I didn't know very much about the Brothers Grimm beyond the fairy tales attributed to them when I was a child. Many of them had to do with dark forests, tall castles, little towns, and wolves eating grandmothers. I had always assumed they were the authors, like two dreamers spending their entire lives in a fantasyland and penning tales to delight or frighten children of future generations. The opportunity to visit their museum was one of the primary reasons I went up to the northern Hessian city of Kassel. As with many of my travel experiences thus far, I would learn that my preconceived notions were way off base.
This travelogue covers the Brothers Grimm museum and the rest of the inner city of Kassel from the walls above the Karlsaue on the Fulda River westward down Wilhelmshoeher Allee to the base of the Schloss Wilhelmshoehe.
Kassel (also spelled Cassel from the days of French occupation) was once upon a time (guffaw) one of the major cultural centers in Germany. But because it was also a large industrial center, it was heavily damaged by Allied bombardment in World War II. Evidence of this could be seen all along the Wilhelmshoeher Allee that exhibited two types of architecture -- the decorative yellow-and-red brick buildings of the original cultural era, and the sanitized, utilitarian, bland structures from the Marshall Plan years. One particularly bland example was the Kassel-Wilhelmshoehe train station that services the long distance trains. Unlike impressive concrete edifices like other German train stations, this one was just steel and windows fronted with a flat metal canopy held up by twenty or so metal poles.
Thankfully, much of the inner city's monuments and structures were restored in amongst the new, modernized European shopping malls. Kassel had many museums, theaters, and art galleries to emphasize its cultural past.
When I first got downtown, I cut across the Main Train Station in the north and followed Treppenstrasse through Friedrichsplatz and headed straight to the Karlsaue. Treppenstrasse was cool, basically a stair-stepped road that in the summer hosted outdoor cafés and whose storefronts held black-and-gold representations of the major towns in northern Hessen. Friedrichsplatz was an open garden hosting the famous Museum Fridericianum, shown in the second photograph. The Fridericianum is famous for hosting Kassel's best-known event, the Documenta, a city-wide contemporary art festival held every five years (2002, 2007, 2012, etc.).
A number of Documenta exhibits became permanent fixtures in the city. All were clearly marked on the tourist map. One example was mounted on the annex of the Fridericianum just off the second photo to the left. It was Thomas Schütte's "Die Fremden" or "The Foreigners", a rooftop sculpture depicting travelers from other cultures. Another one was the "Rahmenbau", meaning something like "Constructed Frame", a sculpture resembling a large hanging metal frame built over the pathway to the Karlsaue. I did not make it a point to seek out all the art exhibits, but I hope to next time.
After visiting the Karlsaue, I returned up the bank at the south end of the downtown, and arrived at the Neue Gallerie and the Brothers Grimm Museum, shown in the third photo. It's a very nice museum, costing only 1.50 Euro, but with a wealth of information about the famous brothers.
The biggest surprise for me was learning that the Brothers Grimm were story collectors, not writers. They collected their fairy tales from sources all over north and western Germany. They were lawyers by trade, and their primary motivation including simply trying to put in words all the tales the townfolk had been telling over the ages, out of fear that the local oral traditions were dying. In the process, the Grimms put forth strong evidence to show that the dozens of Germanic languages spoken throughout the land came from a single root. With this, they began compiling the definitive dictionary of the German language which led to standardization (which was also due to the establishment of a single German empire in the last 19th century). In their honor, the German tourist bureau established the Deutsche Märchenstrasse, or Fairy Tale Road, that ran from Bremen (of the tale "The Bremen Town Musicians") to Hanau, dotting along a series of towns that either contributed or inspired fairy tales in the Grimm's collections.
After the museum, I worked my way back to the main street, Koenigstrasse, open only to street cars and pedestrians in the center. Apart from the Rathaus and the Friedrichsplatz, much of the Koenigstrasse was modernized. Some of the shopping malls seemed quite American on the inside, and every place was crowded.
Several points of interest along the way. Just above the Rathaus was the Hessisches Landesmuseum (Hessian Provincial Museum), a beautiful manor fronted by a gold-brick tower. That building can be seen from much of the city. A couple of old towers remained standing, the most notable being the Druselturm located next to the Martinskirche (St. Martin's church, shown in the background of the fifth photo). The Druselturm was a simple cylindrical stone tower that seemed out of place with its modern surrounding, but seemed like it was inspired by the Rapunzel legend. In the foreground of the fifth photo was the city's swimming hall, complete with massive enclosed water slide. You can't tell from the photograph, but the inside was really very crowded. I took that shot from the Martin Luther Platz, site of the Lutherkirche, which was unfortunately destroyed during the war. All that remained was its main tower. Meanwhile, the platz housed a replacement church, that frankly looked more like a parking garage. I left wishing they had rebuilt the original church.
Like many culture-oriented cities, Kassel offered museum packages and other discounts through their various tourist offices, located both at the Kassel-Wilhelmshoehe train station and the Rathaus. Kassel was a wonderful and worthwhile trip, and I think you would find it enjoyable and entertaining... especially if you believe in fairy tales.
Trip taken 15-16 March 2003 -- Page last updated 24 October 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin