City of Gelnhausen, Germany






Once upon a time, in thickly forested central Germany, there lived two brothers by the name of Grimm. The elder, Jacob Ludwig Carl, was always serious beyond his years; the younger, Wilhelm Carl, although sickly, was personable and friendly. From early childhood, they both loved tales of enchantment about generous kings and good-hearted queens, golden-haired princesses saved from disaster by stalwart princes, turreted castles and cozy cottages, wicked witches and cruel stepmothers.

Jacob was born in 1785, a year before Wilhelm, in Hanau, now a traffic-congested suburb east of Frankfurt. Their birthplace was destroyed during World War II, but in Neustädter Marktplatz there stands a larger-than-life bronze statue of the dour-faced workaholic brothers--appropriately pondering a large book. This marks the beginning of the Deutsche Märchenstrasse, the German Fairy-Tale Road.

September 29, 1985
Germany at its most nostalgic is a land of legends, myths and folklore - Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Those stories evoke memories of childhood, but they also conjure an image of Germany at its most romantic. Moreover, they are way stations along a vacation route mapped out for travelers by the German Tourist Board - the Fairy Tale Road. A winding, twisting northward itinerary through the states of Hesse and Lower Saxony, from Hanau to Bremen, it leads for 370 miles along secondary highways and bucolic byways through some of West Germany's quaintest villages, oldest towns and lushest countryside.

To be sure, like the country's other labeled tourist routes, such as the Romantic Road or the Castle Road, it is a promotional effort. But among those various trails, it is special: a four- to seven-day journey by car (longer if you have the time) through a landscape of hamlets, walled medieval towns, half-timbered houses, Gothic cathedrals, castles perched on mountaintops, taverns, inns, forests, valleys and rivers - all linked to the fantasies and folktales immortalized by the Grimm brothers and by other chroniclers of German legends, fables and sagas.
Though the Fairy Tale Road has been mapped out for a decade, and a colorful brochure in English and German gives capsule descriptions and histories of 60 villages and cities along the way, there seems no better time to explore it than during the current bicentennial of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who in addition to recording all those fairy tales gave the Germans their most comprehensive dictionary - a 32-volume, 35,000-page work. Because the Grimm brothers were born a scant 14 months apart, in 1785 and 1786, the jubilee - a round of exhibitions, festivals, concerns, folk fairs and theater performances -began this spring and will continue well into next year.
THE starting point of the route is the city of Hanau, where the Grimms were born.
This industrial center of 90,000 inhabitants, only 12 miles from Frankfurt and a mere half-hour drive from Frankfurt Airport, was largely destroyed during World War II. Of worthwhile landmarks, only a 19th-century bronze statue of the Grimms and Schloss Philippsruhe, a Baroque palace built between 1701 and 1712 for the Counts of Hanau, survived wartime damage. The palace with its manicured grounds is a museum today, and its principal treasures are examples of faience work for which Hanau was famous in the 17th and 18th centuries. A special exhibition on the life and works of the Grimm brothers will continue through next September. The museum is open daily except Mondays from 10 A.M. to noon and 2 to 5 P.M. Admission is free.

Once out of Hanau, on Highway 43, the path becomes pleasantly pastoral. It parallels the little Kinzig River, a tributary of the Main, to the town of Gelnhausen, nestled on a steep hillside overlooking the Kinzig valley.
A treasure-trove of narrow cobblestoned streets, half-timbered houses, some of them 800 years old, and still partly enclosed by its medieval wall, Gelnhausen was founded in 1170 by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The remains of his castle-fortress tower over the little city. The red sandstone Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) is a fine example of late Romanesque to early Gothic architecture and contains several 15th-century altarpieces. Gelnhausen was the birthplace of Jakob von Grimmelshausen, whose picaresque ''The Adventuresome Simplicius Simplicissimus'' is said to be the world's first autobiographical novel. His 17th-century home at 12 Schmidtgasse is now the Hotel Grimmelshausen, an inn with 24 rooms and maximum rates of $30 for a double (phone 17031).

