The Pied Piper of Hameln!

“Yes, in Kalkutta (Calcutta/Kolkata) there is a Pied-piper cafe [6], a Pied Piper Marketing Services and a Pied-piper pizzeria! And here, here ..”, the old man of the Tourism office, raised his voice in excitement. His eyes twinkled with amazement and pride as he pointed toward the northeast of India on his world map [16], “near this city, do you know Guwahati? There’s a statue of the Pied Piper. [5]” A little conversation later, he showed me the rest of the world map where he has pinned all places which has a trace or a mention of the Pied Piper. 

There are multiple versions of the same story [7] but Hamelin recorded the first such instance; and thus, over the years the story has become the identity of this little town of Hameln (Hamelin in English) in Germany. “The story is told many times over, there’s even a similar English story where the rats fall off the cliff.” 

If you do not know the Pied Piper’s story, check this video by Walt Disney out!

The old man is Mr. M. Boyer [12], the official Pied Piper of the day and an employee of Hamelin Marketing and Tourism Company. He responded very kindly to my email seeking sponsorship and made my travel from and to Magdeburg, free. Not always does a brown blogger approach them, you see! “But I do not know if they refer to the same story in some other language. What is the story called in your language Saha?” 

I fumbled. After a really awkward pause, I could only murmur, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin?” only to be greeted by a peal of bursting laughter. A few moments later, I got to know it is called “Hamiloner Banshiwala (Bengali: হ্যামিলনের বাঁশিওয়ালা)” or the flute-player of Hamelin in Bangla [2][9]. “Interesting. But do you know he was never called the Pied Piper or anything related to the Flute in the original German story!”, remarked Ms. Reimer of Project Pied Piper International at the Museum Hamelin. “He was instead called the Rat-catcher of Hameln (Rattenfänger von Hameln)!”. “Interesting how stories travel across continents”, I said pretty amusedly. 

Mr. Michael Boyer in front of the Rat Catchers House. It is forbidden to play music in the lane behind him; it is believed that the children walked through the lane lured by the Pied Piper.

Many of the children’s stories that we’ve grown up with have German roots. Compiled by the Grimm Brothers is the anthology – Children and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) which basically were folklores which eventually transformed to Fairytales in Europe. It contains stories of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White to name a few. The book is listed by UNESCO in its Memory of the World Registry. While there were cultural and political crossovers from Germany to England in the past, for example, George I of Hannover was crowned as the King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1714, the translations of these stories began during 1824 [1].

Not only did the stories travel to Bengal/India, but it also inspired several local authors in the region The explicit mention by Dey in the preface suggests that at least by 1883 when the author compiled “Folk Tales of Bengal”, the Grimm Brothers’ anthology had impacted and inspired Bengali storytellers [3,4].

However, let’s come back to the Pied Piper of Hamelin! It was first in print during 1556. Robert Browning made the story popular by translating it to an English poem in 1842 [15]. Several versions of the story, adaptations and translations later, this story is the heartbeat of the town of Hamelin. They pride on the fact that they own it, and people across the globe know about the story. And even advertisements take inspiration from that! 

The advertisement of Axe deodorant inspired by The Pied Piper story.

I have friends who disapprove of the idea of mixing stories with real-life places. Who would anyway believe in rats following the tune of a flute and falling off in the river or the children following the piper to the east of the city and disappearing? If we see the earliest mention of the story during the 1300s, we see only the mention of 130 children disappearing. The rats might have been added later during the 16th century (Zimmern Chronicle) [13] to signify the deadly plague.

Ratcatchers House, Hamelin
An inscription placed on a wooden beam on the western side of the Rattenfangerhaus (Ratcatchers House) in Hamelin runs (translated): ” In the year 1284 on the Day of John and Paul, the 26th of June, 130 children born in Hamelin were led away by a piper dressed in many-coloured clothes to Calvary close to the Koppen and were there lost. ”
The quotation above represents the closest we can approach to the original kernel of the Pied Piper story. [14]

The strangely and colourfully clothed Pied Piper who lured the children away might be a personification of the better opportunities that were there in Transylvania at that time and the children migrated. Or might have personified death like many medieval representations of death. Or it just could have referred to a person who came to recruit young blood for the army (Nikolas von Spiegelberg) [14].

The Biblical texts do not mention this incident, however, anecdotes of the children missing is spread in different parts of the city; this because most probably citizens were forbidden to speak about this. It also appeared as a church window painting during the 1300s, which is now destroyed but replaced by a smaller glass painting. 

Different versions of the story have little differences:

  • The original text mentions that the Pied Piper came back on Saint John and Paul’s Day (celebrated on 26 June) [11] during the fifth hour of the day (by the Sundial clock) which would roughly translate to 11:30 am to 12 noon of today’s time. Most translations, at least in the subcontinent mention it is 22nd July which is from another Robert Browning’s English version of the story. 
  • Mainly the Bed-time story versions of the original story have a happy ending – with the Mayor of the city acknowledging his dishonesty, paying the Pied Piper the full promised bag of Gold and the Pied Piper returning the children. The original story, however, does not have this happy ending [8]
  • In all stories, a couple of children remained in the town to tell the story to the grownups who were in the church when the children were lured away by the Pied Piper. However, the description of the children vary. 

