Hameln in the light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

Hameln in the light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

Cozy old Hameln, 50 km away from Hanover, got famous thanks to a certain character and legends about him, which earned itself its official name – Rattenfängerstadt Hameln, which means “City of the Pied Piper”. The chronicles even have the exact date of the event – June 26, 1284.

In those ancient times, when the streets of settlements in Lower Saxony was not neat, and raged black pest, no less a disaster for them were and rats and mice (as in Hameln with large stocks of grain in the bins). They poisoned the devil mostly with poisons. The profession of rat-snatcher was in demand, but not for every day. Town sanitarians had to moonlight as clowns at the same time.

All this is a fairy tale, of course, but on the day specified in the chronicles, something happened in Hamelin. Hordes of vile rodents invaded its streets, panicking its residents, and even the magistrate helplessly threw up his hands. Here, out of nowhere, in a brightly colored outfit and with a pipe in his hand appeared a wandering entertainer. The unexpected guest also called himself a rat-snatcher, offering to clean the town of rats for a small fee.

Hameln in the light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany - Photo 2

Hameln in light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

The authorities unwillingly agreed and promised not to be unkind with money – what can you do, when the situation is as bad as you can think of. As soon as the rat-catcher’s pipe started to play, the greying grey beasts followed him, as if under hypnosis, to the river Weser. And until its waters closed over the last rodent, the musician’s trill continued to sound. One could have breathed a sigh of relief, but the townsfolk, in their joy having forgotten their gratitude and their word, went back on their word and paid the poor man nothing. So he left with nothing.

But he soon returned as a hunter. And when the adults were listening to the mass under the vaults of the church, the magic flute began to play again, and, as if spellbound, a string of children came after it. The children’s cries and cries died down. “The singer, praised everywhere,” turned out to be a delectable debaucher as well. Whether the devil or witchcraft, but all who saw it were unable to move. The flutist led 130 children away, leaving the eastern gate, and they disappeared on the way to Koplen, passing the bridge. Only two cripples who got stuck on the road were lucky to escape this fate, but even they could not hear a coherent retelling of what happened.

There are many versions of the legend. With different endings and even intertwined references to the Crusades in 1212, which the crooks took time and again to sell the minor chimney sweepers into slavery. But no matter how many interpretations there are, for glorious Hameln (as in M. Tsvetaeva’s poems) this is a very real case, forever recorded in the city’s chronicle.

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Hameln in light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany - Photo 3

Hameln in the light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

Now the tourists usually begin their acquaintance with the city from the “street of silence”, along which a chain of children silently followed the musician.

At its very beginning the ornate building with its richly decorated facade, the Rattenfängerhaus, was intended in 1602-03 for Hermann Arends, one of the members of the town hall. When the house was renovated, an inscription was found on one of the beams, indicating the very fact that the children were leaving with their exact number, and then a forged sign was added, and so it became known as the Pied Piper House.

In 1972, near the Town Hall, there was also a fountain with a boy playing a pipe, as if to remind of the events of the past.

The Leisthaus, built for the grain merchant Gerd Leist in 1585-89, with its sculpture of Lucretia, famous for its virtue and beauty (since 1912 the Hameln Museum), and the Stiftsherrenhaus, the house of Friedrich Popendieck from the town government, with figures of deities, later given to the heads of the church institutions, speak volumes of the wealth of the town at that time. Since it was built (1556-58), its floors have diminished, and the café below now attracts people walking down the street.

Hameln in light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany - Photo 4

Hameln in the light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

The colorful street, replete with interesting buildings, overlooks the market square, where the Hochzeitshaus with its many bells and bells on the stepped pediment, whose puppets remind residents three times a day of the terrible drama, was erected in the 17th century by order of the managers. The “Wedding House” was built in 1671 and apart from the function hall it housed a dancing school, the town weigher and wine cellar had its own entrance and upstairs in one of the halls Count Tilly, the renowned military leader and field marshal of the Empire, was working with his officers on a plan of storming the Magdeburg Castle in May 1631.

The Marktkirche St. Nikolai, one of the oldest churches in the city, built in honor of St. Nicholas, stands not far away, jutting into the sky with its sharp spire. Every fragment of its decor and the stained-glass window with the Pied Piper in one way or another brings back memories of past events. In 1945, artillery fire left the church in ruins, but thanks to the post-war reconstruction it gained a second life.

On the square opposite the church, there is also an old pharmacy, which is still in operation today. Friedrich Wilhelm Sertürner opened it in 1822 (at first it was in a house with a carillon) where he worked until his last days. He, by the way, discovered morphine in 1803, and from an addiction to his own invention, named after the god of dreams, in the pharmacy and fell asleep (according to existing versions) forever in 1841.