From Gelnhausen it is 15 miles on Highway 40, along the Kinzig, to Stenau-an-der-Strasse, where the Grimm brothers spent their boyhood years after their father had been appointed the local magistrate in 1791. The town boasts a Renaissance castle built by the Counts of Hanau in the early 16th century, a Gothic church, a puppet theater in the castle's former stables, a maze of narrow lanes and the 16th-century courthouse (Amtshaus) in which the Grimm family lived. The castle museum is open daily except Monday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. (admission about 70 cents), the Amtshaus on Tuesday, Thursdays, Sunday and holidays from 2 to 4 P.M. (admission 70 cents). The Marionetten theater performs such classics as Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Puss-in-Boots every Saturday and Sunday, and on some weekdays for groups and classes, year-round. Average ticket prices are around $2. For reservations phone 245.
To get from Steinau to Lauterbach, the next stop, takes a bit of navigating along 30 miles of unnumbered country roads through the hamlets of Freiensteinau, Grebenhain and Herbstein. The route leads through the Vogelsberg Natural Park, one of 10 nature preserves along the Fairy Tale Road and vivid proof that Hesse is Germany's most wooded state. Some 40 percent of its territory is covered by dark forests of the kind in which you expect Snow White to meet her dwarfs, Hansel and Gretel to get lost, or witches to live in houses made of bread and cake. The Vogelsberg area, tucked between the Fulda and Lahn rivers, is one of the remotest in the country and its villages share a characteristic style with facades of small wooden shingles.

Lauterbach, a farming town with a number of nearby castles, is renowned not only for its pottery workshops but the manufacture of colorful earthenware garden gnomes - as big an industry as cuckoo clocks in the Black Forest.
After you've taken it in, head out on Highway 254 for a 12-mile drive along the Schwalm River to Alsfeld. The Schwalm Valley is where the tale of Little Red Riding Hood originated, because of the curious local folk costume, still worn today. The women adorn themselves with ornate, ruffled short-sleeved bodices and wide aproned skirts supported by many petticoats, covering their legs with white wool stockings. The number of petticoats is an indication of the woman's wealth. The hair is braided into a knot, atop which sits a bright red headdress, a kind of cap.


German Half-Timbered Houses Route (Fachwerkstrasse) 

A new road in Germany! If you want to see some of the most interesting half-timbered houses in Germany try the The Half-Timbered House Road . 

When many people come to visit Germany, they are often recommended to tour along the Romantic Road, because they want to see the quaint little towns in Bavaria, with those cute half-timbered houses. But did you know, that the most half-timbered houses that can be seen in Germany, are not even on this road? In Germany there are other "roads" with names, such as the Allee (tree-lined) Road, the Fairy-tale Road, the Wine Road, and of course, the Half-timbered House (Fachwerkstrasse) Road. The Half-timbered House Road is 2000 km long, and runs from Stade in the North towards Reichelsheim in the South.

 The Half-Timbered House Road

The tour starts in Grünberg, goes on to Lich, then Butzbach, followed by Gelnhausen, Steinau an der Straße, Fulda, Lauterbach, Schlitz, Bad Hersfeld and ends in Rotenburg (an der Fulda) not Rotenburg ob der Tauber.
This tour can be done in 2-10 days depending on how much time you want to spend, is ideal for families and bicycle tourists.

 Gelnhausen, The Barbarossa City

 It's hard to imagine that this small town, just a short drive away from Frankfurt/M, was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, THE center of the known world, in fact. Because Frankfurt/M is a big city today, whereas Gelnhausen is a small town. The reason could be because Gelnhausen was Barbarossa's city, and Frankfurt was the coronation place for a number of Holy Roman Emperors. Today Gelnhausen has the quaintness of a small town in Germany, although that "Old World" characteristic has been cherishingly preserved. If you take a walk through the narrow streets and allies in the old town, you can almost feel the ghosts of history walking past you.




Frederick Barbarossa Castle Gelnhausen











Portrait of a town 

Gelnhausen, once chosen by the royal house of Staufer and granted status of a free city of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick - Barbarossa or Redbeard -, can look back on a truly stirring past.

Gelnhausen has experienced more economic and social highs and lows than almost any other German town.

An 800 year struggle for peace and freedom distinguished the town and its inhabitants whose bravery, love of justice and diligence were vouched for as early as 50 BC by Julius Caesar in his book “de Bello Gallico” (The Gallic Wars).