This, Saint John and Paul’s Day is now celebrated as the Pied Piper Day, which I went to experience in the small town of Hamelin; full of wonderful people who made me feel exceptionally welcome! The first time the Pied Piper Day was observed was on the 600th year. Later every 25 years it was celebrated. Very recently, every year this day is celebrated as the Pied Piper Day. 

It’s a week-long festival with some smaller event going on. The 26th of June has four sub-event lined up:

Wooden Door engravings of the Pied Piper Story | Museum Hameln 2019
The guided tour of the Pied Piper for the children & the huge rat on the right.
  • The first being the Pied Piper (Mr. Michael Boyer) doing the city tour starting from the church.
  • The second sub-event is a musicale. [If you know German very well, then check out this Link]
  • The third and fourth are rather unconventional and interesting, although I must admit my only source of information of what was happening was Jonas, an intern in the tourism office, who was live-translating things for me! What would the king of the rats must have felt when the Pied Piper came along? Yea, that’s the third sub-event – the Rat King relating his tale.
  • The fourth was the Dank-Piper’s almost monologue where he walked through city concocting stories as to why he lured the children away. Those were a complete work of fiction and was amusing, to say the least. One of the stories that he told was – all he wanted was the Mayor’s daughter to be lured and taken away. That the other children came along was collateral damage, that was unfortunate. Haha. 

But my tour had another interesting sub-event – Mr. Boyer invited me to his office for a talk and later took me to the museum, the church and walked me through the lanes of the old town. The museum has a lot of painting and sculptures which celebrates the Pied Piper, and a collection of all translations of the story.

Goethe’s handwriting mentioning the Pied Piper. | Museum Hamelin | 2019
1884: the first Pied Piper Day and this is one HUGE album of all the photographs of the staged event. Yes, photographs during 1884!! and an album full of it!

The museum also has an interesting musical show, depicting human beings as machines and narrating the story of the Pied Piper.

A still from the musical show at the Museum. You can check out a video here.
The church of Hameln was built during the ninth century. The earliest portrayal of the Pied Piper was the glass painting which was later destroyed, but not before it was recorded and inspired historians and artists to preserve a resemblance of it. In this photograph, the glass pane on the left is where the original painting was. On the right top is the new glass painting, inspired by the previous one.
The painting which was inspired by the original glass painting and which in turn, inspired the new glass painting in the church of Hameln. | Photograph taken at Museum Hameln.
The new glass painting in the church, which is inspired from the painting which was inspired from the original glass painting of the church.

But one thing stands out. The rats in the town of Hamelin: From the rat souvenir to the rat stones, the rat this and the rat that. To the cocktail – Rat’s blood. In the year 2004, during an art festival, 70 huge colourful rats were made and a few of them are on display still.

Rat Souvenirs #1
The Pied Piper trying to kill a giant rat!
Rat Souvenirs #2 (You get the hint.)
Rats Blood (cocktail), Rat something, Rat soft toys and Rat tiles!

“You can make an entire blog post on rats!”, laughed Mr. Boyer. I take back home this laughter of this bright and jolly man and his inspiring enthusiasm and love for this town and its story. Hamelin and its story make us believe that the world is so small and connected, yet so diverse. The spread of the story shows us that one step in the right direction and it can inspire a hundred more across the globe. The fairy tale teaches us to not be dishonest; and if we are in some way, the way forward is to acknowledge and work towards fixing it!

The lanes of Hamelin. | 2019

Dear Hamelin, hold your story high up.

[1] Grimms Fairytales in English [Link]
[2] Hamoliner Banshiwala Wikipedia Link (Bengali) [Link]
[3] Banana Republics and V.I. Degrees: Rethinking Indian Folklore in a Postcolonial World (Kirin Narayan, University of Wisconsin, Madison) [Link]
[4] Folk Tales of Bengal (Lal Behari Dey) [Link]
[5] Pied Piper Statue at Accoland Park, Guwahati. [Link: MapsOfIndia website]
[6] Pied Piper Cafe, Kolkata. [Link]
[7] The Pied Piper of Hameln and related legends from other towns [Link]
[8] The Legend of the Pied Piper [Link]
[9] The Story of “Hamiloner Banshiwala” in Bengali [Link].
[10] UNESCO: Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage [Link].
[11] John of Rome [Link].
[12] Mr. Michael Boyer’s personal blog [Link].
[13] Dailygrail article on Pied Piper of Hameln [Link].
[14] The Pied Piper of Hamelin At the Confluence Of Literature, History, Psychology, Language Theory and Religious Thought [Link].
[15] The Evolution of the Pied Piper [Link].
[16] Pied Piper World Locations [Link].

About Anirban

I'm now a student of MS in Data and Knowledge Engineering, in Otto-von-Guericke Universitat Magdeburg, in Germany. I like exploring newer places and their culture. Stay connected on the social media.

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  1. Andrea M

    I always knew it as one of the saddest fairytales. It’s interesting how they have a kernel of truth in history.

  2. A. K Saha

    Beautiful presentation. First part history based and second part narrative and also very charming . Glad to see the place on blog post. thanks.

  3. What fun it is to know more about the pied piper. really loved it but do put some short subheadings when you are making long posts. This helps in reading and channelizing your thought process without divulging elswhere.

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