by Sandra Merville Hart
A recent trip to the beautiful German village of Frankenmuth, Michigan, brought the story behind The Pied Piper to my attention. The tower at the Bavarian Inn tells the story periodically throughout the day to the background of a piper’s music.
A little girl danced to the tune while the story unfolded. I didn’t hear the whole story but learned it was a true one.
It’s a chilling, terrible tale from 1284 AD.
The town of Hamelin in Lower Saxony, Germany, had a problem with rat infestations. A pied piper (“pied” referred to his multicolor clothing) came to town. He promised the leaders that he could solve the problem. They promised to pay him.
The piper played, leading the rats to the Weser River where the rodents drowned.
When he went to collect his payment, the town leaders refused to give him the whole amount. This enraged the musician.
Adults were at church on Saint John and Paul’s Day (June 26th) when the pied piper returned. He played for the children who danced to the music. One-hundred thirty children danced and followed the piper from the village up near the Koppenberg (mountain.)
The Frankenmuth story said that two children were too little to keep up with the older ones. Other versions state that two or three children stayed behind—one blind, one deaf, and one lame. These children told the adults what happened.
Parents listened in horror. Their children had vanished.
Villagers searched for them. Tragically, they were never found.
What happened to them is a mystery. Some believe the piper sold them to recoup his money. One such theorist believes they went to Poland, where derivations of German names common to thirteenth-century Hamelin are found.
Another theory is that the piper forced the children to walk into the Weser River, just as he had done to the rats, and they drowned.
Another theory is he took them to Koppenberg Mountain.
There is a plaque etched in stone on a Pied Piper house that was built in 1602. It bears testimony that 130 Hamelin children were led from town on June 26, 1284 A.D. The children disappeared forever.
The Church of Hamelin, built around 1300, had a stained-glass window telling the Pied Piper story.
Written records of the event begin in 1384 in Hamelin. “It is 100 years since our children left.”
Tragically, this is a true tale.
I remember watching that little girl dance with joy to the music as the tale of the pied piper unfolded. To think it really happened that way chills me.
A cautionary tale, indeed.
“Pied Piper of Hamelin,” Wikipedia, 2021/07/26 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Hameln,” Britannica.com, 2021/07/26 https://www.britannica.com/place/Hameln#ref250683.
“The Grim Truth Behind the Pied Piper,” BBC.com, 2021/07/26 https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20200902-the-grim-truth-behind-the-pied-piper.