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German Castle Hohenzollern | © ER_09/Shutterstock
German Castle Hohenzollern | © ER_09/Shutterstock

11 Children's Tales You Never Knew Were German

Picture of Evelyn Smallwood
Updated: 23 November 2017

Reading children’s stories from other cultures is a great way to get an insight into what each culture values, and no one bothers teaching children things they don’t feel are important. Though the bulk of children’s stories have been passed on to the English language and culture from the Brothers Grimm, we’ve rounded up 11 tales you didn’t know are also German.

Snow White

Everyone knows the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or at least the Disney version. The original, titled Schneewittchen und die Sieben Swerge in German, is story number 53 in the Grimm fairy tale collection and is a little different. In this version, the queen that visits Snow White’s cottage first tempts her with a corset that she proceeds to lace so tightly, Snow White nearly suffocates. The queen comes again, disguised as a witch the second time, and sells Snow White a poisoned comb, but her plan is foiled by the dwarves who are returning from work. The third time, the queen offers Snow White a poisoned apple. This plan finally works and she succeeds in killing Snow White.

Cinderella

Cinderella exists in the Brothers Grimm collection, but many people may not know that the story also exists in Italy, Greece, and France. Considering the type of stories included in the Grimm collection, it should come as no surprise that the German version (Aschenputtel) is much darker and more violent than the others. In the Grimm version, Cinderella’s father isn’t dead and knows full well what his new wife is up to. Another gory detail involves Cinderella’s jealous stepsisters snipping off their toes to try fitting their shoes into the princess’s golden slipper. As punishment for their cruel treatment of Cinderella, a pair of doves pluck out the stepsisters’ eyes as Cinderella walks down the aisle during her wedding to marry her prince.

 

 

Sleeping Beauty

Called Dornröschen in German, Sleeping Beauty is another European fairy tale that was made famous in the English-speaking world by the Brothers Grimm. They nearly didn’t include it in their collection because the story had already been published by French fairy-tale author Charles Perrault, but decided for it on the grounds of its similarities to the shieldmaiden character Brynhildr from Germanic mythology.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business

Written in 1989 by Werner Holzwarth and illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch, The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business had difficulty finding a publisher at first, mainly because it is literally about poop. In the days before Everyone Poops, adults thought children shouldn’t be reading any literature about bodily functions. Fast forward 30 years to today and millions of copies have been sold to kids all over the world who love this German classic.

Little Red Riding Hood

We all know how the story goes—a girl in a red cape walks through the forest to deliver wine and cake to her ill grandmother. Normally her journey is undisturbed, but one day a spying wolf in the forest sees an opportunity. In the Brothers Grimm original version, the story doesn’t change until the very end. Instead of a local lumberjack barging into the grandmother’s house to rescue Red Riding Hood before the wolf eats her, she and her grandmother are eaten by the wolf and barely escape death when Red Riding Hood’s father comes to slice the wolf in half so they can escape. The trio fills the wolf’s body with rocks and surprisingly, the weight of the stones is what kills the wolf, not his being sliced in half.

Rapunzel

Though it is nearly identical to the 11th-century Persian story Rudāba and the Greek tale Saint Barbara, Rapunzel is generally thought to be a German story. The name Rapunzel refers to a radish-like plant that Rapunzel’s mother craved while she was pregnant. Her husband snuck down to the neighboring garden of a witch named Dame Gothel to steal some, but was caught. In exchange for his life and the plant his wife craved, the evil witch demands the child be given to her when she is born. Once Rapunzel turns 12, the witch locks her up in a tower. Though Rapunzel eventually escapes and lives with her prince happily ever after, her journey isn’t without complications, mostly because Rapunzel isn’t the brightest princess in the Grimm collection.

Hansel & Gretel

This is another Brothers Grimm story whose original version is so horrifying, it’ll make you more than glad to not have lived in the Middle Ages. After their mother abandons them in the woods because she can’t feed them, brother and sister Hansel and Gretel are kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch. Luckily the siblings are clever enough to trick the witch, burn her alive, steal her treasure, ride a duck across a lake, and find their father to live happily ever after.

 

 

The Neverending Story

Of all the tales on this list, The Neverending Story (or Die Unendliche Geschichte) is probably the most adventure-filled. Written in 1979 as a fantasy novel by Michael Ende, it was first translated into English in 1983 before being adapted into several films, a play, a ballet, and an opera. Fun fact: with the book having 26 chapters after the prologue, the first letter of each chapter follows the order of the alphabet.

Neverending Story movie adaptiation (1984) | © Constantin-Bavaria-WDR/Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The Neverending Story movie adaptation in 1984 | © Constantin-Bavaria-WDR/Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

 

A Little History of the World

Written in 1935 by Austrian author E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World is exactly what its title depicts written in language children could understand. The book was only published in English a little over ten years ago because Gombrich insisted he be the sole translator. When he died at the age of 92, he still hadn’t finished the translation project. Luckily, it was finished by his long-time assistant, Caroline Mustill, and now English-speaking children can learn about the world at their level of comprehension.

 

Rumpelstilzchen

Given its hard-to-pronounce name, it may not come as a surprise that Rumpelstilzchen is a German story. In German folklore, a Rumpelstilzchen is an imp that rattles sticks, makes creepy noises in the dark, and has been compared to a poltergeist. In the Grimm version, a town mill worker tells the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold in order to gain the king’s favor. Of course, the daughter can do no such thing which is when Rumpelstilzchen becomes useful to her. He offers to spin the gold for her in exchange for her firstborn child once she becomes queen. When he comes to collect his payment, the mill worker’s daughter, now a queen, refuses to give up her child. Rumpelstilzchen only agrees to release her of her debt if she can guess his name and after three days of guessing, she does.

Bambi

Technically, Bambi is an Austrian story, but close enough to Germany for our purposes. In 1923, Felix Salten wrote a novel called Bambi, a Life in the Woods about a male deer that loses his mother, finds a mate, and learns about the dangers of humans from his father. Though the original version lacks Disney’s furry forest friends Flower and Thumper, it was one of the first overtly environmental stories ever written.