Brothers Grimm

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Grimm monument in Hanau

Brothers Grimm called themselves the linguists and folklorists Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859) in joint publications, such as that of their world-famous children's and household tales and the German dictionary that they began. The brothers, along with Karl Lachmann and Georg Friedrich Benecke, are considered to be the "founding fathers" of German studies .

The term Brothers Grimm is also common . However , they never published themselves under the name of brothers .


The Grimm family lived in Hanau . The great-grandfather, Friedrich Grimm the Elder (1672–1748), and the grandfather, Friedrich Grimm the Younger (1707–1777), were clergymen of the Reformed Creed. The parents Dorothea and Philipp Wilhelm Grimm had nine children in their marriage, three of whom died as infants. In addition to Jacob and Wilhelm, the younger brother Ludwig Emil gained importance as a painter. The birthplace of the Brothers Grimm stood on the old parade square in Hanau. They spent their youth in Steinau an der Strasse , where their father had a job as a bailiff .

For ancestry see also descendants of Friedrich Grimm the Elder

Study time

In the autumn of 1798, the mother sent the two of them to her aunt in Kassel in order to provide the eldest sons with adequate education for a possible future career as lawyers . The father had died of pneumonia two years earlier. In Kassel they first attended the Friedrichsgymnasium . Jacob later attended the Philipps University in Marburg and studied law there; his brother Wilhelm followed him a year later. One of their teachers, Friedrich Carl von Savigny , opened his private library to the inquisitive young students and introduced the two, who were already familiar with the works of Goethe and Schiller , to works of Romanticism and Minstrels . Even Johann Gottfried Herder had with his views on the seal of the nations major influence on Jacob and Wilhelm. However, they did not develop into romantics who raved about the “Gothic Middle Ages”, but were realists who saw the roots of contemporary conditions in the distant past. They examined the historical development of German-language literature (legends, documents as well as poetry) and laid the foundations for a scientific treatment of this field of work. In the spirit of Herder, they were not limited to German-language documents. English, Scottish, and Irish sources were already in vogue; they expanded their work area to Scandinavia , Finland , the Netherlands , Spain and Serbia .

Early work in Kassel

The beginning of the collection of fairy tales and legends , which are known to us today as one of the main works of the brothers, dates back to the time of a frugal and withdrawn life after graduating in 1806 . The fairy tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm at the instigation of Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano did not arise from their own imagination , but were collected and compiled by them according to old, predominantly oral stories, and more or less strongly revised, smoothed out in expression and statement and shaped. One of their most important sources was the fairy tales that Dorothea Viehmann , who came from a Huguenot family, told the brothers. In the collections were z. For example, the brothers Werner von Haxthausen , August von Haxthausen and the poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and her sister Jenny von Laßberg were also involved. It is the lasting merit of Wilhelm Grimm, who secured the further dissemination with the processing and established the fairy tale as a science with the critical examination of the sources and development of the folk tales .

After the mother's death in 1808, Jacob Grimm, as the eldest of the family, had to look after the family. Since 1807 Jacob and Wilhelm had published essays on minnesang in professional journals. After Wilhelm's stay in Halle, the brothers went back to Kassel together and published their first independent books in 1811: Jacob Über den Altdeutschen Meistergesang and Wilhelm Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen . The brothers' first books together followed in 1812 (an edition of the Old High German Hildebrand song and the Wessobrunn prayer) and, at Christmas, the first volume of children's and house tales . At this time, the brothers also tried a German edition of the Edda and Reineke Fuchs . Only a first volume of the Edda appeared in 1815, which was not continued because the Brothers Grimm were overtaken by other researchers in this area. The Reinhart Fuchs in several medieval versions gave Jacob out until 1834 - but then with an extensive introduction about the nature of the animal epic . From 1813 to 1816, the brothers also published three volumes of the magazine Altdeutsche Wälder , which had old German literature as its content and was then discontinued.

