Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Disturbing True Story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin


When, lo! as they reached the mountain-side, 
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.

Robert Browning, The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child’s Story

Many are familiar with the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Few realise however, that the story is based on real events, which evolved over the years into a fairy tale made to scare children.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, it is set in 1284 in the town of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany. This town was facing a rat infestation, and a piper, dressed in a coat of many coloured, bright cloth, appeared. This piper promised to get rid of the rats in return for a payment, to which the townspeople agreed too. Although the piper got rid of the rats by leading them away with his music, the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The furious piper left, vowing revenge. On the 26 th of July of that same year, the piper returned and led the children away, never to be seen again, just as he did the rats. Nevertheless, one or three children were left behind, depending on which version is being told. One of these children was lame, and could not keep up, another was deaf and could not hear the music, while the third one was blind and could not see where he was going.

The earliest known record of this story is from the town of Hamelin itself depicted in a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin, which dates to around 1300 AD. Although it was destroyed in 1660, several written accounts have survived. The oldest comes from the Lueneburg manuscript (c 1440 – 50), which stated: “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 oldest known picture of the Pied Piper

The oldest known picture of the Pied Piper copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln/Hamelin Germany (c.1300-1633). Image source: Wikimedia.

The supposed street where the children were last seen is today called Bungelosenstrasse (street without drums), as no one is allowed to play music or dance there. Incidentally, it is said that the rats were absent from earlier accounts, and only added to the story around the middle of the 16 th century. Moreover, the stained glass window and other primary written sources do not speak of the plague of rats.

If the children’s disappearance was not an act of revenge, then what was its cause? There have been numerous theories trying to explain what happened to the children of Hamelin. For instance, one theory suggests that the children died of some natural causes, and that the Pied Piper was the personification of Death. By associating the rats with the Black Death , it has been suggested that the children were victims of this plague. Yet, the Black Death was most severe in Europe between 1348 and 1350, more than half a century after the event in Hamelin. Another theory suggests that the children were actually sent away by their parents, due to the extreme poverty that they were living in. Yet another theory speculates that the children were participants of a doomed ‘Children’s Crusade’, and might have ended up in modern day Romania, or that the departure of Hamelin's children is tied to the Ostsiedlung, in which a number of Germans left their homes to colonize Eastern Europe. One of the darker theories even proposes that the Pied Piper was actually a paedophile who crept into the town of Hamelin to abduct children during their sleep.

One of the darker themed representations of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

One of the darker themed representations of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Credit: Lui-Gon-Jinn

Historical records suggest that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a real event that took place. Nevertheless, the transmission of this story undoubtedly evolved and changed over the centuries, although to what extent is unknown, and the mystery of what really happened to those children has never been solved. The story also raises the question, if the Pied Piper of Hamelin was based on reality, how much truth is there in other fairy tales that we were told as children?

Featured image: An illustration of the Pied Piper of Hamelin . Credit: Monlster

By Ḏḥwty


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It is, it's a lesson to adults to pay your dues as promised and not con people because the price may be higher than paying the agreed upon price.
My thought is it was a child killer.

That is a bad analysis. For folktales in which children are harmed and adults are punished, see for example Aarne-Thompson type 720: "my mother slew me, my father ate me", most famously seen in The Juniper Tree.

In Germany itself, they call the story "Der Rattenfaenger von Hamelin" which directly translates to " The Ratcatcher of Hamelin". Also there are accounts that the piper was not a flutist, but played bagpipes. The fact that the German title mentions rats  suggests that rats were involved in the original story.

   This fairytale is odd to me. Such stories were originally told to children to scare them away from unwanted behaviour or as a moral lesson. The Germans had brutal stories for their young ones. There was a young child who was a habitual thumbsucker. The mother warned her of a  creepyTaylor with lage cloth shears who lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce upon unsuspecting thumbsuckers and swiftly depriving them of their moist little appendages. The mother goes out shopping and, the child, now unsupervised, promptly sticks her thumb into her mouth. Suddenly, the long coated creep hops out from behind the curtains and with sissors the size of hedge cutters takes off both of the child's thumbs.

   However, the pied piper  tale is unique because the children suffer due to the fault of the parents rather than their own misbehaviour. Perhaps this story was meant for the grown-ups.

The music that was around in the 13th century in Europe was not yet Classical. The musical style of that day (that is simply referred to as "early music") did evolve eventually into classical, but it was more closely related to a simpler and more popular folk style of music which would have been more widespread. There was also liturgical music of the day that has changed little to this day, chants as sung by Gregorian and other priests and nuns.

none of what you just said is true.

musical styles varied widely, particularly folk music - not a lot of it has survived because it wasn't recorded in formal books like "classical" music, but enough that we know it was widespread and extremely popular.

having words with more than one meaning is universal to language. You are also referring to "connotations", not actually more meanings. german has only about 20% of its words with more than one sense, whereas all words everywhere have connotations that do not translate exactly.

music is not music. firstly because there are high-pitched frequencies that adults cannot hear, secondly because the child brain is highly distinct from the adult brain and more or less sensitive to a huge variety of different stimuli from complex ones like faces to simple ones like light.

so basically there is a lot more going on here than you are informed of, but only because you are pretty uninformed.


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