So Leben Sie Noch Heute: An exhibition of contemporary European illustrated versions of Brothers Grimm Fairytales
International Youth Library, Munich
Hans pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket, wrapped up the lump in it, put it on his shoulder, and set out on the way home. (Hans in Luck)
I make no secret that the International Youth Library in Munich is one of my favourite places on earth. How could it not be? A library housed in a 17th century castle that’s home to a children’s lending library (you want a child interested in reading? Take them to a library in a castle), the Michael Ende Museum, and the magical Binette Schroeder Kabinette. The International Youth Library is a very special place.
In the past the library has played host to shows featuring work by Shaun Tan, Chris Riddell and many others. All their exhibitions are well thought out, beautiful explorations of stories and artworks from children’s books. The current show is something a bit special.
They walked through the night and the entire next day, and then, exhausted, they fell asleep. They walked another day, but they could not find their way out of the woods. (Hansel and Gretel)
The exhibition at the moment is about The Brothers Grimm. While there is a certain iconic style associated with the stories (picturesque gingerbread houses and endless forests), the show highlights how the stories collected by Jacob and Willhelm can be located anywhere and still have resonance. This is clear from the moment when you turn a corner to be confronted by an enlarged version of a Roberto Innocenti illustration showing Red Riding Hood descending a staircase into a graffiti covered hallway.
One of the first information panels on the way into the exhibition explains that the Grimm fairytales all broadly have a five stage structure;
- The departure of the main character.
- Following their way. On the move.
- Toward a test.
- The temptation, threat, or even the loneliness of exile can overcome the main character at this critical time.
- To a happy ending.
“Oh, grandmother, what big hands you have!”
“All the better to grab you with!” (Red Riding Hood)
This ties into a series of small panels hanging throughout the room that give examples for each stage, drawing on stories like Snow White, The Wolf and the Seven Baby Goats, and Hansel and Gretel.
What always amazes me with the exhibitions at the International Youth Library is the richness and variety of displays in a single show. The Brothers Grimm exhibition is no different. Dioramas show scenes from Snow White, and Red Riding Hood (including one with a real taxidermy wolf, a red hat caught on a nearby branch). Books are displayed with artefacts from their story. A beautiful version of the Town Musicians of Bremen by Claudio Palamarucci showing the robbers as suit wearing businessmen is displayed with work ties draped over the pages. A display copy of The Wolf and the Seven Baby Goats is shown with a rounded pebble like the ones that lead to the wolf’s comeuppance in the story.
It was not long before she opened her eyes, threw up the cover of the coffin, and sat up, alive and well. (Snow White)
Another exhibition case collects together versions of Red Riding Hood that only use a red and black colour scheme, a display that has far more impact than a single book.
The whole exhibition is designed to help children discover the beauty and joy of these stories. Nowhere is that more evident than in the small crooked wooden hut that stands partway into the show, a basket of books waiting to be read outside. This hut is a place straight out of a fairytale, just for children to sit in, read the books and immerse themselves in these magical worlds. Stories that might have the same five stage structure underlying them but contain infinite possibilities.
Between the exploration of the structure behind the Grimm fairytales, the dioramas and the artwork, all wrapped up in a castle, the International Youth Library is a perfect place to first encounter these stories or explore them for the hundredth time and discover something new.
…and they lived very happily together until their lives’ end. (Sleeping Beauty)
Steve Toase was born in North Yorkshire, England, and now lives in Munich, Germany.
He writes regularly for Fortean Times, Folklore Thursday, and Daily Grail.
His fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Lackington’s, Aurealis, Not One Of Us, Cabinet des Feés and Pantheon Magazine amongst others. In 2014 Call Out (first published in Innsmouth Magazine) was reprinted in The Best Horror Of The Year 6, and two of his stories have just been selected for Best Horror of the Year 11.
He also likes old motorbikes and vintage cocktails.
You can keep up to date with his work via