In 1814 the Brothers Grimm and their sister Charlotte (Lotte) (1793–1833) moved into an apartment in the - still preserved - northern gatehouse at Wilhelmshöher Tor . As early as 1815 Jacob published a book on the mythological interpretation of images and columns of gods (Irmenstrasse and Irmen column) and Silva de romances viejos , a critical selection of ancient Spanish romances.

In 1815, the brothers were able to present the second volume of Children's and Household Tales , and in 1819 the first volume was reissued, heavily revised: more fairy tales were added, around a quarter of the stories were deleted and almost half of the remaining fairy tales were revised, often lost remove the erotic allusions perceived as objectionable. The notes on the fairy tales in both volumes were published as the third volume in 1822. In 1825 a “small edition” of the children's and house tales was published in one volume, which made a significant contribution to the popularity of the material. The brothers were able to win their brother Ludwig Emil as an illustrator for this task . From 1823 an illustrated English edition of Children's and Household Tales was published. Seven editions of the large German edition of the fairy tales and ten editions of the small edition were already published during the brothers' lifetime.

... the claim that most of Grimm's fairy tales are based directly on the stories of old peasant women and reclusive charcoal burners and shepherds remains untenable. Today we know that the Grimms did not collect folk tales, but that the fairy tales were mainly told by educated young women and often drew from French sources. "

Germans say

In the years 1816 and 1818, the two volumes of a collection of sagas (German sagas) appeared , which, however, did not have the broad success of their collection of fairy tales. The brothers had previously collected fairy tales and legends alike. A generic delimitation is difficult and was not carried out consistently by the brothers either. Attempts at definition relate, for example, to the premises that the sagas are generally believed by the narrators and the public, but the fairy tales are not, or that the sagas are tied to specific historical or local points of reference, but the fairy tales are not fixed in time or place. Both genres are narrative forms from the oral tradition, whereby the Brothers Grimm obtained them for their collections largely through written intermediate stages. The collection of sagas was not reissued while the brothers were alive.

Another outstanding achievement by Wilhelm is Die deutsche Heldensage , a script that not only represents a collection of legends from the 6th to the 16th century, but also contains valuable essays on fabrics, their history and artistic processing. In the course of the work on the sagas and folk tales, the brothers formulated a sound shift law in the context of the " Indo-European hypothesis ".

At the age of 30, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had already achieved an outstanding position through their numerous publications. They lived together in Kassel, until 1814 only from Jacob's salary and from the inherited family fortune. In addition to the formal official activity as librarian (Jacob) or secretary of the library (Wilhelm), they were able to advance their own research on site, which was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Marburg in 1819 .

Without sponsors and patrons, the Brothers Grimm would not have been able to publish to this extent for years. Electress Wilhelmine Karoline von Hessen should be mentioned here from the early days. After her death in 1820 or the death of the elector in 1821, the brothers had to vacate the house on Wilhelmshöher Strasse and move into a poorer apartment together with their sister Lotte. Lotte, who had previously run the household for the brothers, married the family lawyer and later Minister of the State of Hesse, Ludwig Hassenpflug (1794–1862), and left the brothers, who changed apartments several times and ran a bachelor household for years.

The German grammar

Jacob Grimm's work on the German grammar fell during this creative time in Kassel . The title is misleading because it is not a dry, schematic description of the structure of contemporary language. Rather, Jacob wanted to "conjure up a historical life with every flow of joyful development". The extensive work relates to all Germanic languages , their relationships and their historical development. The first volume dealt with inflection , the second with word formation . Jacob did not complete a complete manuscript, but had sheet by sheet printed as soon as he had written the required amount of text. The printing of the first volume, with a duration of 14 months from January 1818 to summer 1819, corresponded exactly to the period in which Jacob Grimm worked on the work. By 1822 he revised the first volume again completely, so that it now had more to do with sound formation . As with the first volume, he wrote and printed sheet by sheet again and continued this principle until 1826 with the now officially second volume of Deutsche Grammatik .

