10 Brothers Grimm fairy tales you should know

10 best Grimm fairy tales

Hansel and Gretel

This story was recorded by Dortchen Wild, a storyteller who married Wilhelm Grimm. As it turns out, the theme of leaving children in the woods was quite popular in European folktales. A French story, "Le Petit Poucet" from 1967, starts out almost identically, while Madame d'Aulnoy's "Finette Cendron" mentions three princesses who get lost in the woods and find their way to an ogre's house.

10 best Grimm fairy tales


A miller's daughter is locked in a castle and forced to spin straw into gold. Fortunately, Rumpelstiltskin comes to her rescue, spinning straw into gold in return for her valuables. In the end, it doesn't quite work out for Rumpelstiltskin, who suffers the unusual death of being "split in two." The famous name comes from the German word "Rumpelstiltz," a type of goblin found in German mythology.

10 best Grimm fairy tales

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

This sinister Grimm tale may be based on true events. A glass window in a church of Hamelin depicts a piper and has an inscription that states in 1284: "By a piper, clothed in many kinds of colors, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen." Even today, no one is sure why the children were taken away or what exactly happened that year.

10 best Grimm fairy tales

Death's Messenger

Some Grimm fables are just too dark to be made into Disney classics. "Death's Messenger" tells the story of death, who appears as a person and is nursed back to life by a healthy man. Death promises to spare no one, but tells his savior that he will give him a heads-up before his final hour. Needless to say, death works in mysterious ways, and the youth doesn't quite get what he bargained for.

10 best Grimm fairy tales

The King of the Golden Mountain

The Brothers Grimm are immortalized with this statue in Kassel. In their dark tale, a man makes a pact with an evil dwarf, promising to give up his son in exchange for riches. The outcast son goes on a series of harrowing adventures involving a snake, a princess and a magic ring. Atypically, nobody seems to have the redeeming qualities one would expect to find in a typical fairy tale protagonist.

10 best Grimm fairy tales

The Frog Prince

Girl meets frog, girl kisses frog, girl gets frog-turned-prince. We all know this famous amphibious story by the Brothers Grimm, but many may not know it also goes by the title "Iron Heinrich." First published in their 1812 edition of tales, this was the first work in their collection. Moral of the story? Never say never.

10 best Grimm fairy tales

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

German scholar Eckhard Sander revealed the story of the fair princess poisoned by her step-mother may have been based on the true story of Margarete von Waldeck, a German countess born to Philip IV in 1533. She fell in love with a Spanish prince, whom her parents disapproved of, then died at the age of 21 under mysterious circumstances. A poisoned apple, perhaps?

10 best Grimm fairy tales

The Town Musicians of Bremen

The misadventures of a donkey, dog, cat and rooster are memorialized in the German town of Bremen where visitors are greeted by a large bronze statue of the group of critters. The story may have arrived in Europe via India as early as 91 B.C. As the town's historical website points out, in India, musical animals were thought to exist at that time and could have provided inspiration for the tale.

10 best Grimm fairy tales


The story of the long-haired princess has been a favorite for decades. Few know that Rapunzel is another word for a vegetable called a rampion, which has leaves like lettuce and roots like a radish. The English phrase "let your hair down" may have hailed from the story of this golden-haired maiden.

10 best Grimm fairy tales

The Elves and the Shoemaker

In this tale, a struggling, elderly cobbler is mysteriously aided by magical elves. Originally titled "Die Wichtelmänne," this tale has made numerous appearances in contemporary pop culture. In the Harry Potter series, for example, house elves like Dobby (pictured) look after human wizards and are never seen again once given clothing, just as in the Grimm story.

The Grimm brothers left an astounding legacy. From well-known stories like Snow White to lesser-known tales, here are our favorite Grimm stories - and some things you may not have known about them.

Born in the city of Kassel in the 18th century, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm documented hundreds of folktales from all over Europe. They were linguists, scholars, and researchers of German language and mythology, yet they lived most of their lives as underpaid academics - and likely never realized their work would someday reach world fame.

