Famous German Fairy Tales

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

If you want to talk fairy tales, you can't pass up those with German roots! In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at Germany's tie to these favorite stories and examine a few of the most famous tales.

A Taste of Germany

You may not have realized it, but Germany and fairy tales, those magical stories about imaginary characters in far-off lands, go hand in hand -- just like Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper and the children, or even the dancing princesses and their worn dancing shoes.

Little Red Riding Hood is one of many fairy tales rooted in German culture.
Red Riding Hood and a wolf under a tree

Many of the today's most popular fairy tales, some of which have been converted to cartoons and movies thanks to Walt Disney and others, have their origins in German culture. In fact, fairy tales in Germany are such a big deal that an entire museum dedicated to the forefathers of the genre, the Brothers Grimm, opened in 2015 in Kassel, Germany.

Germany boasts many popular fairy tale authors whose names aren't Grimm, however, such as Margaret Arndt, who wrote stories titled ''The Old King'' and ''The Dragon's Tail.'' Regardless of author, many of the stories contain similar themes: regular people rising to extraordinary circumstances and tales of enchantment, or spells. There is often a fair maiden, lots of plush wooded settings and a villain who is defeated in the end.

In this lesson, we'll take a look at some of the most famous German fairy tales. Most of these names and summaries will likely be familiar to you, since we tell versions of these stories even today.

Favorite German Fairy Tales


Who can forgot the story of the mistreated Cinderella, who transforms into a princess for an evening thanks to her fairy godmother? In the German version of the fairy tale, Cinderella is outfitted for the ball by a little bird and leaves behind a golden slipper that the prince uses to find his true love.

''Briar Rose''

You probably will be more familiar with the story as it's more commonly known today, ''Sleeping Beauty.'' The story follows the wished-for daughter of a king and queen who pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep. Many tried to reach her to break the spell, but only one could get past the thorny obstacles. His kiss, given at the sight of her beauty, caused her to awaken.

''The Shoemaker and the Elves''

What if you went to bed with no shoes and woke up with a finished pair waiting for you? That's what happens to the shoemaker in this story. The poor shoemaker had very little for himself and was struggling, but along came helpful elves who cobbled together shoes while the man was sleeping. To thank them, the shoemaker and his wife create gifts for the elves who have helped them out of a financial pickle. The elves, grateful for the clothing, dance away.

''Hansel and Grethel''

This brother and sister tale is quite well-known the world over, with modifications here and there. The German version sees the children going into the woods several times, but returning home, only to be cast into the woods again by their father's wife. The children are captured by old witch with a gingerbread house who wants to eat them up, but manage to kill her and escape. They return home to their father with the pearls and jewels they find in the witch's home.

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