In this groundbreaking work, Jacob was the first to follow the development of the languages ​​(now called “ Indo-European ” or “Indo-European”) and the laws governing the change in vowels and consonants . In doing so, he laid the foundation for modern etymology , research into the origin of words and word components , taking into account word formation , inflection , sound changes and changes in meaning in various (related) languages. Jacob wrote on this himself: “Scientific word research could neither flourish with Greeks and Romans, let alone in our Middle Ages ... Such perplexed and uncomfortable wandering on the surging sea of ​​words was finally controlled by the advance of the as yet unexplored Sanskrit language and the entry of the German, Slavonic , Lithuanian and the other European idioms in the scientific circle of the investigations. ”It was also clear to him that the representatives of the classical philology (Latin, Greek and Hebrew) were not interested in investigating other languages ​​more closely, since they regarded them as barbaric .

Jacob Grimm, however, had forerunners: in 1787 William Jones in Bengal had compared Sanskrit with the ancient Persian, Greek, Latin, Gothic and Celtic languages based on the structure and the roots of the word - but not yet systematically. The young Dane Rasmus Christian Rask had - following a request by Wilhelm von Humboldt - tackled exactly this. Jacob Grimm knew (and discussed) its script and began to compare word formation and sound development in Old Norse with those in Slavic and Greek. In German grammar , the earliest, then the later and finally the most recent stages of development of the languages ​​under consideration were treated comparatively for the first time. In the second edition he was able to demonstrate that the phonetic correspondences uncovered by Rask were not (coincidental) individual phenomena, but followed a law. Anglo-Saxon researchers call this rule Grimm's law to this day . He also realized that there had been not one, but two such shifts. These are known today as “ Germanic ” and “ High German sound shift ” (or also “first” and “second sound shift”).

Further work in Kassel

In 1816 Jacob translated the Serbian grammar of his friend Vuk Stefanović Karadžić and provided it with an introduction to Slavic languages ​​and their literature. Wilhelm had in the meantime published several books on runes , his book Die deutsche Häldensage (see above), which he himself regarded as his main work, was published in 1829. Jacob's study of German legal antiquities (1828) was also groundbreaking , in which he did not deal with legal regulations but with medieval legal practice and legal opinion. It has given rise to investigations in a number of other countries.

It was only when Wilhelm married Dorothea Wild in May 1825 that the living conditions of the brothers, who continued to live together, now in threes, became more stable. Wilhelm and “Dortchen” were soon born children: Herman Grimm (1828–1901), Rudolf Grimm (1830–1889) and Auguste Grimm (1832–1919). Frequent trips by the Grimm brothers are reported.


Title page of Volume 1 of the German Dictionary

Even after moving from Kassel, the brothers in Göttingen kept a common household. Jacob had been a full professor from 1830, Wilhelm was a librarian and, from 1835, also a professor. Jacob published two more volumes of German grammar by 1837 . In 1834 he was also able to complete Reinhart (Reineke) Fuchs , which he had begun in 1811, and a work on German mythology in 1835 . In this work, Jacob examined pre-Christian beliefs and superstitions and contrasted them with classical mythology and Christian legends . This work also had an enormous influence - this time on research into myths. The third edition of the Children's and Household Tales was almost entirely done by Wilhelm in 1837. In 1838 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began working together on the German dictionary .

As in the past, Jacob devoted himself to naming during this time: He wrote about the Germanic goddesses Tanfana and Freia , the Thracian goddess Bendis and their names, about Hessian place names , the name of the state of Westphalia and examined the laws of the formation of proper names . He pointed out that early word forms can be preserved in names that have gone down in everyday language .

