The fairy tale world of the public television stations

ARD and ZDF have been hard at work reviving the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
ARD and ZDF have been hard at work reviving the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. | Photo (detail): lightwise © 123RF

Fairy tales inspire dreams and desires, and let adults be children again. It is no wonder, then, that the classic, early-19th century household tales from the Brothers Grimm have lost none of their magic and new film adaptations are now being made.

Some seasons seem better suited to telling fairy tales than others. During the cold winter, for example, or on public holidays, our televisions are transformed into fantastic storytellers. And the classics have lost none of their charm, drawing in millions to sit for hours in front of the tube. In recent years, the public TV stations ARD and ZDF have been hard at work reviving the famous Children's and Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm. The revised versions of these traditional stories, however, are intended to be more in stride with the morals of our modern world.

The Brothers Grimm – modern classics

Alongside Martin Luther's Bible, the Grimm collection of Children's and Household Tales is one of the most famous and widespread books to ever come from Germany – it has been translated into 160 languages. Written between 1812 and 1815, during the German Romantic period which they very much helped shape, the fairy tales and poems they compiled would ultimately create a new category spanning many epochs. Their collection of over 200 stories is heavily influenced by the rich folklore and ancient songs of the region and includes classics like Hansel and Gretel, The Valiant Little Tailor and Cinderella, all of which are still energetically staged at children's theaters around the globe.

The significance of the Grimm fairy tales within German cultural history can be clearly seen at the Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel, home to a collection of their valuable manuscripts that were declared a UNESCO Memory of the World in 2005. “They represent the first systematic compilation as well as the first scholastic documentation of the entire European and Asian fairy tale tradition,” according to the UNESCO statement.

New film adaptations of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales – ZDF started things off

Back in 2005, three years before ARD, ZDF began reproducing the fairy tale classics, all kicked off by the film version of Little Red Riding Hood. The adaptation created an unusual connection between the fairy tale's traditional story line and figures taken from the present day. Rumpelstiltskin came out the following year and in 2008 the broadcaster risked an original interpretation of the all-time classic Sleeping Beauty. In 2010, Cinderella was a hit with viewers starring Simone Thomalla as the evil stepmother. In 2011, the station decided to tell a rather less-known tale, that of Iron John. It is a coming-of-age story about a prince full of magic and adventure but it is one of the darker fables collected by the brothers.

The ZDF fairy tale workshop is currently working on two new stories as well: The Beauty and the Beast and The Six Swans, both of which will come out in 2013.

“Sechs auf einen Streich” (Six in One) – an ARD production

On December 20, 2008, ARD broadcast the famous Grimm tale The Wishing Table for the first time during the lunch hour slot. Filmed at the LWL Open-Air Museum Detmold and its environs, the TV movie was similar to the fairy tales that followed in this series, boasting a slew of famous actors cast in completely new roles, such as Christine Neubauer as an innkeeper or Ingo Naujoks as a thief. That is not all, however. The ARD fairy tale series also uses new film adaptations to set itself apart from the more traditional stories. The Wishing Table, for example, doesn't have three heroes at the center of the story, but just one. This shows the predominantly young viewers that even people who don't seem like they will amount to much can often exceed expectations. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, ARD continued its successful series and since then they have produced and broadcast a total of 20 adaptations – and no end is in sight!

Grimm fairy tales in a DVD box at the Goethe-Institut

To accompany its Fairy Tale Worlds exhibition the Goethe-Institut has issued 10 new fairy tale film adaptations on DVD. They originate from the ARD series Sechs auf einen Streich, but idioms and colloquial language have been updated in order to give children a new connection to the old stories.