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German Fairytale Fight

DW staff (th)January 4, 2008

Generations of young readers have severely decreased the resale value of children's books by writing in the margins. Some scribblings, however, are so precious that they get caught in the midst of a literary tug of war.

Man holds up book of fairy tales
The books which once belonged to the brothers Grimm are worth millionsImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The five-volume set of fairytales written by the Brothers Grimm is valued at 30 million euros ($44 million). The books stand out from the crowd because their margins are filled with the brothers' hand-written corrections and additions.

The world's most expensive fairytale collection sits in a vault of a bank in the northern German city of Kassel while a museum and library fight over ownership.

UNESCO -- which added the annotated fairytale collection to its prestigious Memory of the World Register in 2005 -- lists the Grimm Museum in Kassel as the owner of the books. But Kassel's state library and a group of academics beg to differ.

Whose is it?

Illustration of Little Red Riding Hood in the woods
Stories such as Little Red Riding Hood have become classicsImage: Museum Burg Wissem

The library claims it is the true owner of the collection and that the museum was only allowed to borrow the books. The museum disagrees, saying the books are part of property owned by its Grimm Society.

More than 30 Grimm experts from Germany and elsewhere have asked the museum to give up their claim on the books, saying the library could digitalize them and put the images on the Internet.

The experts said UNESCO should never have recognized the museum as own.

Snow White & Co.

Statue of the Brothers Grimm
The Grimm brothers marked up the marginsImage: AP

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected folk tales in Germany during the early 1800s. They were the first to popularize stories such as Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. After the publication, the Grimm brothers kept adding notes and corrections in the margins of their personal copy.

The UNESCO register of world heritage aims at preserving valuable archive holdings around the world. A Gutenberg Bible and the literary estate of Goethe are also on the UNESCO list.