In political terms, the Grimm brothers worked towards uniting the then small German states, both indirectly through research into German cultural history and through political activities, from political journalism to Jacob Grimm's work as a member of the Frankfurt National Assembly in 1848. Jacob and Wilhelm helped formulate human rights in Germany. For a pamphlet against a breach of the constitution by the King of Hanover , King Ernst August I , they, along with five other professors, were dismissed and Jacob was expelled from the country ( Göttinger Sieben ). A supraregional committee of citizens based in Leipzig initially continued to pay the dismissed professors from donations. While the Brothers Grimm were unemployed, the Leipzig publishers Karl Reimer and Salomon Hirzel made them the proposal for the German dictionary , "the Grimm", which would not have come about without the Göttingen dismissal. You yourself worked out the dictionary up to the letter D (Wilhelm) or F (Jacob). They conceived the dictionary as a collection of all words from the time “from Luther to Goethe”, which should be less a set of rules than a history of the development of the words. The focus of the individual word articles is the history of meaning of the respective word; the historical use is traced on the basis of citations from hundreds of literary works, but also from technical languages ​​and everyday use. When collecting the documents, the Brothers Grimm had numerous helpers, most of whom belonged to their circle of friends and scientific colleagues or were referred to them by friends and colleagues. The collection of the documents and the preparation of the dictionary were paid for by the publisher. For the major dictionary project, the Brothers Grimm had to postpone their own plans and ongoing work, which was to become a basic problem in their last two decades.

The time in Berlin

Grave Brothers Grimm in Berlin-Schöneberg 2016 with a new memorial stone for Auguste Grimm

For three years the Grimms lived in Kassel in exile and without employment, although various institutions at home and abroad tried to recruit them before the new Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV brought them to Berlin immediately after he took office in 1840 .

They lived in Berlin for around 20 years, now unencumbered by financial uncertainties. There is much worth reading about their research, their interests, and their liberal political views in the academy papers they wrote during this period (later collected in the editions of their Smaller Writings ). The history of the German language also emerged during this period - a first attempt to link the history of language with social history. In 1871 Georg Curtius wrote about Jacob Grimm that his impetuous work urgently needed the corrective of more critical minds: “It was also fortunate that Wilhelm Grimm, less bold and comprehensive, but in more limited fields finely and carefully, stood by the daring Jacob's side. “In this way, the guide and the moderator complemented each other and opened up unimagined, wide areas of work for historians and linguists.

Wilhelm Grimm died in 1859, his brother Jacob in 1863. Many institutions across Europe were proud that they could count them among their (honorary) members. Even in death they are together: They lie in the old St. Matthew Cemetery in Berlin-Schöneberg . The grave is one of the honor graves of the State of Berlin. To the left of the two grave monuments are the graves of Wilhelm Grimm's sons Herman and Rudolf. The mortal remains of the daughter Auguste Grimm were buried in an urn in the grave of her father Wilhelm in 1919 without a grave inscription. In June 2016, the non-profit association EFEU eV realized a grave or memorial stone for Auguste, her mother Henriette Dorothea and other women of the Grimm family through donations.

Auguste Grimm, who had never married, bequeathed the family's estate with documents and furniture to her niece Albertine Plock (1881–1974), née Oestereich, the illegitimate daughter of Rudolf Grimm. This donated everything in 1963 to the collection in the Museum Haldensleben .

Appreciations and afterlife

1000 DM banknote (from 1991) with the Brothers Grimm, next to it contemporary buildings in Kassel on the left
Wall painting “Palmbacher Märchenwelt” from 1929 by the German painter Hans Fischer-Schuppach in the Badisches Schulmuseum Karlsruhe . It shows 40 fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.
Central Library Grimm Center, Berlin: reading terraces
'Brothers Grimm', floribunda rose

See also


Joint works
Jacob Grimm


A large part of her scholarly estate is in the Berlin State Library . Another larger part, including letters from and to the brothers, various bundles of manuscripts and, above all, hand copies with handwritten additions, is kept in the Hessian State Archives in Marburg , and other documents in the library of the University of Kassel . The North Hessian Grimm holdings, around 3,000 documents, have been available in digital form via a central portal since 2017.

In addition, several thousand volumes of her personal library have been in the possession of the university library of the Humboldt University of Berlin since 1865 , whose new library has been named after the Brothers Grimm since 2009 as the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Center . Since 1978 art objects, furniture etc. from the estate of the Brothers Grimm have been made accessible to the public in a permanent exhibition in the Museum Haldensleben .


