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The Pied Piper

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In a town called Hamelin in northern Germany, a stained glass window made in the year 1300 and kept until the 17th century in the market church depicts an event where the children were in danger.

Pied piper 01

A more chilling documentation from the town’s chronicle in the year 1384 reads, “It is 100 years since our children left”.

This is the account of the Pied Piper, named for his fanciful or “pied” clothing and the silver pipe he played. According to legend as well as several personal written accounts, the man lured the children never to be seen again. One documentation from a Lunenberg town chronicle from 1430-1450 reads:

"Here follows a marvellous wonder, which transpired in the town of Hamelin in the diocese of Minden, in the Year of Our Lord, 1284, on the Feast of Saints John and Paul. A certain young man thirty years of age, handsome and well-dressed, so that all who saw him admired him because of his appearance, crossed the bridges and entered the town by the West Gate. He then began to play all through the town a silver pipe of the most magnificent sort. All the children who heard his pipe, in the number of 130, followed him to the East Gate and out of the town to the so-called execution place or Calvary. There they proceeded to vanish, so that no trace of them could be found. The mothers of the children ran from town to town, but they found nothing. It is written: A voice was heard from on high, and a mother was bewailing her son.”

However several other documents from surrounding areas spoke of this event. Nearly three centuries since the initial incident, people of surrounding towns in Germany feared the return. A chronicle of the town of Bamberg in 1553 reads:

“There is also a mountain which lies approximately a rifle shot away from this town, called Calvary, and the townspeople say that in 1283 a man was seen possibly a musician, wearing clothing of many colors and possessing a pipe, which he played in the town. Whereupon the children in the town ran out as far as the mountain, and there they all disappeared into it. Only two children returned home, and they were naked; one was blind and the other mute. But when the women began to look for their children, the man said to them that he would come again in 300 years and take more children. 130 children had been lost and the people of this place were afraid that the same man would come again in 1583.”

The number of children and the precise names of the areas all match, something very rare for history especially in Europe at that time. For most Europeans in those centuries, estimation and near guesses followed particular superstitions. Just wives' tales and folksy legends.

However, not the case this time.

Making careful note of the years in several chronicles in several different towns, they seemed to be counting down to three hundred, carefully documenting and awaiting, fearing, his return.

The last known place where the children were seen is called Bungelosenstrasse or “street without drums” and even to this day, no one is allowed to play music or dance there. Possibly to mourn the lost souls of the children… Perhaps to keep an ear out.

We all know that the Pied Piper is a fairy tale, a moral story, meant to scare people straight. As the story goes, the Pied Piper was a rat catcher who charmed the rat plague out of the city and he only took the children away when the townspeople refused his payment.

Funny thing is, in no historical documents of the incident were there any mention of rats or payment until the middle of the 16th century when it was introduced as a theory for the cause behind the abductions. The theory arose out of the idea that maybe he had come to rid them because of the black plague and that could be a nice theory if the plague had been around in the 13th century… It wasn’t. Not until over a century later would the plague have been even remotely dangerous to the little town of Hamelin.

One has to wonder… How much of fairy tales we were told as children are truth?

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