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Hameln is considered the birthplace of the “Weser Renaissance”. Among the plethora of buildings in this style is Dempterhaus (1607-08), built for the mayor. At that time the town was ruled by Tobias von Dempter (Deventer or Dembter), the house has been called after him ever since.

Hameln in light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany - Photo 5

Hameln in the light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

The Hameln buildings, with their balconies and various masks against evil spirits, with family coats of arms above the gates and Gothic inscriptions on the facades, are similar in appearance to many other city buildings on the “German Tale Road.” This is not a tourist attraction, all the houses with their “fairy tale appearance” are well maintained and quite residential, with fresh flowers outside the windows and rose bushes at the doors, some even with tiny front gardens. And most importantly – “rats” are everywhere: souvenirs and all sorts of book products, baked goods in the form of mice and coffee with a rat (symbolizing Hamelin), fashionable rodents in front of the entrances to stores and on street stalls, even looking under the feet, on the sidewalk or manhole covers you can see rats. What to say about signposts and billboards with directions to places of interest, if the rat trail is present even in the interiors of restaurants and cafes, not to mention the menus in the institutions of the city.

Count Bernhard already at the dawn of the 11th century ordered the foundation of a church here. Already in the Middle Ages the Benedictines founded a monastery cloister, around which, over the years, emerged a settlement called Hamelah. They surrounded it with a fortress wall, as it should be, but every time the father monks managed to come to terms with any encroachers on its territory. Therefore the fortress never served any military purpose. Among others, the then rich and prosperous Hameln (as it was called before, less often Hameln) with its rights has already lit up in 1209. And after joining the Hanseatic League in more than 2 centuries (in 1426), its inhabitants started to build mills on the river rapids and to grind grain. Their welfare has improved, as evidenced by the mushrooming wealth of mansions, one beautiful one another.

Hameln in light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany - Photo 6

Hameln in light of stories about the Pied Piper, Germany

Although Hameln was not badly damaged by the Second World War, it was not only beautiful as alluded to in the picture, but also fantastically popular with the traveling public after the extensive restoration between 1969 and 1993. Especially during the Sunday costume shows, held from May to September, which even children are honored to take part in.

And yet Hameln, unusually attractive and hospitable, became a mecca of tourism thanks to the Pied Piper, who freed it from the terrible plague and showed everyone the way here. And to be sure of this, it is worth a visit.

What is the basis of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin?

If you, dear reader, happen to visit the ancient German city of Hameln, you will be convinced of the truth of the popular phrase that “here every stone is covered with an ancient legend”. The legend of the Pied Piper.

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And indeed, if you visit the local Pied Piper’s house, you can taste a chocolate “rat” or a bun baked as such. In a local restaurant you’ll find meat rolled up in the shape of rat’s tails and a cocktail of the same name on the menu.

So what to speak about excursions during which you will be told how Hameln acquired world fame thanks to not so pleasant tail creatures and an ambiguous figure of the fighter with them! However, there are gaps in this “true” history, and to see them – follow one of the city guides.

The traditional version

If we with you will read the Grimm fairy tales, works of Goethe and Heine, and even immortal creations of our fellow countrymen (Marina Tsvetaeva, Strugatsky brothers), in which there are motives and elements of the legend about the pied piper, we will find out an interesting thing: all of them, though with slight variations, contain the same type information about the event, which allegedly took place in Hameln in the summer of 1284.

So, we recall: in this year, this city (allegedly) experienced such an invasion of rats, that the magistrate promised any handyman for getting rid of plague-carrying creatures in Hameln, “as much gold as he can carry”. Such a skilful man turned out to be the Pied Piper, who played a magic pipe and lured all the rodents of the city to the River Weser.

The rats were drowned, but the greedy magistrate decided to “hide” the promised reward and did not give the savior a penny. He became angry, and the next night he took his revenge on the townspeople: he played his pipe again and took all the children of Hamelin with him, whom no one ever saw again.

As you are led through the narrow Bungelosenstrasse, the guide will suddenly suggest that the entire group be silent for greater effect, explaining that it was through this street, which has been called Silent since the 18th century, that the Pied Piper of Hamelin once led children away from the city.

Then, after a moment of silence that gives you a sense of the tragic atmosphere of the summer of 1284, the guide will reassuringly inform you that – if you believe the classics of literature – several children escaped the tragic fate. One was deaf and therefore unable to hear the enchanting sounds of the Pied Piper’s pipe. The second from birth could not walk. And the third suffered from blindness and therefore simply could not keep up with the children’s column.

