Every summer Sunday in the city of Hamelin, actors gather in the old town center to pay homage to a strange, enduring tale. The “Pied Piper” (or “the Piper of Hamelin”) is one of the most famous classic fairy tales all over the world. Despite its great diffusion, only a few people have studied the genesis of this story, probably for the habit of considering it harmless, only a fairy tale, and for this without any reference to reality.
The most recent children’s story (the version of 1857) tells that in 1284, townspeople commissioned a rat catcher to lure away the rats that had overrun their village, with the promise of a lavish reward. He did it, but the people of Hamelin cheated the man out of his payment. So the man, the pied piper, returned a year later and lured also their children away, accompanying them to a “place of joy”. But the original version of the fairy tale of 1812 did not include a happy ending, and the children were taken to a cave where they were closed until the end. Only a child, lame, could save himself from rapture, because he could not keep up with others.
The events that took place in Hamelin on 26 June 1284 are the basis for the classic fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers, which are far from simple fantasy. The inscription placed in the wall of a house in the city of Hamelin, dating back to about 1600,
“In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colours, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.”
The plaque tells a story that must have devastated the population, the loss of 130 children of the city because of a “piper” that led them to die in the Calvary of Koppen. The relevance and veracity of the episode comes not so much from the inscription, made more than 300 years later, but from a now-destroyed stained glass window of a church, located in the market square, one of the first known records of the Pied Piper story, though there’s also a supposed eyewitness account from the time, which states in Latin that “130 children were taken from the town by a piper dressed in many colours.” In the window we can see the scene of the piper that pushes children inside of the mountain, and explains the episode in an unequivocal way. A piper first free the city from the rats carrying them to the river Weser, and then, with gaudy clothes, takes the children on a mountain adjacent to the city where he pushes them in a cave from which they will never return.
And what of this 800-year-old tale is really true?
And what happened to the children of Hamelin?
Numerous hypotheses have been made to explain the episode. Someone says even that the rats never existed and were added to the story only from the 16th century.
Someone believe that the Black Death was the true cause of the children’s deaths, a theory largely discarded, though, because the plague didn’t hit Europe until the mid-1347, so it is very unlikely that an entire city was already afflicted over 60 years earlier. Several other theories have been put forth in an attempt to known what happened in the story.
The children were taken to die in the mountains to avoid the contagion of the whole population with the disease of the “Korea of Sydenham”, also called “The dance of San Vito”? About this, there are references in the “Chronicle of Erfurt” of 1237 and in the “Chronicle of Maastricht” of 1278. Or the children were forced to leave the city for a new Children’s Crusade or for a military campaign? The crusade of children has been the subject of extensive debate and seems to be the result of a misinterpretation of the Latin word “Puer” which is confusing with the word “Pauper”, which means poor. The military campaign, on the other hand, was very common at the time and often involved even the youngest. It’s also possible that the children were part of a migration eastward, probably to Transylvania, and maybe the colorful man with the flute was just a really convincing real estate salesman.
Another hypothesis very interesting come from Gernot Hüsam, a local historian. The barons Spiegelbergs, convinced Catholics, were determined to eliminate the resistance to religious conversion in the area and, hired a hunter with bright clothes, had 130 children of the city of Hamelin sacrificed over a “calvary” (like that of Christ, sacrificed to save the men) near the city. The ordeal could be Mount Ith, only 15 kilometers away from the town of Hameln, where is located the “Teufelsküche”, the “Kitchen of the Devil”, a perfect place to make sacrifices of this kind and traditionally linked to pagan rites. In fact, the hill Oberberg is described by the oral tradition of the city as a theater of rituals and “demonic” parties, often sexual, which were accompanied by the sound of a piper who played during the ceremonies inviting young people to dance. The strongest “evidence” to support this theory is the depiction of the episode in a stained glass window of the city’s church. This representation indicates precisely the beatification of the martyrs who, having become holy saviors, deserved a representation worthy of the gesture.
Today, on the Bungelosenstrasse, the street where the Pied Piper House is located (where the children were supposedly last seen), music is banned as a sign of respect. But in the rest of the city, there are everywhere rat iconography. A clock tower tells the story three times a day, there’s a Pied Piper statue, and some bars serve the typical “rat’s blood” cocktails (a mix of champagne and blackcurrant juice) and “rat’s tails” (pork meat, sliced thin). Twice a day, the bells played also the Pied Piper melody. Whatever the cause of the eerie disappearance of 1284, the children of Hamelin are certainly not forgotten. A mystery probably bound to remain so.
This is the video of the Hochzeitshaus carillon:
And the Disney’s version of the Pied Piper…