And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.”
-from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning
Most of us grew up hearing the story of The Pied Piper, about how a village was suffering from a rat problem until the Pied Piper offered to rid them of the problem, which he did by playing his magic flute. When he went to receive his payment, the villagers refused. So, to get back at the villagers, he used his magic flute to make their children follow him out of the village to hide in a cave until the villagers agreed to pay him. This is the story I heard as a kid, although I have heard other variations over the years.
But what if I were to tell you that the fairy tale was actually a true story?
In 1285, the German village of Hamlin had a serious rat problem. A mysterious man appeared one day, many believe him to have been Nicholas of Cologne, offering to rid the village of their rats. He made an agreement with the mayor of Hamelin that he would get paid if he rid the village of their rats. It is said that he used his flute (whether magical or just really good at playing, I’ll leave that for you to decide) and lured the rats into the Weser River. When the Piper went to the mayor for his payment, the mayor refused to pay him, denying they had an agreement.
That night, 26 June 1284, the Piper used his flute to lure the 130 village children out of the village. What happened next has been left out of most versions of the tale and replaced with a happy ending. The Piper led most of the children to the same river he led the rats to, and had those children drown themselves. The few who he didn’t drown, he took to the top of Koppelberg Hill and had his way with them, killing them when he was done.
However, one child was able to get away, and told the villagers what was happening. By the time they caught up with the Piper, it was too late.