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Rediscovering the Grimm Brothers

Gareth is a primary teacher from Australia who is working in West London schools through Protocol Education. Today's post centres around fairytales and a recent trip to the German towns where they originated... 

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Fairytale compilations sit upon the shelves of most primary school classrooms. So it was during a supply stint to a Year One class early last year, I rediscovered the escapism and lessons of (im)morality that lie within the simply told stories we all grew up with. Certainly as an adult there is no less appeal in fairytales - clearly evident in Hollywood’s current obsession with fairytale reinventions. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – case in point. I was captivated reading the stories to the children and promptly went out and purchased my own volumes of Hans Christian Anderson and Brothers Grimm fairytales.

12 months later – researching ‘things to do in Germany’ for my holiday during the recent Easter school break, I was pleasantly reminded that the Grimm Brother’s were born and bred Germans. The English teacher inside me got a little bit excited and we were off.

First stop Snow White’s cottage; possibly a tourist trap; in fact more than likely a tourist trap, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. The town of Bergfreiheit is the home to a number of statues and a cottage that claims to be where the dwarves would have lived. Tenuous links are made because Bergfreiheit is home to an underground mine. Short people (dwarves perhaps) who fitted in the tunnels would have lived nearby. There is also an old legend of a young Margaretha von Waldeck who was poisoned in the town during the 16th Century at the age of 21. Her evil stepmother was already dead however, so is not held accountable in that version.

Next stop Kassel where the brothers spent most of their writing years producing their books. Jacob and Wilhelm became librarians there providing much time needed to research for the historical and legendary background of their tales.

Kassel is also home to the Brothers Grimm museum . As I visited on Easter weekend the museum was closed but we did get to share Easter cake with some evangelists in the hotel foyer and visit the giant Hercules statue at the top of the city.

Further on we stopped by Hamelin to find both rats and children have returned to the historical town. Steeped in medieval history, Hamelin is a picturesque city also cashing in on its fairytale fame. The Hamelin museum houses a large collection of Pied Piper paraphernalia. The streets are scattered with statues and references to the classic tale which symbolises a plague that most likely occurred around the 14th Century. There is even a Pied Piper impressionists traipsing through the city and museums followed by a group of American tourists.

Later we stayed overnight in Bremen where a lesser known tale, about four worn-out farm animals, references the city. The four animals become musicians and were on their way to Bremen when they heard some robbers in a house laughing amongst themselves. The donkey, dog, cat and rooster stack themselves to peer through the window but fall in, scaring off the robbers and the stolen wealth becomes their own. The image of the stacked animals remains the iconic part of the story and features in a number of places in the city including a large statue in the city square. You can touch the donkey’s foot for good luck.

Finally we went to Berlin on a walking tour standing outside Humboldt University where Jacob and Wilhelm worked as linguists, professors and folklorists during their final years. Their private library is held by the university.

It is perhaps this final destination that cements what has already become clear; the Grimm brothers were highly intellectual and their work speaks to adults well beyond the infantile years. Our tour guide kindly pointed out the underlying tones of violence and sexual violence in the Brothers Grimm fairytales that appealed to many adults or as author Maria Tatar puts it, “the graphic descriptions of murder, mutilation, cannibalism and infanticide that fill the pages of these bedtime stories”.

So next time you use fairytales in the classroom, throw in a bit of history or gory violence just to spice it up a bit so everyone can live happily ever after.

Useful fairytale links:

The Fairytale Route

http://www.deutsche-maerchenstrasse.com/en/

Re-enchantment – educational program

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/re-enchantment/

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty – short film

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIDv1jJhoxY

Grimm – tv series

http://www.nbc.com/grimm/

Once Upon a Time – tv series

http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/once-upon-a-time


Tags: Fairytales, English Teacher, Gareth, Protocol Education, Primary Teacher, Brothers Grimm, Supply teacher, Teach in London

Category: Australian Teachers


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