When I first entered the Black Forest, I found it very familiar.
Which was startling, since I’d never been to that part of Germany before. Nor have I ever spent much time in forests of any kind — except, of course, in stories.
The Black Forest is the landscape of the fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm, stories that I deeply loved when I was child.
Yes, the stories are violent and fundamentally depressing when you think about them at length. But they also “serve as portals to wonder worlds, to sites that combine danger and beauty in ways so alluring that they inspire the desire to wander into new imaginative domains,” as Maria Tartar so eloquently put it in an article called “Why Fairy Tales Matter”, in Western Folklore, winter 2010.
This also strikes me as a fair description of a certain type of travel.
The first volume of Grimm fairy tales, which includes Hansel and Gretel and Snow White, was published 1812, making this year the bicentennial. Of course, neither Jacob nor Wilhelm Grimm actually wrote any of the stories — their task was simply to record tales that had been in Europe’s oral tradition for who knows how long. So it would not be correct to say that this is The Pied Piper’s two hundredth birthday, no matter how tempting that may be.
Anyway, there’s a good story over at Conde Nast (really!) about traveling Germany’s Fairy Tale Road. Don’t forget to pack your bread crumbs.