The Legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

Hameln’s Pied Piper Story Goes Back to the Year 1284:

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Pied Piper of Hamelin - © Travel Signposts

The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin goes back to the year 1284. It was said that there was a rat plague in Hameln and the people did not know what to do.

A stranger appeared on the scene, dressed in pied (multicoloured) clothing. He claimed to be a rat-catcher and that he could rid the town of all the rats and mice in exchange for a certain fee.

The burghers agreed to pay him the reward and the rat-catcher produced a small pipe which he played. Soon, all the rats and mice came crawling out from all the houses and gathered around the piper. When he was sure that none remained behind, he walked out of the town and to the River Weser. The whole pack followed after him and fell into the water and drowned.

When the burghers found that they had been delivered from the plague, they regretted their promise of a reward and they reneged on their payment to the piper. He was furious and left town in anger, vowing to return to seek revenge.

On 26 June, the piper returned to Hameln, this time dressed as a hunter, with an odd red hat. While everyone had gathered in church on St. John and St. Paul’s Day, he once again let the sound of his pipe ring through the alleys.  Soon, not rats and mice, but children – boys and girls aged four and older – came running out in great numbers. Playing all the while, the piper led them out the eastern gate and into a mountain where he vanished with them. In all, it is told that one hundred thirty boys and girls followed the piper out of the town.

Depending on the version of the tale, it is said that three children were left behind – one was deaf and didn’t hear the music, one was blind and couldn’t follow and the third was lame and could not keep up with the piper and the others.

As with all forkloric tales, there are many versions, conclusions and theories on the origin of the legend. But in spite of the darkness of the tale and regardless of the details, the Pied Piper of Hamelin is considered the most famous of German legends in the world. It attracts millions of visitors to Hameln each year and in summer an average of 3,500 visitors each day watch actors in historic costumes perform the story of the procession of the Hameln children on the terrace of the Hochzeitshaus.

The secrets of the Pied Piper can also be learned at the Hameln Museum in Osterstrasse, Hameln.

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