Der Rattenfänger von Hameln

Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli war der 26. junii Dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet gewesen CXXX kinder verledet binnen Hamelen geboren to calvarie bi den koppen verloren.
In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on 26 June 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced by a piper, dressed in all kinds of colors, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.

The famous medieval folk tale of “Der Rattenfänger von Hameln” a.k.a. “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” made famous by the Brothers Grimm may be based on a true 13th century event. The 14th century Decan Lude chorus book, c.1384, contains a Latin verse from an eyewitness account of the event. The Lueneburg manuscript (c. 1440–50) seems to give the oldest surviving account of the story (above). There is a “Pied Piper’s house” in Hameln, but the Pied Piper did not live in this house. It is called that because of an inscription on its side claiming to be where the Hamelin Children were lured away from on June 16, 1284. The oldest picture of Pied Piper is a watercolor painting by Freiherr Augustin von Moersperg copied from the original glass window of Marktkirche in Hamelin which has since been replaced.

There are a myriad versions of the Pied Piper, the most popular being the following: In 1284, Hameln had an infestation of rats, and a colorfully dressed man arrived in town who claimed to be a rat-catcher. The townsmen promised to pay him for the removal of the rats and so he played a musical pipe which lured the rats into the River where they all drowned.

But the people reneged on their part of the bargain and refused to pay him, driving him away instead. Seeking revenge, he later returned and while the villagers were in church, he played his pipe again, this time attracting one hundred and thirty children who followed him out of the village, never to be seen again. The Grimms assembled from eleven sources the tale, and according to their account two children were left behind as one was blind and the other lame, and the children who left became the founders of Siebenbürgen, Transylvania. Indeed, one predominant theory about the tale is that the Pied Piper was a recruiter for the colonization of Eastern Europe which took part in the 13th century. With the prevalence of the Black Plague, the motive to emigrate might have been especially keen.

The dates coincide with the early settlement of Saxon Germans in parts of Transylvania. In respect of the lost children, there was for a long time a law forbidding singing and music on one particular street, the Bungelosenstrasse adjacent to the Pied Piper’s House, and during public parades and wedding processions which contain music, the band would stop playing upon reaching this street and resume upon reaching the other side.

The Children of Hameln by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

In the year 1284 a mysterious man appeared in Hameln. He was wearing a coat of many colored, bright cloth, for which reason he was called the Pied Piper. He claimed to be a rat catcher, and he promised that for a certain sum that he would rid the city of all mice and rats. The citizens struck a deal, promising him a certain price. The rat catcher then took a small fife from his pocket and began to blow on it. Rats and mice immediately came from every house and gathered around him. When he thought that he had them all he led them to the River Weser where he pulled up his clothes and walked into the water. The animals all followed him, fell in, and drowned.

Now that the citizens had been freed of their plague, they regretted having promised so much money, and, using all kinds of excuses, refused to pay him. Finally he went away, bitter and angry. He returned on June 26, Saint John’s and Saint Paul’s Day, early in the morning at seven o’clock (others say it was at noon), now dressed in a hunter’s costume, with a dreadful look on his face and wearing a strange red hat. He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn’t rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. Among them was the mayor’s grown daughter. The swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.

All this was seen by a babysitter who, carrying a child in her arms, had followed them from a distance, but had then turned around and carried the news back to the town. The anxious parents ran in droves to the town gates seeking their children. The mothers cried out and sobbed pitifully. Within the hour messengers were sent everywhere by water and by land inquiring if the children – or any of them – had been seen, but it was all for naught.

In total, one hundred thirty were lost. Two, as some say, had lagged behind and came back. One of them was blind and the other mute. The blind one was not able to point out the place, but was able to tell how they had followed the piper. The mute one was able to point out the place, although he [or she] had heard nothing. One little boy in shirtsleeves had gone along with the others, but had turned back to fetch his jacket and thus escaped the tragedy, for when he returned, the others had already disappeared into a cave within a hill. This cave is still shown.

Until the middle of the eighteenth century, and probably still today, the street through which the children were led out to the town gate was called the bunge-lose (drumless, soundless, quiet) street, because no dancing or music was allowed there. Indeed, when a bridal procession on its way to church crossed this street, the musicians would have to stop playing. The mountain near Hameln where the children disappeared is called Poppenberg. Two stone monuments in the form of crosses have been erected there, one on the left side and one on the right. Some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Die Kinder zu Hameln, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), vol. 1, no. 245.