Before moving to Europe I had only visited cemeteries for funerals. A place to be respected, I never considered them for the tourist trail.
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 famous dead people. Two of the city's most famous forever residents are two such deceased Germans, the Brothers Grimm (or Brüder Grimm).
History of Grimms' Fairy Tales
The brothers are most famous for "Grimm's Fairy Tales" (Grimms Märchen), first published in 1812. 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 version. Children die, witches are truly wicked, and harsh German moralism shines through. This is representative of the times and the core of the German people, like the terrifying children's stories still read today from Der Struwwelpeter. Because of these high moral standards and messages of nationalism, the stories were even used by Hitler as propaganda for Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth).
Despite that fact, the fairytales have remained popular and are continually revisited. Versions of the book are faithfully reprinted every year. The 2014 movie Into the Woods finds us back in the Grimms' fairy tale world, with TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm running for multiple seasons.
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).
They re-joined academia in Berlin at Humboldt University in 1840. Wilhelm passed in 1859 and Jacob in 1863 and the city proved their eternal resting place in Alter St-Matthäus-Kirchof. The brother's legacy lives on and fans of their work regularly visit their graves.
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, it's surprising that the brother's plot is fairly understated. Four simple stones mark the site of the brothers and two of Wilhelm's sons, but you will see flowers and cards continually marking the grave.
Other Points of Interest in Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof
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.
There is 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. The plaque notes their story and sacrifice.
A modern children's section towards the back left corner of the cemetery is another moving visiting point.
If all this walking amongt the dead leaves you thirsty, there is a small cemetery café.
Visitor Info for the Graves of the Brothers Grimm
- Website: 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