The official blog of Historical Fiction author, Mary Anne Yarde, and home to The Coffee Pot Book Club. Come and join Mary Anne on the hunt for everything historical, as well as mythological. Oh, and let's not forget the odd book or two! Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...
In the Time of The Pied Piper of Hamelin By Mary Ann Bernal. #history behind the #fairytale #Germany @BritonandDane
In the Time of
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
By Mary Ann Bernal
Most people are
familiar with the Brothers Grimm tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. As the
story goes, when the Piper did not receive payment from the town of Hamelin
after he had rid them of their rat problem, he absconded with the children who
were never seen again.
Was this fairytale
that was meant to scare children fact or fiction? As with many fables, there is
some truth to the story relating to events occurring in the thirteenth century.
Hamelin (Hameln as
it is called in German) is a town on the river Weser, located in the Lower
Saxony region of Germany. The settlement arose around the Abbey of St. Boniface
that had been founded by the monks of Fulda in the latter part of the eighth
Fulda, in central
Germany, was a flourishing city built on the Fulda River. During its heyday, it
was well-known for its great library, but the school was an important seat of
learning, drawing students from afar. A Benedictine Abbey was established
towards the end of the eighth century and became a renowned missionary center. A
replica of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome had been built to properly
honor the relics of St. Boniface buried within the crypt. Pilgrims journeyed to
the church praying for miracles. As time passed, the coffers were overflowing
and these funds were used to set up daughter houses such as the Abbey located
Hamelin was a prosperous corn-trading mill town, the majority of people lived
in poverty. Famine and disease plagued the less fortunate who could not feed
their children. There was also the constant threat of war with nobles trying to
annex more land to their territories. Add an infestation of rats to an already
volatile environment caused concern among government officials. The logical
thing to do was seek the services of a professional rat catcher.
Enter a piper, who
convinced the officials he could rid the place of the vermin with his music for
a fee. While skeptical, the bureaucrats agreed, and much to their surprise, the
man was successful. However, they refused to pay him. The piper threatened to
take all the children if he was not paid for his services. When payment was not
received, the piper, true to his word, left the town along with the children.
historical accountants, the children of Hamelin did disappear and there have
been many theories over the years as to what truly happened.
As in the Hansel
and Gretel fairytale, it has been stated that parents had no problem getting
rid of their children for a multitude of reasons. It is possible that the Pied
Piper story was created to take attention away from the parents’ culpability
and place the blame elsewhere.
Rats with their plague-carrying
fleas may have caused the children’s demise, but the pestilence had yet to run
rampant throughout Europe during the period in question.
suggested that the children may have run off to join the Children’s Crusade on
their own volition. The Crusade was established to free the Holy Land from
Muslim occupation. Whether or not children actually reached Jerusalem is up for
debate, but reports of bands of poor people, not necessarily lone children, had
been seen wandering throughout the region at that time.
Since the legend
references the children dancing to the tune of the Pied Piper, suffering from a
dancing plague, referred to as St. Vitus ’ dance, has also been suggested. This
illness might have been caused by the toxicity of ergot fungi, but again, this
Of interest, is
the mention of three disabled children (lame, deaf and blind) that were
allegedly left behind.
The finer points
vary, depending on which version is followed.
to the children remains a mystery but modern Hamelin continues to keep the
legend alive. A major tourist attraction, the town is renowned throughout the
On any given
Sunday from May through September, re-enactors bring the fairytale to
life.If you visit off-season, there is
a museum that features an animated film of the story.
Hamelin, images of rats are everywhere, on the cobblestones and doorways. In
the sixteenth century, the Rattenfaengershaus (rat catcher’s house) was built and
is located in the old town. A plaque references the fable. No music is played
around the rat catcher’s house out of respect for the missing children, but
there is singing during Christmas time in the main square. There are also
specialty “rat” foods and drinks such as rat’s blood champagne that is made
with blackcurrant juice. And there are a plethora of rat-themed souvenirs.
River cruises and hiking also lures the modern-day tourist to the region.
The missing children
have not been forgotten over the centuries because the legend continues to
enthrall its audience.
Mary Ann Bernal,
author of The Briton and the Dane
novels and the Scribbler Tales
series, is an avid history buff who also enjoys science fiction. She is a
passionate supporter of the U.S. military, having been involved with letter
writing campaigns and other military support programs since Operation Desert
Storm. All of
Mary Ann’s novels and short story collections are dedicated to fallen military
heroes who gave their lives defending our freedom. A prolific writer originally
hailing from New York, Mary Ann now resides in Nebraska.