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The Mysterious Pied Piper of Hamelin

Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

The fascinating mystery of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

The fascinating mystery of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

What Really Happened That Fateful Day?

The British poet Robert Browning sums beautifully the tragic story of the pied piper of Hamelin when he writes.

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.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the tale was set in 1284 in the town of Hamelin, a small prosperous town in Germany, infested by rats. As the story goes, the people were facing heavy losses due to the huge rats and nothing could make them go away.

Somewhere during this time, a pied piper visited their town and promised to remove the rats if he was paid a certain amount. The desperate people agreed and the piper succeeded in removing the rats.

Although the piper got rid of the rats, the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The furious piper left, vowing revenge. On July 26 of that same year, the piper returned and led the children away never to be seen again. As an inscription etched on the window of a half-timbered private residence dating to 1602 in Hamelin still reads.

“A.D. 1284 – on the 26th of June – the day of St John and St Paul – 130 children – born in Hamelin – were led out of the town by a piper wearing multi-colored clothes. After passing the Calvary near the Kloppenburg they disappeared forever.”

Historical records suggest that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a real event that took place. But the mystery of what really happened to those children on that fateful day of June 26th has never been solved to date.

The tale begins in 1284 in Hamelin, a prosperous town in Germany, infested by rats. As the story goes, a pied piper visits their town and promises to remove the rats for a certain amount.

The tale begins in 1284 in Hamelin, a prosperous town in Germany, infested by rats. As the story goes, a pied piper visits their town and promises to remove the rats for a certain amount.

Did a Disease Decimate the Children?

Most scholars and historians agree that something horrible happened on that day at Hamelin. Though it might not have been a piper with magical music powers, it is safe to deduce that a tragedy of irreparable magnitude happened on that day that is still remembered centuries later.

And since rats were involved, the most common theory is some disease spread by rats (like the bubonic plague) that decimated the children. Even the pied piper’s clothing might signify that he might be infected with splotchy skin lesions brought on by the disease. But two crucial points refute this theory.

  • Why were only children affected and not adults?
  • The original tale didn’t include rats. The rodent started appearing only in the 16th century, at a time when Europe was gripped by the plague.
The piper removes the rats but the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The furious piper takes a gruesome revenge that has been a mystery ever since.

The piper removes the rats but the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The furious piper takes a gruesome revenge that has been a mystery ever since.

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Did the Children Join the Crusade?

Some historians believe that since children were involved, the missing children would have joined the failed Children Crusade that took place in 1212 where thousands of children set off for the Holy Land to regain it from the Muslims.

But many died on the way or were sold to slavery. But again, why was the story set up only in Hamelin and not anywhere else? Also, the crusade took place some 70-80 years before the incident at Hamelin.

Historian Wibke Reimer, project coordinator at the Hameln Museum believes that the story is related to migration when Germans left in large numbers to colonize Eastern Europe. As per him, the pied piper might be a sort of recruiter as he says.

“In this scenario, the Pied Piper played the role of a so-called locator or recruiter. They were responsible for organizing migrations to the east and were said to have worn colorful garments and played an instrument to attract the attention of possible settlers.”

Perhaps the darkest of all theories is that the pied piper was a pedophile who crept into the town of Hamelin to abduct children during their sleep. And after abducting them and doing his deed, he used to kill them off.

The people of Hamelin were perhaps so much traumatized and even ashamed that they could not protect their children, they ‘covered’ it up and obliterated all written records of the same.

As Reimer says.

“Did something happen that officials had been covering up? Something so traumatic that it was transmitted orally for so long in the town’s collective memory, over decades and even centuries?”

“Did something happen that officials had been covering up? Something so traumatic that it was transmitted orally for so long in the town’s collective memory, over decades and even centuries?”

“Did something happen that officials had been covering up? Something so traumatic that it was transmitted orally for so long in the town’s collective memory, over decades and even centuries?”

The Aftermath

Today, the street in Hamelin, where the children were last seen, is today called Bungelosenstrasse, which translates to ‘street without drums’. No one is allowed to dance or play music there.

Even the word ‘pied piper’ has found its way in the English language and is used for describing a ‘leader who makes irresponsible promises’ or ‘one who misguides people’ to ‘a charismatic leader who attracts followers’.

Yes, while we might never really know the details of the traumatic event that took place, that has so deeply prevailed within the collective memory of the town people for centuries, perhaps we might do well to heed the hidden poignant lessons found within the pages of this tragic tale by taking better care of our children and protect them from the ‘pied pipers’ of today.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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