  • Hans Gürtler, Albert Leitzmann (Ed.): Letters from the Brothers Grimm. Frommann, Jena 1923.
  • Hessian letters of the 19th century. Letters from the Brothers Grimm to Savigny. Edited from the Savigny estate. in connection with Ingeborg Schnack by Wilhelm Schoof (= publications of the Historical Commission for Hesse , Volume 23/1), Berlin 1953.
  • Walther Ottendorf (ed.): The Grimms and the Simrocks in letters from 1830 to 1864. Ferd. Dümmlers Verlag, Bonn, Hanover, Hamburg, Munich 1966.
  • Ludwig Denecke : Jacob Grimm and his brother Wilhelm. JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 1971, ISBN 3-476-10100-2 (overview with extensive bibliography).
  • Hermann Gerstner : Brothers Grimm. 9th edition, (= Rowohlts Monographien , 201), Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-499-50201-1 .
  • Lothar Bluhm : The Brothers Grimm and the beginning of German philology. Weidmannsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Hildesheim 1997, ISBN 3-615-00187-7 .
  • Hans-Georg Schede: The Brothers Grimm. dtv, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-423-31076-6 .
  • Bernd Heidenreich and Ewald Grothe (eds.): Culture and politics - The Grimms. Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-7973-0852-3 . The Grimms - Culture and Politics . 2nd edition 2008, ISBN 978-3-7973-1072-9 , publication by the Hessian State Center for Political Education.
  • Heiko Postma : ... then they are still alive today! (About the scholars, folklorists and fairy tales = collectors Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm) . jmb-Verlag, Hannover 2008, ISBN 978-3-940970-07-7 .
  • Hans-Georg Schede: The Brothers Grimm - A biography. CoCon-Verlag, Hanau 2009, ISBN 978-3-937774-69-5 .
  • Steffen Martus : The Brothers Grimm. A biography. Rowohlt-Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-87134-568-5 .
  • Günter Grass : Grimm's words. A declaration of love. Steidl, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-86930-155-6 .
  • Andreas Venzke : The Brothers Grimm and the riddle of the frog king. Arena-Verlag, Würzburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-40106-775-9 .
  • Hessian Ministry for Science and Art , Thorsten Smidt (Hrsg.): Expedition Grimm. Hessian State Exhibition Kassel 2013. Sandstein Verlag, Dresden 2013, ISBN 978-3-95498-029-1 .
  • Jochen Bär u. a. (Ed.): The Brothers Grimm. Pioneers of the German language culture of the 21st century . Brockhaus, Gütersloh 2013.
  • Herbert Leupin: Fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm . Afterword by Sieglinde Geisel. Verlag Nordsüd, Zurich 2015 (short review under "Grimms Märchen" in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, international edition of October 6, 2015, features section p. 21).

Web links

Wikisource: Brothers Grimm  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Brothers Grimm  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Heinz Rölleke : Brothers Grimm: Fairy tales about fairy tales - Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm have long kept a secret who told them their stories. Because not old peasant women told the alleged folk tales, but educated daughters with Huguenot ancestors , Zeit Online November 20, 2012
  2. EFEU eV special page: Grab Fam. Grimm
  3. Biography A. Plock
  4. Univ. Kassel, Publik No. 5 1985
  5. Professorship on the Brothers Grimm. In: Kölner Stadtanzeiger. November 4, 2011, accessed November 22, 2012 .
  6. ^ Homepage of Holger Erhardt
  7. 20 euro collector's coins from the series “200 Years of Grimm's Fairy Tales”. In: Retrieved February 12, 2020 .
  8. Website for the Grimm Year 2013 ( Memento from December 27, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  9. Website of the state exhibition Expedition Grimm
  10. Overview of the Grimm estate  HStAM inventory 340 Grimm. In: Archive Information System Hessen (Arcinsys Hessen).
  11. New Grimm portal digitally brings together North Hessian Grimm treasures. In: Retrieved February 12, 2020 .