The hotel assistant manager confirmed that on Sunday at 3:00 p.m., Rapunzel would visit as scheduled, and then the tower would be opened for a 3€ fee, no children under 6.

I scheduled our trip through Trendelburg for that day, arriving before the big event.  We waited, but Rapunzel did not appear.  Fortunately we had not told Sequoia of Rapunzel’s visit, because when I inquired inside about 10 minutes past the hour, I was told that Rapunzel was not going to appear; I was given no reason.  However, we were invited to explore a section of the castle (at no charge), including the dungeon, which was well worth the visit.  Although the table with candlesticks gave a bit of a Beauty and the Beast “Be Our Guest” atmosphere for our little Disney fan, Sequoia was especially fearful of a witch’s broomstick.

maerchenstrasse trendelburg

maerchenstrasse trendelburg

Seriously, this thing could come to life at any moment.

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We circled a bit of the castle, looking for where thorns might have been.  After we departed, I realized that I’d enjoyed Sequoia’s theories on Rapunzel’s presence in the tower—theories which would have been thwarted if we’d seen and met Rapunzel.  Our visit was, then, perfect as-is.

STOP FOUR: SABABURG

DESTINATION: Dornröschenschloss Sababurg

Our accommodations for the next two nights would be a most beautiful fairy tale castle: Dornröschenschloss Sababurg (“rose thorn palace”)the castle of Sleeping Beauty.  The castle is only partially intact, but it is a beauty.

The castle still seems overtaken by thorny vines

The castle still seems overtaken by thorny vines

For dinner, we ate venison brought in by local hunters.  I followed up my meal with a dessert drink named after Snow White/Rose Red.

Our tower room was quaint and there was a small booklet of the tale of Sleeping Beauty awaiting us, along with fruits, chocolates and bottled water.  I will say up front: this was our favorite accommodation and I am glad we stayed for two nights.

Sleeping Beauty's roses bloomed outside even in winter

Sleeping Beauty’s roses bloomed outside even in winter

DAY 4

Mon 03 DEC

SABABURG

At breakfast, which included the most amazing scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted, we took in views of Tierpark Sababurg, the oldest zoo in Germany.  We watched buffalo and deer graze as we ate, Sequoia dressed as Sleeping Beauty.

maerchenstrasse sababurgmaerchenstrasse sababurgmaerchenstrasse sababurg

All around the castle grounds, steel cutouts interpret the tale of Sleeping Beauty.  We followed the story, which led up the tower where the spinning wheel cutout hung.  Sequoia chickened out toward the top and fled, not wanting to prick her finger if a cursed spinning wheel had been left behind!

Certainly we would not want the castle to fall into another deep sleep.

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Here, we played with another of Sequoia's Disney dolls.  Poor Aurora fell into a deep sleep on the castle wall. 

Here, we played with another of Sequoia’s Disney dolls.  Poor Aurora fell into a deep sleep on the castle wall.

Deer grazed outside the castle walls, which overlook expanses of unspoiled lands that might look just like they did 200 years ago.

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unspoiled fairy-tale forests

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Overlooking the forest

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DESTINATION: Tierpark Sababurg

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We decided to visit the Tierpark despite the cold weather.  It was empty of visitors and we wandered the zoo feeling as if we were behind the scenes.  In a large field, the buffalo, horses and deer we watched from the castle were wandering within a large enclosed pasture.  The small zoo houses some surprises, too, such as penguins.  The children’s section included a wonderful hands-on area with animals roaming free, and another area allowed you to visit the birds within.

The picnic area and playground offered a unique view of Sababurg, and the Tierpark’s cute little gift shop is where I bought one of my favorite Maerchenstraβe souvenirs, the Deutsche Märchen Spielkarten.  This deck of cards features illustrations of the fairy tales and other important sites from along the route.

Although it is not a large zoo, it is within walking distance of the castle, it is the oldest Tiergarten (for those of you interested in history or checklists), and it’s a good diversion for the little ones for as short or as long as you want to stay.

