In GRIMMWELT Kassel, the Brothers Grimm are put in a new light.
Probably everyone is familiar with the Brothers Grimm and associates them with childhood memories. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm have left their mark on entire generations with “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” – because fairy tales continue to fascinate people all over the world. They take you into a world full of wonder, open the gates to the imagination, and awaken longings.
But the Grimm brothers’ merits are far from exhausted. They were also ground-breaking linguists and are regarded as co-founders of German studies.
Various modern exhibition formats lead to eureka effects and make it a place of exploration and active experience. Playful and informative approaches as well as linguistic, literary, and cultural perspectives allow visitors to engage with the multifaceted work of the Brothers Grimm.
Different formats such as valuable originals, film and sound, and multimedia applications as well as artistic installations ensure an exciting experience.
The exhibition is structured according to the letters of the alphabet – but not alphabetically. The tour begins with Z for ZETTEL (English: bit of paper). But this is not the only surprise awaiting you on your way through the Grimm universe.
In 25 modular exhibition areas, you can learn more about the famous Grimms’ fairy tales and their origins and prevalence as well as the linguistic work of the Grimms.
Finally, the work of their painter brother Ludwig Emil Grimm is honoured, and visitors gain a deeper insight into the family life of the brothers Grimm.
You can find a quick overview of the tour “From A to Z through the World of the Brothers Grimm” here:
The ZETTEL section takes a closer look at the network of the Grimms. For example: with whom they were in contact and collaborated scientifically.
The VOLKSMÄRCHEN (English: folk tales) section is devoted to her best-known work, the “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”.
The personal working copies of the Brothers Grimm, the ‘personal copies’, part of the UNESCO World Documentary Heritage since 2005, are exhibited in the BUCH (English: book) section. This also illustrates the broad spectrum and thematic diversity of the Grimms’ research interests.
This includes the “Deutsches Wörterbuch” (English: The German dictionary), which Jacob and Wilhelm worked on from 1838. The story of this is told in the FROTEUFEL (English: demon) and SPRACHSCHATZ (English: vocabulary) section. The swear word funnel ÄRSCHLEIN (English: a**hole) invites visitors to familiarise themselves with the word transformations of the “Deutsches Wörterbuch”.
In the DORNENHECKE (English: hedge of thorns), fairy tale fans young and old can immerse themselves in the world of fairy tales.
The LEBENSLÄUFER (English: life career) area – with biographical testimonies from childhood to old age – leads into the CASSEL area. The artistic work of the painter brother Ludwig Emil Grimm is presented there.
In the NACHLASZ (English: legacy) section, you will find all kinds of items from the Grimm household – from furniture and crockery to mementos such as baby teeth.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm lived in CASSEL (now Kassel) with interruptions for about thirty years. Their brothers also made Kassel their home and lived and worked in the capital. Immerse yourself in the Grimms’ life in Kassel.
Whether playing cards at home with the siblings in their first flat, at elegant evening parties as guests of Electress Auguste, or on a walk in the countryside – the fifth Grimm brother Ludwig Emil Grimm (1790–1863) with whom Jacob and Wilhelm lived in Kassel for several years always had a sketchbook on hand in order to record events, people, and impressions. He provided the drawings with short humorous notes as well as the date and the place name: CASSEL, which in the Grimms’ time was still spelled with a C. Ludwig Emil thus created a kind of chronicle of the Kassel years of his two famous older siblings. Through his illustrations, he helped contribute to the success of the fairy tale book.
Many objects from the lives of the Grimms have survived despite the many moves of the brothers. As notorious collectors, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm archived and described numerous objects during their lifetime.
Along with items from their personal possessions and household effects, these often initially remained in the family after their death. Today, many central pieces have ended up in archives and museums, where they are preserved and researched.
We owe the relatively large number of writings and objects from the family possessions of the Brothers Grimm to a bourgeois culture that, since the beginning of the 19th century, has promoted the value of personal tradition-building and understands the collecting of biographical objects as part of the natural history of a person. With the death of the brothers, the objects from their lives became testimonies handed down to posterity.
In the Grimm fairy tales, the DORNENHECKE marks the transition to another world. It opens for those who comes at the right time and lets them into an enchanted space. In GRIMMWELT, it also hosts numerous guests from other fairy tales …
a talking mirror knows who is the fairest of them all, a leaping frog king and astonished dwarfs welcome visitors, and exciting surprises and encounters await in the gingerbread house from “Hansel and Gretel” and the house of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. But it is best to go on a voyage of discovery through the DORNENHECKE yourself.
The work of the Brothers Grimm was born from bits of paper. The Grimms’ work is almost invariably based on collection projects. Just think of the collection of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”), the “Deutsches Wörterbuch”, or the “Deutsche Sagen” (German Legends).
These collections would have been inconceivable without the movable medium of the individual bit of paper. Considering the bit of paper as the smallest material unit of work sheds light on the practices of appropriating, managing, and transforming knowledge and thus on the production conditions of the Grimms’ work.