Today Gelnhausen resembles a dreamy small town.  Nestling romantically in the Kinzig valley and surrounded by gloriously wild scenery, this attractive corner of the Earth offers the visitor a fascinating picture all the year around. 

Gelnhausen, is an historic jewel set in the Kinzig valley, picturesquely situated on the southern slopes of the Büdingen Forest between the foothills of the Vogelsberg and the Spessart.  However, the idyllic scenery was, some 800 years ago, by no means the determining factor for the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick I nicknamed Barbarossa or Redbeard when he enclosed the three focal points of the existing settlement “Geilenhausen” and elevated it to the status of a town.  It is historically recorded that the river Kinzig at that time formed the boundary between the imperial territories (terra regis) to the north and the Archbishopric of Mainz to the south.  It can be assumed that, for the Emperor’s part, military and political considerations were reason enough for the fortification of the town and the erection of a stronghold (the Kaiserpfalz or imperial palace).  Gelnhausen was also of considerable importance for trade.  After all, the town did lie at the crossroads of two important trade routes: on the one hand the Reff- or Weinstrasse (Pack Road or Wine Road) running from Frankfurt via the Büdingen Forest to eastern Germany, and on the other hand, the Birkenhainer Road which leaves the Reffstrasse at Gelnhausen and goes south into Franconia via the Spessart hills.  As a third and by no means insignificant reason, the river Kinzig, which was still navigable in the Middle Ages, should be mentioned.  The river permitted the transportation of bulky goods, especially timber from the Büdingen Forest. 

The town’s strategic and geographical position have, therefore, essentially dictated its rise to economic and social prosperity.  So it is not surprising that for centuries Gelnhausen was counted amongst the most important town of the realm. 

The Imperial Diet held in Gelnhausen in 1180 is of special interest.  At this meeting the lands and possessions of Henry the Lion (Heinrich des Löwen) were redistributed after he had been outlawed.  This was a proceeding whose efforts went beyond the frontiers of the Empire at that time.   Had control of Henry’s lands remained entirely in the Emperor’s hands, a united German “Reich” such as came into existence in the 19th century could have been created. (The decisions taken at the meeting are recorded in the “Gelnhausen Charter”.)

The reader from England will note with interest that the ransom negotiations for the warrior king and celebrated crusader Richard the Lionheart were held in Gelnhausen in 1196. 

Gelnhausen’s dependence on the Emperors’ favor and the privileges he accorded which, on the one hand, brought the town prosperity and authority, proved, on the other hand, to be a disadvantage.  As the power of the House of Hohenstaufen waned, the town lost more and more of its political and economic importance.  Finally, Gelnhausen was mortgaged by Emperor Charles IV (Kaiser Karl IV) – the town had become completely insignificant.  Unrest throughout the realm – numerous feuds, warring disputes between the various mortgagees, the Peasants’ War (der Bauernkrieg), the Thirty Years War, as well as the plague and other epidemics, left Gelnhausen paralyzed in poverty.  The population sank to 200 souls. 

The town made only a slow recovery, plagued by troubles and privations caused by plundering, hostile attacks by envious neighboring princes, and the indifference of the various mortgagees. 

Slowly trade and commerce began to recover and eventually to flourish.  The population increased and a steady new building program hallmarked the “Free Imperial City”.(“Freien Reichsstadt”). 

In 1708 Count Johann Reinhard besieged the town in  an unsuccessful attempt to force it to renounce its privileged right of owing fealty to the Emperor alone, a right which was eventually abrogated by the decision of the Imperial Deputation in 1803.  Gelnhausen had lost its rank as a Free Imperial City. 

Henceforth, the town belonged to the Elector of Hesse.  The increase in economic and social prosperity in the second half of the 18th century led to Gelnhausen being designated a County Town (Kreisstadt) in 1821.

 Alongside the growth in artisanship, industry began to develop, albeit on a more modest level (e.g. a light bulb factory and a rubber works/Gummiwerk ). 

Having overcome the chaos of the 2nd World War and the immediate post-war years, Gelnhausen developed into the metropolis of the Kinzig valley, in both the political and economic sense of the word.  Gelnhausen lost its status as a County Town in 1974 as a result of the redrawing of the political map whereby it was merged with the districts of Hanau and Schlüchtern..   



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