The historical background of the legend

So let us ask the first question: does the very framework of the legend about the Pied Piper have the right to exist? Is it possible that in the glorious ancient Gameln, like other German settlements, famous for the abundance of cats among citizens, so deprived of this tribe of rat hunters, that the magistrate – at least in words – had to go on unprecedented spending in favor of a certain savior?

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Yes, in medieval Germany cats at some point were considered reincarnations of witches who took part in sabbaths and therefore – at the instigation of the Inquisition – almost completely exterminated them, as it happened with poor murki in Maoist China (there they were thought to mock the name of “the great steer” with their “Meow!) By the 14th century, the once numerous tribe of cats had been almost universally exterminated in Germany.

Here, it would seem that the Germans should pay tribute to the rat-catchers who wiped out the long-tailed carriers of the bubonic plague. But here again not everything is so simple: since ancient pest controllers fought infection vectors not through poison, but with the help of magic rituals and spells – for example, those described in the treatise “The Book of Miracles” (1430) – the Church considered representatives of this profession “the devil’s servants” and their power over rats – “satanic”.

As a result, the Inquisition exterminated the rat-catchers – who had already performed their work or failed to cope with it – with hardly less passion than the “witches who took the image of cats. In old criminal chronicles we find mention that often rat-snatchers also were not in debt – destroyed dey “magic spells Provision townsfolk” or even sent on the past “fierce pestilence.

Thus, as we see, the motive of revenge of Hameln rat-catcher is based on the historical basis. This revenge could take place regardless of generosity or meanness of the head of the city council.

Was there a “boy”?

We just found out that the legend of the Pied Piper had a certain historical “substrate. But here’s the question: have documents survived about this particular case in the life of Gamelin?

Such evidence, alas, is lacking. Guides can say that de “first report on the Hamelin rat-catcher could be seen on the stained-glass window of the local church, created in 1300, that is, practically on the traces of the event.

However – here’s the trouble: that church was destroyed in 1660, and on the later restored stained-glass window there is no information about rats. But we know with what care and meticulousness Germans recreate lost relics!

How could they forget about rats in this case? And even more: evidence that Hameln in 1284 suffered from the plague is not in the local chronicles, appearing in them only in the period 1348-1350 – just at a time when the rest of Europe was raging “Black Death”.

Now another question: is there any primary source testifying that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is not fiction? Try asking your local guide. In response you are likely to hear: “Of course! Suffice it to mention the Lüneburg Manuscript!”

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It would seem that such an answer should satisfy even a connoisseur of history, able to remember that we are talking about a document created just in the XIII century. However, it is worth digging deeper, and it turns out: there are at least two known Lüneburg manuscripts. Well, the one from the 13th century tells, for example, about Euclid’s geometry, but not a single word about the destroyer of rats and children.

But in a later manuscript Luneburg (about 1440-1450), written nearly 200 years after the legendary event is indeed mentioned. And, in fact, it mentions who.

We take it and read: “In the year 1284, on the day of Saint John and Saint Paul, June 26, a piper dressed in variegated robes seduced 130 children born in Hameln and led them out to Koppen, where they disappeared.”

Everything here is strange. And the motley attire of the hero – as opposed to the traditional black attire of wandering rat-catchers. And the term “seduced” coupled with a reference to a rather remote place Koppen near Calvary – a favorite in those years the fiefdoms of criminals of all stripes. And any absence of mention of rats, the profession of the “seducer of children”, his revenge on the mean head of the magistrate.

For those who would like to know the end of our little investigation, we inform: the primary mentions of the Hamelin rat-catcher can be found only in the documents of the XVI century, that is in the “testimonies”, which are a full century from the events, which allegedly took place in the history of the famous city. Well, for those who want to find out how modern German scientists interpret this fact, we will briefly mention it.

The lack of reliable historical information about the Piper of Hameln gives rise to numerous versions about this legend.

Some modern German researchers believe that it may even be about a “medieval serial pedophile” who lured the children of Hamelin into his net by enchanting music.

Others insist on the version that a sacred meaning is hidden in the legend: the Pied Piper is merely a collective image, an archetype of death.

Others believe the legend carries a coded message about the tragic fate of the Crusades’ children.

Others prefer a purely local flavor, looking for evidence that the strange piper was merely the organizer of the so-called ostzidlung – the resettlement of Germans who colonized Eastern Europe at the time.

Be that as it may, all these versions, in fact, contradict the cheapskate stories of modern guides, indulging guests of Hamelin with “historical” exotica. However, even such versions – at least so far – remain so far no more than speculations of varying degrees of authenticity. A coffee grounds’ guessing around a scary legend from the past.

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