I can remember as far back as five years old the magical and enchanted forest in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What I wouldn’t have given to be her. With the voice of a songbird, gathering cute furry and feathered friends in the masses, not to mention an entourage of mini-humans to dote on me hand and foot.
Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was every girl’s dream, a fairytale that transcended generations having been originally animated by Disney in 1937. This, however, was far from the beginning. The famed tale stretches back to its original creators, the Brothers Grimm in the mid-nineteenth century, and perhaps even further.
The Real Snow White
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Is it Maria Sophia Margaretha Catherina von Erthal (that was a mouthful), or the Countess Margarethe Von Waldek? Both of whom stand to be thought of as real-life inspirations to the famed fairytale, or at least they are the subject of a friendly competition between German Visitors Bureaus.
About Maria Sophia
A German scholar by the name of Karlheinz Bartels published his theory in 1986 suggesting that the story of Snow White was based on the life of Maria Sophia Margaretha Catherina von Erthal (that’s still a mouthful). Born in Lohr am Main, Bavaria, Germany on June 25, 1729, she was the daughter of Philipp Christoph von Erthal.
Her father, no king at all, was the superior magistrate for the Prince Elector of Mainz in Lohr. She was admired by the community for her generosity and charity, and even pitied for her partial blindness and cruelty from her uber crazy stepmother. She and her family resided in the castle of the Prince Elector of Mainz in Lohr.
The Wicked Stepmother and the Talking Mirror in Lohr
Maria Sophia’s mother died in 1741. When her father remarried in 1743, her new stepmother proved wicked as wicked gets. The power-trip stepmother, Claudia Elisabeth von Reichenstein, used her elite leverage to favor her children from her first marriage (something we also see in Cinderella).
A mirror, now called “The Talking Mirror,” was a gift from Maria Sophia’s father to her stepmother and can now be found at the Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle.
Local Legends in Lohr About Snow White
In Lohr, Bavaria, Germany locals will tell you references to the Snow White tale. The “Gate of Spessart” is thought to have been the opening to the escape route for Snow White as she vanished “on seven hills,” the Mountain Trail (Wieser Strabe). The journey through the seven Spessart Mountains from Lohr would have taken her to the kingdom of the Seven Dwarfs.
The Poisonous Apple
Oh, that fateful poisonous apple, so red, so shiny and sweet…and so deadly. The infamous fatal fruit was given to the beautiful Snow White by her evil stepmother as a ploy to be “the fairest of them all.” Truth be told, there was in fact a poisoned apple given to Maria Sophia. The apple, soaked in the juice of belladonna killed Maria Sophia.
However, there was no happily ever after, and Maria Sophia was not magically reanimated by a prince charming. Nope. That would’ve been a fairytale.
About Countess Margarethe Von Waldek
More recently the origin of Snow White was argued by German historian Eckhard Sander. In 1994 he wrote Is it a Fairy Tale? Highlighting that Snow White was the product of the true story of a beautiful and young Countess Margarethe Von Waldek who lived in Waldek, Germany during the mid-sixteenth century. She too had a uber wicked stepmother which is probably what drove her to Brussels.
Perhaps through an enchanted forest? When she arrived in Brussels her beauty attracted the attention of Phillip II of Spain and she fell in love. Soon after she also fell ill and died at the young age of 21.
There is no real proof she had been poisoned, although her last will and testament were shaky, a possible sign of tremors (a side effect of poisoning), and there’s no mention of an apple. Although Sander does point out a historical reference of a German man being arrested for handing out poisonous apples to children, and concluding that this event perhaps was added into the local legend postmortem.
It is also made noteworthy that in the original Grimm story, Snow White had blonde hair like the naturally blonde von Waldeck, and that she grew up in Bad Wildungen area of Hesse, Germany. Here children were referred to as dwarfs because of their height which stemmed from poor nutrition.
Subsequently, some worked in her brothers’ copper mines. This Snow White never got her prince and to this day, no one knows who poisoned Margarethe, but we can rule out one suspect: her stepmother was already dead.
The Seven Dwarfs of Bad Wildungen
Bergfreiheit is a tiny German hilltop village. Here in Bad Wildungen, you will find the tourist-laden Snow White’s House where there are seven dwarf-sized beds and seven little caps hanging above. These dwarfs were real. It is not known how they merged into the legend of Snow White, but the idea of seven doting, bickering, and protective mini-humans is just the right amount of warm and fuzzy for one of the greatest fairytales of all time.
The Brothers Grimm
To really appreciate the Snow White fairytale destinations, first, you have to get to know the brothers Wilhelm and Jacob. Collectively known as the Brothers Grimm, they first wrote the famed tale of Snow White in the mid-nineteenth century, alongside 200 other famous fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. Many of these much more gruesome than their Disney counterparts, originally made for adults.
Modern Day Snow White
Even now Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a timeless classic that mainstream film has revamped over and over again. Among the most popular being the comic book series Fables, by Bill Willingham and The Wolf Among Us.
It’s also seen in some productions of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. Again it’s seen in the ever-popular 2011 TV series Once Upon A Time. Of course, there was the blockbuster film of 2012 Snow White and the Huntsman.
Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts and Grimm’s Snow White also made it into 2012. And here we sit, nail-biting the Christmas Day opening of Into the Woods, or at least I know I am.
Drum Roll, Places Related to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Germany is home to the Fairy Tale Route. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can cover the entire Fairy Tale Route, which runs from Hanau in the south to Bremerhaven on the North Sea. Pack a lunch, it’s 375 miles and winds through picturesque villages, enchanted forests, and any place associated with the life of the Brothers Grimm. It’s like a snapshot of time, with medieval villages still intact, still so fairytale-like, echoing bedtime stories you never planned to forget.
Brothers Grimm Places
- Fritzlar — frozen in time about 700 years old filled with half-timbered medieval houses in proper fairytale fashion.
- Alsfeld — Total fairytale town complete with cake shops, cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and even a “Fairy Tale House” from 1628. Watch out for the Big Bad Wolf.
- Kassel — The holy grail for Grimm fans. This is where the brothers lived on and off for 30 years, working as librarians in the Hesse State Library.
The city highlight is the Bruder Grimm Museum, home to a first edition of the Fairy Tales annotated by the two authors. That little book is worth 45 million big fat hairy dollars now.
- Steinau — Grimm House, the childhood home of the Brothers Grimm.
- Hanau — Birthplace of the Brothers Grimm. The baroque grounds of Philippsruhe Palace in Hanau, the fountain displays in the Hillside Park of Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, as well as the Bremen Town Hall with the adjacent statue of Roland (both of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List).
- Baunatal — Birthplace of Dorothea Viehmann, from whom the Grimm brothers learned about many of the fairy tales found in their collection.
- Marburg — This is where the brothers studied in the early 19th century. It also has a Grimm fitness path that winds up to the top of the mighty Landgrave Castle towering above the old city. Stunning view.
Snow White Places
- Bad Wildungen — Offers a Snow White Museum in the Snow White village of Bergfreiheit.
- Lohr — Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle where you can see the famed “Talking Mirror.” The “Gate of Spessart” is also known as the trailhead which Snow White or Sophia used to escape her wicked stepmother and which led her to the “Kingdom of the Seven Dwarfs.”
How to Get to the Fairy Tale Route
Well, surely this is a much more cost-effective trip if you are already in Europe. Easy Jet and Ryan Air both run regular specials into Bremen, Germany.
A special thank you to Germany for providing The Fairytale Traveler with the stunning media for this article. For the most up to date information on Germany’s Fairy Tale Route please visit: