Die Deutsche Marchenstrasse. If you look at it on a map, it forms a twisting, turning trail that bears a marked resemblance to the kind of game children play -- a board game with plastic "men" and a die telling them how many spaces to move. Chutes and Ladders with a German accent.
But "The German Fairy Tale Trail" is not on a board, it is on a landscape. And the chutes are roads and the ladders -- well, they are Hanau and Bremen and the myriad cities, towns, and villages in between known to the Brothers Grimm.
That's the "Once upon a time" Brothers Grimm, whose world was peopled with the likes of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Little Goose Girl, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty.
Jakob and Wilhelmm Grimm, you might remember, collected German folk tales in the early 1800s. They felt these expressed the spirit of the German people, and they feared fewer and fewer people could tell the tales accurately. So they published the tales to preserve for Germany a work created by its citizens.
Their collection came to be known by children the world over, and it was with the thought that those children (and their parents and their grandparents) would like to take a firsthand look at the area that the Grimms' characters called home that the Deutsche Marchenstrasse took shape.
It took three years to coordinate all the fairy tales with their proper villages and to set up the route, which begins at Hanau, where the Brothers Grim were born.
Hanau is near Frankfurt am Main, and that is the closest city for international flights. Pan Am, TWA, and Lufthansa fly there daily from NEw York; National Airlines has direct flights from Miami and Tampa each week.
Since the trail covers nearly 400 miles (over 600 kilometers), probably the best way to cover it is via automobile or, with children, campber. Both can be rented in Frankfurt.
The German National Tourist Office (650 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10020) has information on campgrounds, hotels, and guest houses, and car/van rentals. It also has a pamphlet on the Fairy Tale Trail itself. It includes the game the Germans have worked out to help you plan your trip and learn the route. You start at No. 1 (Hanau) and end at Bremen (No. 54), and for each town along the way there is a paragraph telling what you will see and who you might meet. The names will be familiar to you if you paid attention at bedtime reading sessions.
For instance, Alsfeld (No. 8) has a statue dedicated to its most famous resident, the Little Goose Girl. It is at the town fountain here that the Grimms' stork used to deliver babies for distribution to needy couples.
The town of Gleichen -Bremke (No. 35) has a Grimm Brothers' Open Air Theater where fairy tales are presented each weekend in the summer.
Sleeping Beauty's castle is at Sababurg (No. 25) in the Reinhardswald, and you can sleep there too. There are limited accommodations available to visitors; there also is a medieval banquet each evening, and even, from time to time, a reenactment of the fairy tale. (But there is no guarantee that you will be awakened in time for your next day's travel by a handsome prince.)
Lauterbach (remember the rascal who lost his sock?) is No. 7; Schwalmstadt (No. 11) is the home of Little Red Riding Hood; the "Frau Holle Route" runs from Dransfeld (No. 38) into the Munden and Bramwald Nature Park and on the River Weser. Frau Holle's "fairy kingdom" is found outside of Helsa (No. 30).
But the Fairy Trail doesn't only take you to childhood haunts. Along its winding roadways you also will find towns such as Witzenhausen (No. 32) and Hann-Munden (No. 23) with excellent examples of German half-timbered architecture; a puppet theater (Steinau, No. 3); museums of every nature -- mechanical musical instruments (Fudatal, No. 22), helicopters (Buckeburg, No. 46 ), bread (Mollenfelde, No. 34), wallpape (Kassel, Nos. 20, 21), wooden tools (Schluchtern, No. 4) -- and nature itself, in the form of rivers and ponds, woods and parklands, and mountain ranges.
It was in the mountains along the Weser that the Four Musicians from Bremen met. "Old Town" Bremen, with its 900-year-old Romanesque-Gothic cathedral and Gothic town hall, the Bottgergasse (alleyway) and its craft shops, the schnoor district (restaurants, galleries, artists' studios), the marketplace and, especially, the thrice-daily chimes with their mechanical figures, is the kind of place to make anyone wax lyrical.