These national forest roads were thicker with ice and snow, so we navigated them slowly.  After all, we did pass a farm tractor pulling a car from a ditch.  Our Volvo XC70 was only 6 weeks old, so we were breaking it in.  As we watched “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” on one of the DVD’s in the Scholastic Storybook Treasures and the “Elves and the Shoemaker” on another, we headed through thick forests much like elves and witches would call home.  When we came out of the woods, we soon found…

STOP TWO: MÜNDEN

DESTINATION: “The right Münden”

hann. munden maerchenstrasse

In a magazine I’d picked up the previous evening, pictures of Hann. Münden truly did look beautiful.  We decided to check out the town a short drive from the castle, to visit and grab a bite to eat.  We knew we were in the right Münden when we saw the river.  And no wonder people wrote about Münden: it is beautiful.  A riverside fachwerk city built atop a wall surrounding the Marktplatz, an intact tower, simply lovely.

IMG_1979They were holding their Weihnactsmarkt, although not much was open at the early lunch hour.  We did find a nice little restaurant for lunch, where I ordered a local “barn bird”.  I like to tell myself it was chicken; regardless, it was good stuff.  At the Christmas market, Sequoia enjoyed some rides while I checked out a rare book shop.  We enjoyed the town for the afternoon.  After all, it wasn’t an easy find for us.IMG_1976

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Snow falls on the town as we leave

That evening back at Sababurg, the hotel staff presented us with a Münden advent calendar for Sequoia.  Oh, the irony.  Back in our room, a booklet with the story of The Three Castle Sisters awaited us.  We learned of the legendary princesses associated with Trendelburg and Sababurg, each of which we’d now visited, as well as Bramburg.

Day 5

Tues 04 DEC

STOP ONE: HAMELN

After a nice breakfast at Sababurg, we set off for Hameln, of course reading “The Pied Piper” in the car.  The town’s Christmas market was in full swing, and it was a very nice medium-sized market.

maerchenstrasse hameln christmas market maerchenstrasse hameln

In fact, there was as strong a fairy tale presence in Hameln as in Kassel (as well as a rat theme at some kiosks).  Throughout the streets you can follow rat stepping stones from one landmark to the next.

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The whole town was a beautiful village, well-preserved.  The greatest attraction of Hameln is its Glockenspiel at the Hochzeitshaus (“wedding house”).  Not only do the bells play, but the story of the Pied Piper is mechanically reenacted through windows about halfway up the building.  It’s a highlight of the town and of the Maerchenstrasse.

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We were unable to find the Hochzeithaus using the GPS, but it’s right in the center of town.  You can’t miss it.

Where you don't want to be hameln

Where you don’t want to be

Where you do want to be

Where you do want to be

I had read of the Rattenfängerhaus (literally, “Rat Catcher’s House”), a restaurant with some rat-themed dishes.  We weren’t impressed with service (noting that we are not demanding, recognizing the leisurely German style of restaurant eating); food was meh.

Afterward, we posed for pictures with the fairy tale fountain,

pied piper statue hameln

Don’t do it!

then the pied piper lurked as Sequoia enjoyed the fair rides.

Paul and Sequoia were drawn to a candy stand like Hansel and Gretel to the witch’s cottage.

It should be noted that if (in nicer weather) you decide to splurge on following the Pied Piper around town, you should keep an eye on the kids.  This is one legend with historical roots.

Hameln GlassworksThis being the Christmas season, we visited the glassworks, Schauglasbläserei Hameln, where we each blew our own Christmas ornaments.  First we sat through a demonstration.  The artist translated as much as he was able into English.  Fortunately, we were the only family in the room at the time.  These will be perfect reminders of our trip for Christmases to come.  The glassworks mailed our ornaments to us after they’d cooled overnight, and they arrived safely a few days after we returned home.  Sequoia was able to blow her own ornament.  I held her on my lap and motivated her, since it did take a lot of focus and air.

**Note: Here is where we could have stopped our trip and have had a perfect trip.  We pushed it too long.  We could have slept in Hameln, turned around the next day to return home, and have been satisfied that we’d done a good portion of the Maerchenstraβe with our daughter.

DESTINATION: Buxtehude

Buxtehude is known for the tale of “the Rabbit and the Hedgehog”, better known to Americans as the Tortoise and the Hare.  We watched the old Bugs Bunny “Tortoise Beats Hare” cartoon, which I consider the best adaptation!  We ate an excellent casual dinner at Restaurant Amadeus before turning in at Hotel-Café Am Stadtpark–adequate accommodations (the hotel looks and feels much different in person than online), but not reservations I’d scramble to make again in the future.  That said, the included breakfast was better than the Landhotels and second only to the castle.

maerchenstrasse

Most days, we wound through the snowy back roads of Germany

Day 6

WED 05 DEC

STOP ONE: HAMBURG

DESTINATION: Komödie Winterhuder Fährhaus

In the morning, we got an early start.  We were leaving the Maerchenstraβe at this point, but we had tickets for a show in Hamburg.  The city limits greeted us with large, industrial ports so unlike the rest of Germany’s landscape.  In Hamburg, we attended a musical Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs performance at the Komödie Winterhuder Fährhaus.  It was a fun twist on the fairy tale and a nice way to end our adventure.

maerchenstrasse

From Hamburg, we actually did the full drive home via the autobahn.  Had we not burned ourselves out, I would’ve turned around and headed into Bremen for the final town musician fountain photo.