Read more: Why Little Red Riding Hood is caught between innocence and sexuality

While fairy tales like "Rapunzel" and "Snow White" may be familiar, the stories behind the tales may not be. Here are some tales worth a second read. 

Explore the gallery below for more German children's classics you can read in English. And for more about German culture, language and lifestyle, visit dw.com/meetthegermans

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

A good witch and a coffee grinder robber

A giant of German children's lit, Otfried Preussler wrote for kids aged six and up. "The Little Witch" tells of a girl learning the hard way what it means to be a "good" witch. In "The Robber Hotzenplotz," a man steals a grandma's coffee grinder - and two boys set off to capture him. This tale also features the wizard Petrosilius Zwackelmann. Say his name aloud - that's the kind of story this is.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

'The NeverEnding Story' and beyond

If the movie "The NeverEnding Story" thrilled you during your youth, you can - like the hero of that tale - immerse in Michael Ende's masterpiece that inspired the film. Following the movie's success, his other works were also translated. "Momo" deals with time - and criticizes efficiency and stress. "Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver" is a beloved classic of German children's literature.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Off to paradise with tiger and bear

In "The Trip to Panama," a bear and a tiger lead a dreamy and lazy life - until a wooden crate comes floating on a nearby river. "Panama" is written on it, and it smells like bananas. Intrigued, the bear and tiger set off to find this wonderful smelling country. Their long and winding quest leads them to the best place on Earth: home. Janosch's imagery and surreal logic charm young and old alike.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Germany's favorite dinosaur

A well-known little dinosaur in Germany, the urmel, hatches from an egg in "Urmel From The Ice." The story is one Max Kruse's most famous works, thanks to its TV adaptation by the Augsburger Puppenkiste (picture). It also inspired the animated film "Impy's Island." The author's other famous work, "Lion on the Loose," is a merry adventure following an escaped wild animal through the city.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Escaping the Nazis

Each of the main characters remains a safe distance away from evil in "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" (1971), by Judith Kerr. It is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old, Anna, whose family flees Germany just as the Nazis take power. There is no war in this novel; it hasn't happened yet. But the story remains as relevant today as it ever has been: By the end, Anna and her family are refugees.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Humorous adventures in realist Berlin

Heading to Berlin? Pick up a copy of "Emil and the Detectives" by Erich Kästner. It'll take you (and your children) back to the German capital as it was in the late 1920s. After that, try another of Kästner's stories: In "Lottie and Lisa," separated twin girls meet each other for the first time at a summer camp. Decades later, it was adapted to the 1998 Hollywood blockbuster "The Parent Trap."

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Max and Moritz

Many kindergartens and primary schools in Germany are named "Max and Moritz" after the prank-pulling duo in Wilhelm Busch's classic book. Note, however, that the book's pranks - and its moral compass - are firmly set in 1865. One example (spoiler alert!): After the boys' final prank fails, the two are ground up into pieces and fed to ducks. That's it. The end. No sequel.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

The consequences of misbehaviour

Another sure way to traumatize your kids is "Struwwelpeter." In two of these 10 "moral" stories, a child dies; in another, a kid's thumb is cut off. At least some of the stories are lighter. One involves "Fidgety Philipp," whose dinner table antics spoil every meal. Even 150 years later, his name is used to scold children who can't sit still: "Don't be such a Zappel-Philipp!"

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

The power of books

The "Inkheart" trilogy was published in the midst of the "Harry Potter" hurricane but still went on to become a success. Set in contemporary times, Cornelia Funke's main character in the story, a 12-year-old named Meggie, has the ability to take things out of books and make them come to life. It's something of a family trick. But it wouldn't be a good story unless that power came at a price.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

A city of books awaits

Zamonia is a fictional continent where funny stories happen - and the name of a series by Walter Moers. "The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear" is a good introduction, but it's OK to start with the fourth book, "The City of Dreaming Books." Often, the author describes a character, waits a while for the mental picture to cement, and then - surprise! - unveils a wacky illustration of his creation.

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