Frau Holle is depicted on this 1967 West German postage stamp.

"Frau Holle" (also translated into English as "Mother Holle", "Mother Hulda" and "Old Mother Frost") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm, and in The Red Fairy Book, the 1890 anthology of fairy tales compiled by the Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang.

The story's title character is a figure from German folklore. She is said to be the protectress of agriculture and of work traditionally associated with women. She is also said to make snowflakes by shaking the downy feathers from her bed. People in some parts of Germany still sometimes jokingly say that Frau Holle is making her bed when it snows.

The unnamed protagonist of the story "Frau Holle" is a girl who lives with her abusive stepmother and her ugly and lazy stepsister. Much like Cinderella, the girl is forced to do all of the work in the house. When she drops a spindle down a well, the girl is ordered to go into the well to fetch it. When she does so, the girl finds herself in another realm that is home to Frau Holle. The girl becomes a servant to Frau Holle and stays with her for some time. When the girl eventually decides to return home, she is handsomely rewarded by Frau Holle for her kindness and hard work. Hoping to get the same reward, the girl's stepsister also goes down the well. She is ultimately punished by Frau Holle for her greed and laziness.

Although it is not among the best known of Grimms' fairy tales in the English-speaking world, Frau Holle has been adapted to other media numerous times.


Hermann Vogel-Mother Hulda-1

The girl shakes the apples from the tree. Early 20th century illustration by the German artist Hermann Vogel.

An old woman lives with her ugly and lazy daughter and her beautiful and hard-working stepdaughter. The old woman mistreats her stepdaughter and forces the girl to do all the housework. One task that the girl has to do every day is spin threads using a spindle. She does that by a well on the main road. One day, the girl spins threads until her fingers bleed. She tries to wash the blood off the spindle in the well. She drops it and loses it down the well. When her stepmother hears what the girl has done, she orders her to dive down the well and bring back the spindle.

When the girl dives into the well, she passes out. When she comes to, she finds herself in another place. Loaves of bread call out to her from an oven. They saw that they will be burned if the girl does not take them out of the oven immediately. The girl does as the loaves ask. An apple tree calls out to the girl, telling her to shake it so that its ripe apples might fall down. The girl does as the tree asks. The girl passes by a little house and sees an old woman looking out from it. The girl is frightened by the woman because she has very large teeth. The old woman tells the girl that she does not need to be afraid. She adds that she will make the girl happy if she stays with her and does her housework. The old woman points out that it is important to make her bed well. It has to be shaken so that feathers fly out of it because the old woman is Frau Holle and the feathers from her bed become snowflakes. The girl agrees to stay with Frau Holle because of how kindly she speaks to her.

Madame Holl - Anne Anderson

The girl and Frau Holle. Early 20th century illustration by the British artist Anne Anderson.

The girl works happily for Frau Holle for some time. Frau Holle never speaks angrily to her and feeds her well. Eventually, even though her life with Frau Holle is much better than her life with her stepmother and stepsister, the girl becomes homesick. Frau Holle tells the girl that she will take her home herself. When the girl passes through a gateway, she becomes completely covered in gold from head to toe.[1] Frau Holle also gives the girl back her lost spindle.

When the girl returns home, her stepmother and stepsister are happy to see her simply because she is covered in gold. The girl tells her stepmother and stepsister all about Frau Holle. The girl's stepsister decides that she wants to receive the same reward from Frau Holle. She pricks her finger to get blood on a spindle, drops the spindle down the well and dives in after it. She finds herself in the same land that the other girl went to earlier. When the loaves of bread call out to the stepsister to take them from the oven, she tells them that she will not dirty her hands for them. When the apple tree calls out to the stepsister to shake it, she refuses, saying that some apples might fall on her head. The stepsister goes to Frau Holle's house and asks to be taken in as a servant.

The stepsister is hard-working at first. Soon, however, she falls back into her normal lay ways and shirks her responsibilities. She forgets to make Frau Holle's bed which means that no snowflakes fall. Frau Holle soon wants the stepsister to leave. The stepsister is happy to go because she thinks she will get the gold. When the stepsister passes through the gateway, a bucket full of tar pours over her and covers her completely.[2] The stepsister finds that she cannot wash off the tar and she remains covered in it for the rest of her life.


Screen adaptations of "Frau Holle" were produced in Germany in 1906, 1908, 1944, 1954, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1967, 2004 and 2008,[3] in Switzerland in 1977 and in Czechoslovakia in 1985.

Television adaptations of "Frau Holle" were first shown on the French channel ORTF on February 26, 1970 and on the German channel Das Erste on December 25, 2008.

Frau Holle, Wien, Raxstraße 11

Image of Frau holle on a street in Vienna, Austria.

"Frau Holle" was adapted as the ninth episode of the second season of the Japanese anime series Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics (Japanese: グリム名作劇場; Gurimu Meisaku Gekijō). The episode is known in English as "Mother Holle" and in Japanese as "Auntie Holle" (ホレのおばさん; Hore no obasan). It first aired on TV Asahi in Japan on December 4, 1988.

The fourth episode of the second season of the Austrian-German comedy series Die Märchenstunde ("The Fairy Tale Hour") is a parody of "Frau Holle". In the episode, both the girl and her stepsister visit Frau Holle's realm at the same time and find that everything they do there causes chaos on Earth. The episode was first broadcast on the channel ORF eins in Austria on October 7, 2006 and on the channel ProSieben in Germany on October 9, 2006.

Under the title Mother Hulda, the American cartoonist Robert Crumb adapted "Frau Holle" in comic book form in 1986. A manga-style graphic novel adaptation of the story by the German artist Luisa Velontrova was published in 2012.

See also


  1. The girl is often referred to in German as Goldmarie because of the reward she receives. That name is not, however, used by the Brothers Grimm.
  2. The stepsister is often referred to in German as Pechmarie ("Tar Marie" or "Unlucky Marie") because of the punishment she receives. That name is not, however, used by the Brothers Grimm.
  3. The 1953 adaptation is a puppet film from East Germany. The 195, 1959, 1961, 1963 and 1967 adaptations are from West Germany.

External links

  • Versions of "Frau Holle' in German and English on Wikisource.
  • Public domain audiobokks of "Frau Holle" in German and English on YouTube.