The Grimm fairy tales are ancient, genuinely Hessian, or German as told by the farmer’s wife on dark winter evenings. To this day, they are synonymous with authentic folk tales. But how did the famous “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” really come into being?
The area of folk tales focuses on the inherent logic of fairy tales as literary texts. It focuses on the intercultural origins and the romantic adaptation of Wilhelm Grimm in order to break down the widespread idea of the “fairy tale uncles” Grimm with their “closeness to the people”. Because it wasn’t this that was responsible for the tremendous success of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”. But quite the contrary; with their publication in 1812, they responded to a void. As a new literary genre on the threshold of modernity, fairy tales provided a store of symbols situated in the past that profoundly shaped the self-image of modern man – so much so that it has even been said that fairy tales have replaced the role of the Bible.
The section presents the language and cultural research of the Brothers Grimm – from Wilhelm’s first collection, the “Altdänischen Heldenliedern”, to Jacob’s comprehensive cultural-historical “Deutsche Mythologie” (Teutonic mythology). In doing so, it also shows the range of topics the Brothers Grimm worked on.
In addition to numerous scientific publications, the Grimms published around 700 essays in wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift, a medium that had become established in the German states since the first half of the 19th century.
The centrepiece of this exhibition area is the personal copies of the “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”, the personal working copies of the Grimms, which were included in the UNESCO World Documentary Heritage “Memory of the World” in 2005. In terms of cultural history, these volumes are particularly valuable because the handwritten entries document the process of creating the Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
SPRACHSCHATZ also stands for the traces of the Grimms in works of contemporary art and connects GRIMMWELT with the international art event in Kassel that takes place every five years. At documenta 11, the work “buch der wörter/random reading”by Ecke Bonk was exhibited in the Fridericianum.
Bonk discusses the protracted history of the “Deutsches Wörterbuch” of the Brothers Grimm, which lasted over 180 years. In both paper and digital media, he explores the diversity and poetic power of this unique German linguistic monument. With a large-format, chronologically arranged wall installation of the excerpts of the “Deutsches Wörterbuch” , he refers to the birth of linguistic research from the medium of paper.
An endless list of all the terms of the “Deutsches Wörterbuch” in alphabetical order – from A to Zypressenzweig – is projected in the foyer. And finally, every single dictionary entry is projected onto three walls in random order at reading speed. If you were to read the entire dictionary in this way, it would take 25 years.
With the “Deutsches Wörterbuch”, often simply called “The Grimm”, the brothers left a legacy that extends into our present day. What Jacob had taken on as a seven-year project when he signed the contract in 1838 turned out to be a megalomaniac and ultimately unfinishable project.
FROTEUFEL, the last entry to be fully edited by Jacob before his death, tells the long story of the “Deutsches Wörterbuch” as a “biography of a book”.
The story of the “Deutsches Wörterbuch” is told in an artistic work by Alexei Tchernyi consisting of 14 dioramas. The picture boxes are made entirely of artistically processed and effectively backlit paper.
Swearing is, of course, part of every language in the world. Unlike many other dictionary authors of their time, the Grimms also recognised this and included also the low and offensive terms of the German language.
Between “Aas” (b*tch) and “Windbeutel” (windbag), no entry was too coarse for the “Deutsches Wörterbuch”, which endeavoured to cover the infinite variety of spoken and written German. ARSCH turns out to be one of the most popular “offensive words” with a myriad of composites. But there are also “Dreckbatze” (son of a b*tch), “Fatzgespötte” (fatso), and “Hundsfutt” (bastard) as well as “Spinnenarsch” (spider ass) and “Vettel” (hag). Here we see the language change repeatedly addressed by the Grimms (i.e. the changes in language use because of the different cultural contexts). Today, when we think of “Vettel”, we tend to think of Formula 1 drivers, and our current linguistic and swearing habit is marked by expressions that have unfolded their pejorative energy in completely different word forms.
Exciting discoveries can be made on the way through the lives of the Brothers Grimm. Here, the life story of the famous fairy tale collectors is shown in letters, documents, drawings, photos, and paintings – and even the self-biographies written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm themselves.
But this is not so easy. Because to exhibit a life in an ‘authentic’ way using objects is virtually impossible. “Life” in particular not only resists stillness in the object but is always already narrated and thus ‘invented life’. The Brothers Grimm themselves recorded their lives during their lifetime and established a series of stories and images of their own lives. They are thus part of a tradition of bourgeois self-assurance policies in which the chronologically recorded life story was the guiding principle. With her death, the many biographers took over. But one way or another: life stories are always constructions that provide more information about social norms than about the life lived. LEBENSLÄUFER therefore presents the biography of the Grimms in their own writing style – as an autobiographically written down and narrated life.
Learn more with our current guided tours and events around the permanent exhibition:
Überblicksführung durch die Dauerausstellung
Iranian storyteller Sahand Sahebdivani will take you into the world of Persian fairy tales - in English language.