The Grimms

The Brothers Grimm

Family history

Their great-grandfather Friedrich the Older and grandfather Friedrich Grimm the Younger were pastors of the Calvinistic Reformed faith in Hanau. Their father Philipp trained as a lawyer and worked first as a civic secretary in Hanau, later as a district magistrate in Steinau. Their mother Dorothea was the daughter of a councillor in Kassel, Johann Hermann Zimmer.

The five Grimm-brothers were born in Hanau and enjoyed a sheltered, middle-class childhood. When their father was appointed magistrate, the family moved to a large official residence in Steinau, where they led a life befitting their social status as respected citizens, with a coachman, servant girls and other household staff.  

Jacob and Wilhelm took their first steps in education with the help of Juliane Charlotte Friederike Schlemmer, their father’s sister and Jacob’s favourite aunt, who taught them to read before they went to school, and also Aunt Henriette Zimmer, their mother’s sister, who paid for their board and tuition at school in Kassel.

The father died early at the age of 44, and Jacob, the oldest son, took over the responsibility for the family, although he was only eleven years old. He carefully registered the death of his father in the family Bible and notified all the relatives. Later, he wrote a courteous letter to his aunt in Kassel, asking for support. But mother Dorothea also had to take action. The father’s official successor literally threw the family out of the house, they had no savings, and they were clearly going to suffer social decline. The mother, now alone with six children, found a new abode in a more modest neighbourhood, living without staff and no longer entertaining guests. In this phase the children learned to get along on their own, to acquire knowledge independently and to organize their daily lives.

Jacob and Wilhelm practised their faith in God in private. They did not think much of religious rituals, and preferred to express openly their political aim of freedom and unity for their fatherland.

In order to secure the livelihood of the family, the mother’s father and sister decided to have the two oldest sons educated in Kassel at the Lyceum Fridericianum. Under financial constraint, with hard discipline and an iron will, Jacob and Wilhelm studied at great speed. They finished school in half the normal time and then began law studies in Marburg. They had already taken over the education of their younger siblings by correspondence when in Kassel, sending them frequent letters. After the death of the mother, they continued to be a dependable source of help and advice for their brothers and sister.

Their last resting place is the Matthaei cemetery in Berlin, where Jacob and Wilhelm lie side by side - two simple tombstones pay tribute to the fact that despite their close fellowship they were individual personalities