In the end, I have a child who remembers this trip fondly, asks to hear Grimms’ tales straight out of the annotated book, still has her theories about some of those places we visited, still thinks the wooden Puss in Boots looked like a chipmunk, has no problem reconciling Grimms’ tales with the Disney versions, and is living happily ever after…

 

Additional planning notes:

route marker

Although one can find signs marking official Maerchenstraβe sites along the route,  I *do* recommend straying from the path.  What’s the worst that can happen (besides encounters with witches, wolves, elves and evil queens)?

When researching the trip (not a lot of which I’d done in advance), I spent some time on the official Maerchenstraβe website, which features an interactive map. I ordered the paper map for free, but you could also pick one up at many stops along the way.  It’s a fun map, great for the kids to reference as you drive—along the highlighted route are small illustrations from stories associated with the nearby towns.  Here’s a  road trip route planning site I wish I’d known about then, on which the Maerchenstraβe is listed: the Ferienstrassen website.

 

We framed and hung our map to remember our trip

We framed and hung our map to remember our trip

For the car ride, I wrote up an itinerary and cut and paste additional info about the places we were visiting, giving me something to read to my husband Paul when it was his turn to drive; and I took along an accordion file with activities for Sequoia that pertained to each day’s adventures.  It included coloring sheets, German Disney princess magazines, plain fairy tale activity sheets, word searches, and other activities featuring that day’s fairy tale characters.  If we’d known more than a few words of German at the time, I would’ve printed out this Maerchen ABC for Sequoia.  I was reading to her from both the anniversary edition of the Grimms’ tales as well as from other Grimms’ books during the trip because not all of Grimms’ fairy tales appear in the bicentennial edition.We tackled this road trip in early December, which had its merits and drawbacks:

  • Winter days are short in Germany, which I had not been here long enough to realize.  Daylight is not on your side. We were not able to see and do all that I had hoped simply because darkness fell upon us.  I’d pick another season were I to do it again.  Some things look much more beautiful in the snow–on the other hand, it takes longer to get places when back roads are covered in it.
  • Many activities available to children in the summer are not open in the winter, or the hours are incredibly abbreviated.  For us, this was not a huge issue.  There were some tourist opportunities that looked interesting, but not interesting enough to outweigh the godsend of not having to explain which princess she met was the real one.
  • It.is.cold.
  • But…No crowds, easy reservations, off-season prices.STEINAU:  That’s where I had planned to visit the House of the Brothers Grimm.   Although I personally was disappointed to miss this historic house, I was not upset that Sequoia would not be visiting two museums in one day.  That said, we plan to visit the House of the Brothers Grimm and adjoining marionette puppet theater this summer.  There are also a castle and quite a few children’s activities in Steinau that could make it a good place to spend an entire first day (in nicer weather) after starting off for the token stop in Hanau.

Our plan had been to drive part of the scenic Minden’s Windmill path, then visit Bremen for a picture with the monument to the town musicians before our final stop for the evening, Buxtehude; we had read the “Bremen Town Musicians” in anticipation.  Due to the short daylight hours, however, we were forced to head straight to Buxtehude, where we were unable to enjoy that town as well, due to darkness (seriously: think hard when planning a winter road trip). Bremen has a few listings for children’s activities  on the Maerchenstraβe website.

Our only reason for continuing on to Hamburg was for the related show—there is no reason to do so for a Maerchenstraβe road trip.

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Category: A&E, Activities, Castles & Palaces, Christmas Markets, Christmas Markets, FAMILY, Family Travel, Germany, Hotels, In Germany A Broad blog, Museums, Parks, Zoos & Aquariums, Photo Gallery, Restaurants, Shits & Giggles, Travel

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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  1. The wrong shoes for Dedenhausen | In Germany, A Broad | April 6, 2014
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  3. Maerchenstraβe: Fairy Tale Road | Germany Ja! | July 2, 2013

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