'And they all lived happily ever after ...' – 200 years of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm
Once upon a time there lived two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who published a book of fairy tales together in 1812 which made them world famous. To mark the 200th anniversary of the first edition of 'Children's and Household Tales' in December 2012, numerous cultural events and projects are being dedicated to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) studied law and were leading literary figures within the Romantic movement in Germany. They are considered to be two of the founding fathers of modern German studies. However, it was their 'Children's and Household Tales' which made the two brothers most famous. A collection of enchanting, spine-chilling stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, some of the fairy tales have relatively brutal storylines. Take Hansel and Gretel, for example, where the parents abandon their children in the woods and the witch is burned in an oven. But good always triumphs over evil in the end, with the violence serving to communicate the moral of the story, that is, an educational message. Nonetheless, people have repeatedly questioned whether the fairy tales are really suitable for children.
Romantic literature in Germany
While studying in Marburg, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were heavily influenced by their teacher, Professor Friedrich Carl von Savigny.
It was through him that they came into contact with a group of artists and scientists at the beginning of the 19th century now referred to as the Heidelberg Romantics, so called because their main representatives, the writers Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, lived in the university city of Heidelberg between 1804 and 1809.
The group also included Bettina von Arnim, who was Brentano's sister and Achim von Arnim's wife, poets Sophie Mereau and Caroline von Günderode, and university teacher and publicist Joseph Görres.
The Heidelberg Romantics were ten years younger on average than the early Romantics, who included Ludwig Tieck, the Schlegel brothers, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Novalis. The Heidelberg group agreed with their theories, but took a critical approach to the literary texts of their predecessors.
Fairy tales: Romantic literature or 'poetry of the people'?
The Brothers Grimm did not invent their stories, rather they already existed as myths and legends, some of which can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The brothers drew in equal measure from oral tradition and written sources, compiling over 200 texts in total. 'Our first aim in collecting these stories has been exactness and truth. We have added nothing of our own, have embellished no incident or feature of the story, but have given its substance just as we ourselves received it...,' wrote the Brothers Grimm in the foreword to Children's and Household Tales. They did however make stylistic changes to the text, 'restructuring it to fit their idea of how "poetry of the people" should be,' as Dr. Bernhard Lauer, director of the Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel, explained.
Brothers Grimm Museum and the German Fairy Tale Route
Initiatives such as the Brothers Grimm Museum, which has set itself the task of documenting the literary works of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and making them accessible today, have been around for some time. Another initiative is the 'German Fairy Tale Route' project that has been in existence since 1975. The Fairy Tale Route stretches from Hanau in Hesse, the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, to the northern city of Bremen, home of the 'Town Musicians of Bremen'. It connects stages in the lives of the Brothers Grimm with places associated with certain fairy tales and is a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the world.
Children's and Household Tales has now been translated into around 160 languages and was even added to the Memory of the World Register by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2005. 'The uniqueness and global impact of this collection may be ascribed to the fact that the Brothers Grimm, in their literary encoding of the pre-literary tradition, extended beyond the German and European frame of reference and created a universal pattern for the cross-cultural fairy tale tradition,' stated the UNESCO declaration.
New films have been made of many of the fairy tales for German television over the last few years, such as "Mother Hulda", featuring well-known German actors.
Brothers Grimm: 200 years of fairy tales (in German only)
Anniversary year 2012 – Grimms' fairy tales everywhere
It will be 200 years to the day on 20 December that the first edition of Children's and Household Tales was published. Many different artists and culture-makers are marking the occasion with new films, modern adaptations and theatre and exhibition projects examining the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
Famous German author Karen Duve, for example, is publishing an extremely biting tribute to Children's and Household Tales, entitled 'Grrrimm', in October. The experimental Italian theatre group 'ricci/forte' is touring the international theatre festivals circuit with its production 'Grimmless'. In it, a group of young actors uses the characters of the Brothers Grimm as a kind of mirror on their own world. As the 'Sisters Grimm', narrators Gabi Altenbach, Cordula Gerndt and Katharina Ritter plan to present all 200 fairy tales in a one-evening storytelling marathon.
The Goethe-Institut is also taking part in the celebrations honouring the Brothers Grimm with, among other things, the 'Fairy Tale Worlds' exhibition that has been touring Europe, Africa and the United States since the beginning of the year, and the virtual project 'Grimmland', an internet platform devoted to the works of the Brothers Grimm. The platform content includes modern adaptations of a number of fairy tales and articles by experts from different industries that use the Grimms' fairy tales in their work. In this way, the Goethe-Institut is playing a major part in honouring and keeping alive the storytelling tradition of the Brothers Grimm, which makes for a happy end in its own right...
What might director Wim Wenders' and entrepreneur Wolfgang Porsche's favourite fairy tales be? Find out in Grimmland!
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