I used to adore Fairy Tales when I was a child in fact if I think about it I still do – something about the escapism from the perils of the ‘real world’. One of the books I was given to read as a small child was entitled ‘Fairy Tales and Legends of this World’ . Even one of my favourite films is ‘The Princess Bride’ which although more comedic still has the basis of a fairy tale.
During my travels I have managed to visit a few places where references to stories I read as a child have become more real, one of them being Hamelin in Germany about 30 miles from Hannover.
On the 26th June in Hamelin the Germans celebrate (if that’s the right word) Rat Catcher’s Day a somewhat macabre event still familiar through a well known children’s fairytales more than seven centuries later.
But beyond the rats painted on the streets you follow on a tourist trail and the colourful souvenirs and other blatant tourist attractions, the town of the Pied Piper is full of references to a real tragedy – one recorded on the walls of the so-called Rattenfängerhaus, or House of the Piper:
“In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul, the 26th of June, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced by a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours, and lost at the calvary near the koppen.”
Even today, the town of Hamelin hasn’t forgotten. The street where it is alleged the children were last seen is called Bungelosenstrasse: street without drums” and by local by-law no one is allowed to play music or dance there.
When I got back to the UK, I looked into the tale and as far as I can gather there was no Piper who lured rats to their deaths by drowning in the Weser – whilst as an old mill town Hamelin was undoubtably full of rats it appears to me to have been a story that was told to mask the real event.
In fact despite what it says on the wall at the Rattenfängerhaus there is still a question as to whether any children were lost at all – particularly after being seduced by the notes from a pipe played by a rat catcher.
Not that that really matters…the fairy tale as told by the Brothers Grimm is a good story nonetheless.