... there was a fairy tale grove high up above Rhein river filled with many fairy tale figures in their habitat, like Hansel & Gretel in front of the witch house, Snow White in bed with the dwarfs watching her, Gold-Ass how he spills gold coins, the Frog Prince on the well with the princess, Cinderella in the kitchen and the Wolf and seven young kids in the barn. These were the times when entrance fees were as low as 20 Pfennig for adults and 10 pfennig for kids, and when telephone numbers still had two-digits only. Everything in this grove was a delight to see for the many many kids and their parents from 1931 to 1980. Among these kids was I when I was approx. 3 or 4 years old. These figures have left a strong impression in me and I remember that anytime I thought for example of Hänsel and Gretel, I had this image of the house and the kids and the witch in my head. I think it was even for the pretzels and the gingerbread decoration on the house. Of course these impressions got hidden deep in my memories over the years. But when Christine wrote about a fairy tale grove in the hills above Heidelberg, the memories came back and I was wondering if this would be the grove of my childhood. But somehow I knew it wouldn’t be. Then I saw a documentary about Rhein River, the UNESCO part, and how many buildings have been left neglected over the years after the past-war boom. Among the buildings and facilities was the fairy tale grove of Niederheimbach. As soon as I saw what was left of it on TV, I knew that this was “my” fairy tale grove. I did some research and what I found was a very tragic story:
The fairy tale figures were an idea of sculptor Ernst Heilmann. He lived in Niederheimbach from early 20th century on and has sculptured all these statues. Then he bought land high above the village and set his statues in the environment of the fairy tales, with houses and all this. When it was opened July 2, 1931, it was a great success and many families came there. During the war the popularity decreased but it was still a retreat in these horror times. After the war again more people came and the grove had its peak time in 1953 with 500.000 visitors from all over the world. But with the death of Ernst Heilmann in 1969, who has lovingly kept the houses and statues in good conditions, the grove fell somehow into decay. His son wasn’t able to keep it up like his father did and of course with new media, increasing wealth of people in the post-war times and the tendency to look for holidays outside of Germany, the success of the grove was doomed to failure. What followed was an unpleasant game of destructive speculation. The houses and figures were left unguarded and soon (in 1993), immense vandalisation happened and many figures were destroyed. The houses were already in a desperate state of decay, paint chipped off and the interior decoration, once lovingly collected and placed by Ernst Heilmann, were stolen. Luckily, only one year later, Niederheimbach’s inhabitants started heavy protests and made sure that the remaining statues were rescued, since the speculation was sadly about the land and not about the fairy tale heritage. Many statues were repaired, and are now sitting on a path called Kuhweg, a steep path leading down to Heimburg Castle nearby. And the owner of the castle nursery, Christian Lenz, who is the initiator of the “Initiative Kuhweg” (Kuhweg = cow path), where the statues are having their new home now, has also several statues in his nursery. He is extremely clever with his hands and has transformed his nursery into another fairy tale grove. When we were there in early September 2011, he was working on another building on his premises, did the whole mason work alone and was very happy to tell us about the statues and his initiative. He also told us that he also organises readings and other events like gourmet evenings with nearby star restaurants. These must be magic, especially in this fairy tale location, so high above the river with fantastic views. In the back of the nursery the towers of Heimburg Castle can be seen, a true magic place!
The nursery can be visited anytime the owner is there. But since he is landscape architect, it will be more likely in the evenings. I am hesitating to write his phone number down, but it is easy to find, google for Burggaertnerei Lenz, Niederheimbach. Or drop me a note and I will send you the number.
Apart from that, Kuhweg, the path, is open anytime because it is a public path.
Thank you, initiators of this initiative for having rescues the figures and for making them available again for viewing. You have kept the spirit of Ernst Heilmann, when he once said:
”I wanted to place a memorial to prosterity, so that they will always remember their happy and carefree childhood”.
The whole story of the fairy tale grove with many old pictures of how it was built, albeit all in German, can be read in this document (3,78 MB download).
Location of start of Kuhweg and Burggärtnerei Lenz on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., June 2011 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)