Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old World as thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their installment from Germany, where they rented a car to explore the Fairy Tale Road from Frankfort to Bremen.
We decided to break up our city odyssey with some time in the German countryside following the German Fairy Tale Road (www.german-fairytaleroute.com/en) from Frankfurt to Bremen. The area is best explored by car so, arriving in the Frankfurt Main rail station, we checked in at the Avis desk. Our paperwork was ready, but we had to find the lot and figure out an unfamiliar car on our own. Worse, the office could provide no maps or directions. Next time, we will rent a GPS and bring our own maps!
Fairy Tale Country: While the Grimm brothers collected fairy tales from many places, the illustrations and interpretations feel firmly rooted in this rural, heavily forested region of Germany. Many towns connect with the tales with statues, symbolic plaques, and reenactments. For example, in Hameln, townspeople volunteers reenact the Pied Piper story throughout the summer. Although presented in German, the emotional story of greed, betrayal and loss is easy to follow, even for non-German speakers. Other references abound throughout the city, from small images of rats embedded in sidewalks, to the beef and pork “rat’s tails” served at the historic Ratskeller restaurant. Similarly in Bremen, the tale of the Bremen Town Musicians is re-enacted in the town square—in English and German–and images of the tale’s donkey, dog, cat and rooster are ubiquitous throughout the town.
Spas: The word “spa” definitely doesn’t have the same meaning throughout Europe as it does in the U.S. Many places advertising a “spa” may actually have only a sauna or heated pool. One place with a fabulous and very real spa is Hotel Die Sonne Frankenberg Hotel in Frankenburg (www.sonne-frankenberg.de). My mom and I had a swim in their brine bath and then relaxed in heated chairs while eating fresh fruit. However, Hotel Die Sonne offers a wide array of other options from warm waterbeds to massages that should help even the most uptight traveler relax. What’s more, use of the spa facilities (except for treatments) is free for any guest, a thought almost as calming as the spa itself. And their restaurants include a one Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant and another specializing in traditional regional specialties—a great way to unwind after a day of chasing fairy tales.
Castle Hotels: Many castle hotels provide wonderful connections to the fairy tales. At Dornroeschloss Sababurg, “Sleeping Beauty Castle,” kids especially love hearing the Sleeping Beauty legend, related in rhyme in English and German every Sunday from April to October. And Rapunzel fans enjoy seeing a blond “Rapunzel” braid hanging from the tower and the spinning wheel in the staircase window at Trendelburg Castle, now the charming Hotel Burg Trendelburg. The castle remains true to its original state, complete with full suits of armor, charming antique-filled rooms, and, to avoid knocking out walls and staircases, no elevators. Also in the area, Hotel Schloss Waldeck has a medieval torture museum in the castle’s former prison and other historic vestiges. Its modernized rooms maintain their historic feel and offer breathtaking views of Lake Edersee and the surrounding forest preserve. All three castles serve excellent regional cuisine such as local venison, wild boar and river trout along with fresh seasonal vegetables, greens and berries.
e-bikes: Electric bikes are great for exploring the beautiful and remote German countryside in this region. My mom and I got our bikes from Dornroeschloss Sababurg,“the Sleeping Beauty Castle,” and enjoyed seeing the woods and farmland, as well as the camels of an eccentric local. It’s a great area for biking because there’s very little car traffic. I was a bit scared of the e-bikes at first, imagining that they would propel you forward at a constant speed even if you stopped pedaling. However, the bikes actually work by giving you a little push each time you pedal, making the steep German hills much easier. There are different settings, ECO, Standard and High, for different levels of help. I had a lot of fun and would highly recommend them to anyone who likes cycling.
Brother’s Grimm Museums: The two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were far more than collectors of fairy tales, as we learned at the Brothers Grimm Museum (www.grimms.de). Located in the city of Kassel in the lovely baroque-style Palais Bellevue, the museum paints a rich picture of the brothers’ lives and contributions to the fields of linguistics, history, literature and the preservation of the German language. Rooms decorated in period furnishings display well-curated artifacts, letters, documents and portraits, including original hand-written notes for the fairy tales. It was fascinating to see the differences in their personalities as reflected in their handwriting: the small, deliberate style of Wilhelm whose cross-outs reflect his edits, and the large free-style writing of Jacob, reflecting his impulsive nature. Further south, in Steinau, birthplace of the Grimm brothers, the house where they spent their early childhood is now a small museum featuring a reconstruction of the family kitchen, memorabilia and fun fairytale interpretations from around the world including a Barbie doll dressed as Red Riding Hood.
Half-timbered Architecture: The fairytale road is lined with half-timbered houses and spired churches. Many of its towns and cities survived the Second World War fairly intact and seem to have changed little over the centuries. Ask a local or take a tour to find out where the oldest and quaintest buildings are in any town. Each is very proud of its own unique history and fairytale tie-ins. For example, Frankenberg was rebuilt after a fire in 1476 and most of its buildings date back to the 1500s. Townspeople will happily tell you that its Town Hall has with ten towers, one for each of the town’s guilds. Larger, but equally preserved, Hann. Munden has about 700 half-timbered medieval houses, and on summer Sundays, reenacts the exploits of the legendary 17th century Doctor Eisenbart, whose carnival entourage accompanied his surgeries.
For more information on the Fairy Tale Road, visit www.german-fairytaleroute.com/en
Next: We head to Berlin by train (www.raileurope.com).
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.