The Real Story of the Pied Piper

By | November 13, 2018

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The Pied Piper of Hamelin, actually city tourism employee Michael Boyer, leads local children dressed as rats through a quiet street in Hamelin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

We have all heard the old children’s story about the Pied Piper, a mysterious musician who, in 1284, was hired by the people of Hamelin, in Lower Saxony, Germany, to take care of the town’s rat infestation. The piper, according to the legend, successfully completed his task, but the people of the village refused to pay him. As revenge, he used his magical flute to lure the town’s children away, never to be seen from again. As strange and upsetting as this story is, we have to wonder if, like most fairytales, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin has some basis in fact. 

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A recreation of the original stained glass window in Hamelin

What We Know About the Event

Historians know that, on June 26, 1284, one hundred and thirty of the children of Hamelin were ‘lost’. This information has been obtained from a few primary sources. One was a stained glass window in the church of Hamelin, dated at around 1300, that commemorates the lost children. The original window was destroyed in 1660, but several drawings of it remain. Oddly, the window makes no reference to a rat infestation. One of the oldest written accounts of the incident was the Lüneburg manuscript which was written around 1440. A passage in this manuscript reads, “In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colors, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced and lost at the place of execution near the Koppen.” According to the story, the children were last seen on one particular street in Hamelin. That street is now known as Bungelosenstrasse or the ‘street without drums.’ To this day, no one is allowed to dance or play music on this street.