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According to Smithsonian Magazine, the Germans invented heart-shaped cookies called Lebkuchen. These gingerbread treats are frosted with sweet messages, such as “Alles was ich brauch bist du” (All I need is you).
The idea of the gingerbread house probably originated in Germany as well. It is likely the gingerbread houses were based on the candy cottage described in Hansel and Gretel. The fairytale, written by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, is sweet, then dark and heavy and sinister. Here is an excerpt:
When the moon came they set out, but they found no crumbs, for the many thousands of birds which fly about in the woods and fields had picked them all up. Hansel said to Gretel, “We shall soon find the way.” But they did not find it. They walked the whole night and all the next day too from morning till evening, but they did not get out of the forest, and were very hungry, for they had nothing to eat but two or three berries, which grew on the ground. And as they were so weary that their legs would carry them no longer, they lay down beneath a tree and fell asleep.
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It was now three mornings since they had left their father’s house. They began to walk again, but they always came deeper into the forest, and if help did not come soon, they must die of hunger and weariness. When it was mid-day, they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a bough, which sang so delightfully that they stood still and listened to it. And when its song was over, it spread its wings and flew away before them, and they followed it until they reached a little house, on the roof of which it alighted. And when they approached the little house they saw that it was built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear sugar.
“We will set to work on that,” said Hansel, “and have a good meal. I will eat a bit of the roof, and you Gretel, can eat some of the window, it will taste sweet.”
Hansel reached up above, and broke off a little of the roof to try how it tasted, and Gretel leant against the window and nibbled at the panes. Then a soft voice cried from the parlor –
“Nibble, nibble, gnaw who is nibbling at my little house?”
The children answered –
“The wind, the wind, the heaven-born wind,” and went on eating without disturbing themselves.
Hansel, who liked the taste of the roof, tore down a great piece of it, and Gretel pushed out the whole of one round window-pane, sat down, and enjoyed herself with it.
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Suddenly the door opened, and a woman as old as the hills, who supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel and Gretel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they had in their hands. The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said,
“Oh, you dear children, who has brought you here? Do come in, and stay with me. No harm shall happen to you.”
She took them both by the hand, and led them into her little house. Then good food was set before them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterwards two pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Gretel lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven.
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