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Why this is Germany’s favourite Christmas movie

Why this is Germany's favourite Christmas movie
A scene from Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel. Photo: DPA
From humble beginnings and a small production budget, Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel has become the seminal Christmas film across much of Europe - including Germany.

Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel – otherwise known in English as Three Wishes/Gifts For Cinderella (or Three Hazelnuts For Cinderella in a direct translation) – is a fairytale film originally produced in 1973 which has gone on to become a Christmas staple across much of Europe. 

The film, a co-production between Czechoslovakian and East German production companies, is watched during the festive season in much of central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Russia – and of course Switzerland.

Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel is shown over the Christmas period – and in Germany, the film was screened a massive 12 times from December 24th to 28th in 2018, a pattern which is pretty much repeated every year.

The plot of the movie has all of the staples you’d come to expect from a European fairytale, including a beautiful yet poorly treated servant girl who may *spoiler alert* become a princess, an evil stepmother, a handsome prince looking to be wed, an ugly sister, magic hazelnuts which grant wishes, a lost slipper – and an assortment of enchanted forest creatures with our heroine’s best wishes at heart.

Er war der Prinz im Weihnachtskultfilm #dreihaselnüsse für Aschenbrödel. Für Pavel Trávniček die Rolle seines Lebens. 45 Jahre später ist er zu Gast bei #Riverboat im @mdrde -TV. Heute 22 Uhr. Und am 26.12. um 16 Uhr gibts den Märchenfilm im MDR. https://t.co/qz1XvPJE3z pic.twitter.com/gLmZKSpELJ

— MDR Presse (@MDRpresse) November 30, 2018

Indeed, despite being a Christmas classic – the movie isn’t really a Christmas film at all, in that it doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of a traditional Christmas film. 

The movie was originally set during summer, but was later moved by the director to winter as the film crew had plenty of work during the warmer months. 

READ ALSO: What's the history behind Germany's Christmas traditions?

Photo: DPA

As it wasn’t cold enough at all of the shooting locations to guarantee snow, much of it was artificial – with fishmeal the most commonly used substitute, which led to some notoriously bad odours on set.

The movie was made against a backdrop of controversy, with screenwriter Frantisek Pavlicek – who adapted the movie from the original Brothers Grimm tales – suffering under a ban from the Czech government when the movie was made and credited under a pseudonym. 

Although the film may seem a tad outdated by modern standards in its depictions of a beautiful woman waiting for her prince, at the time in Eastern Europe it was seen as revolutionary, particularly as she actively contributes to the ending of the movie – not least by stealing and taming the prince’s horse.

“Drei Haselnüsse für #Aschenbrödel” aka “Die Unverpassbare” – ab heute wieder im #TV! pic.twitter.com/gd7aQM50Gw

— NDR 2 (@ndr2) November 27, 2016

Legacy 

Shot in both East Germany and Prague, the film premiered in East Berlin in 1973. 

Much like how Dinner For One has become a television fixture in German-speaking Europe on New Year’s Eve, Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel is now synonymous with Christmas across much of the continent. 

Despite being screened in both the United Kingdom and the United States – on the BBC and CBS respectively – the film has failed to gain a similar foothold in the English-speaking world.

Finally, for anyone who’s already met their Cinderella or their handsome prince, the castle which is the centrepiece of the film – the Moritzburg Castle near Dresden – can be rented for weddings and parties. 

You’re recommended to get in early however, as you’ll be competing with an entire generation of children hoping that they can live happily ever after, just like their on-screen heroes.


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