“Heigh-ho, Oh, No, It’s Off to Work We Go” by Lucy

IMG_5976We all know Snow White’s story recorded by the Brothers Grimm.  (Although, did you know that the evil stepmother tried to kill Snow White THREE TIMES? Scroll all the way down to see the story.)  In 1994 historian Eckhard Sander said that there might have been some truth in Snow White’s story. He suggested that the fairy tale was based on the life of a girl named Countess Margarethe von Waldeck. Margarethe’s stepmother forced her to move away at the young age of sixteen. She then fell in love with Prince Philip II, a Spanish prince, but his parents disliked the relationship, so the king of Spain sent people to murder her. She was poisoned, just like Snow White. What do you think really happened?

On the fairy tale route in Germany, we went to a small town named Bergfreiheit, where the story that perhaps inspired “Snow White” might have taken place.  There, we went into a mine.  “Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! It’s off to work we go!” Disney makes mining seem like the best job to have, but in real life, at the time of Margarethe, it was back-breaking labor. That song should not have an exclamation point at the end, and I will now tell you why. The underground tunnels were short, and I myself could not stand straight in some of them. Children, starting at about the age of twelve, worked in the mine for 12 hours each day, 6 days a week.  Some days, the miners did not even see the sunlight. The work was so difficult the miners were given special privileges. The “frei” or “free” in the town’s name, Bergfreiheit, meant the miners were given free access to the forest for food, water and wood, they paid no taxes, and (my dad’s favorite), they could make and drink their own beer.

In the mine we visited, workers mined for copper, using only pickaxes and chisels. The light was dim, because only oil lamps were used. Some tunnels wound around like snakes, because when you find a line of minerals, you have to follow it. Other tunnels were straight because if you don’t know where the minerals are, you have to find them. Can you imagine digging only 5 centimeters per twelve hours? It was a hard job, and on top of that, bending down all day stunted the children’s growth.  The hard work also aged them quickly, so they didn’t always look young, and they could be mistaken for dwarfs. If I had been one of them, I would have gladly sung, “Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! It’s BACK from work we go!”

In Bergfreiheit, the villagers built a house to replicate the dwarfs’ cottage.  It is used mainly for parties.  The living room had seven miners’ hats, which we wore, and seven little beds, which we weren’t allowed to sleep in—not that we could fit in them. There were seven sets of silverware, placed on a table surrounded by seven chairs. In front of the window there were seven lanterns for mining. Seven of everything.

I enjoyed Snow White’s story, and I learned a lot. I only wish that the real Snow White had lived happily ever after.

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Snow White’s fairy tale

There was once a beautiful princess named Snow White. Her mother died when Snow White was a child, leaving her with her father who soon married again to a jealous stepmother. The story says that the stepmother looked into a magic mirror, and chanted “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror replied, “Snow White.” The queen was angry when she heard that, and she told a huntsman to kill Snow White. He did not kill Snow White, but lead her into the forest and, taking pity on her, he let her go. She wandered in the forest until she found a little house in which lived seven dwarfs. Of course, this fairytale has a happy ending, but not quite yet.

The next time the stepmother asked the mirror who was the fairest of them all, the mirror said once again that it was Snow White. So she found Snow White and tried to kill her a total of three times!  Disguised as a peddler, the first time she gave Snow White ribbons for her stays and tied them so tight around her, that she fainted and appeared dead.  The second time, the queen came back with a poisoned comb, but the dwarfs saved Snow White. Finally, she came back with a poisoned apple which Snow White ate, and she died. The dwarfs put her in a glass coffin.  Snow White did not change—she always looked asleep. One day, a prince saw her and kissed her, and she was alive once more.


  1. ‘That song should not have an exclamation point at the end…’ LOLOLOL. I agree. I never knew about how grueling the working conditions were. That sounds awful! I wish the real Snow White could’ve had a happy ending as well, or at least a happier one than that.
    Missing you!
    Mrs. G

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fascinating story behind the Snow White fairy tale! You all are going to the coolest, off-the-beaten-track places!!! I never knew there was a fairy tale route in Germany. I bet those are quaint little towns! I am so entertained by your travel reports, Lucy! You’ll have many stories to tell when you get to 5th Grade:-) xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ¡ No podria ser minero! Soy media claustrofóbica. Ese cuento me recuerda una vez que mi padrino, tu abuelo Martín Rodriguez-Ema, me llevó a mí, mi hermana Ana, tu tío y tia a una casita blanca en Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. Tu mamá ni había nacido. Era una casita diferente pues era pequeñita, toda blanca y el techo brillaba como nieve con escarcha. Él nos dijo que esa era la casa de Blanca Nieves y los siete enanitos. ¡ Qué maravilla! De momento escuchamos unos ruidos que salían de la casita. Yo estaba más asustada que contenta pues no sabía si iba a salir el enano Gruñón a regañarnos. Mis ojos eran del tamaño de un sapo concho. Nos fuimos corriendo y regresamos a la playa en Isla Verde. Después, los domingos que íbamos a la playa, estaba bien atenta al camino y miraba la casita de lejos cuando pasábamos por esa calle. . Nunca la vi abierta. Me pregunto si todavía existe.


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