That was, I never considered them until visiting the historic and alluring Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. We walked among the resting places of famed Parisians (and foreigners who chose Paris as their home) like Molière, Oscar Wilde and Chopin and drank in the oh-so-French, slightly decrepit, beauty.
Back in Berlin, I looked at the many German cemeteries with new eyes. Tucked into random corners of the city, it turns out that Berlin is full of dead people. And some of them are famous. Two of the city's most famous residents are two such deceased Germans, the Brothers Grimm (or Brüder Grimm).
Grimms' Fairy Tales
Famous for "Grimm's Fairy Tales" (Grimms Märchen) first published in 1812., brothers Jacob and Wilhelm had a knack for taking fables from around the world and uniting them with their own over-arching tone, style and moral compass. As architects of generations of childhood dream worlds, the stories are still some of the best known today with Hansel and Gretel (Hänsel und Gretel), Cinderella (Aschenputtel) Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen) and Snow White (Schneewittchen) familiar characters for today's children.
However, current Disney versions of these popular characters would run in fear of their original Grimm predecessors. Children die, witches are really wicked and harsh German moralism shines through. This is representative of the times and German people, like the childhood stories still read today from Der Struwwelpeter. Because of these tough moral standards and messages nationalism, the stories were even used by Hitler as propaganda for Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth).
Despite that fact, the fairy tales have remained popular today and continue to be revisited. The 2014 movie Into the Woods finds us back in the Grimms' fairy tale world, while Once Upon a Time and Grimm continue to influence the TV world.
History of the Brothers Grimm
The brothers themselves led an interesting life. Born in the late 1700s in Hanau, Germany, they were exceptional students and after graduating from the Friedrichsgymnasium, the brothers attended the University of Marburg.
Eventually, they took jobs at the University of Göttingen and even participated in the political upheaval and peasant revolt of 1837, joining in protest with the Göttingen Seven. Facing hard times as the country struggled, the two began their other most important work: the writing of the German Dictionary (Deutsches Wörterbuch).
After re-joining academia in Berlin at Humboldt University in 1840, the city has proved their eternal resting place after their deaths in 1859 (Wilhelm) and 1863 (Jacob) in Alter St-Matthäus-Kirchof. Though the work remained unfinished at the time of their death, the brother's legacy lives on in their written words.
Where are the Brothers Grimm Buried?
Hidden away in a sleepy section of Schöneberg, among the ancient family plots and towering angel statues, lies the graves of the Grimms. After the grandiosity of less well-known residents, its surprising that the brothers's plot is fairly understated. Four simple stones mark the site of the brothers and two of Wilhelm's sons (I have no idea why Rudolf and Herman received this honor over their brother and sister).
The Grimms are not the only notable features of Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof. There is also a plaque memorializing a group of would-be Hitler assassins, including Graf von Stauffenberg. The men were buried here after their execution on July 21th, 1944, but the SS had them exhumed, cremated and their ashes scattered. A modern children's section towards the back left corner of the cemetery is another moving visiting point. A map near the entrance points out notable graves - like that of the Grimms - but you should really walk the entire grounds to enjoy the elaborate plots, new and old.
If all this walking amongst the dead leaves you thirsty, there is a small cemetery café.
- Website: http://www.zwoelf-apostel-berlin.de/
- Address: Großgörschenstraße 12, 10829 Schöneberg Berlin
- Phone: 030 7811850
- Directions to the Grimms' grave site: Tucked deep in the middle of the park, if you walk up the main path there is a wall of grave sites that make a wall to follow on your right. Walk along it and just before the wall ends there are 4 graves facing the entrance.
- Transit: Yorckstr. (S1)
- Hours: 8:00 - dusk