It may have been reunited two decades ago but Berlin is a tale of two cities. It’s also the former home of two brothers who knew how to tell a story. On the 200th anniversary of The Brothers Grimm, and fresh from her Trabi Tour, Kirstie Pelling tells us more about the enchanting German capital…
Berlin in winter is the stuff of fairytales. The Rapunzel-like TV Tower climbs into the cloud, while a freezing spell turns the river to ice and the cathedral into a snow dome.
A tale for life
But a fairytale isn’t just for winter. It stays with you for life. And two famous residents of this city spent much of their lives shaping our dreams and nightmares.
Exactly two centuries ago The Brothers Grimm first put grandma into the fat belly of a wolf, and the prince into the body of a frog. If you come to Berlin you can see where they lived and worked. If you come in November you can take part in the 24th Berlin Fairy Tale Days Festival.
Organized by Märchenland, Berlin’s National Centre for Fairytale Culture, it explores the stories and the legacy of the brothers, and this year is dedicated to fairytales with French origins.
A tale and a trail
All year round you can see the tales come alive at the Märchenhütte in Schoneberg. In an atmospheric cottage, actors perform imaginative interpretations in separate performances for adults and children. They’re in German, but hey, we all know the stories don’t we?
And if you have more time in Germany, you can even explore a 600km fairytale route from Hanau in the south where the Brothers were born, to Bremen in the north.
A tale of two brothers
The Brothers Grimm collected their tales from global folklore during their time in Berlin, and while they enjoyed some success with their stories, they were more famous for writing the German dictionary.
“They died before they reached the letter G,” says Ciaran Butler the guide of our Fat Tire Bike Tour of the city.
“To be more specific, they got up to ‘fruit,’” he adds. My kids are impressed with this detail.
We pedal around Grimm haunts and other significant Berlin monuments, beginning at Humboldt University. Just like any fairytale, the surrounding square is a mix of light and darkness. It may have produced a raft of Nobel prizewinners, a respected State Opera house, and a beautiful church, but it was also the place where the Nazis carried out the biggest book burning in history.
We discover that a lot of Berlin has two sides to its story. Yes, Checkpoint Charlie is a fun tourist attraction. But it was also a border point that East Germans crossed at risk of death, and the spot where a 3rd world war was narrowly averted.
A real-life fairytale city
Berlin isn’t the oldest city in Europe, it isn’t the prettiest and it isn’t the richest. But it is a place with gripping characters and plot.
A place where real and fantastical collide. A place that’s worth exploring.