It’s not often that a town gains popularity based on a storybook creature, let alone one that’s typically considered vile: The rat. In the town of Hameln, Germany, people roam cobblestone streets and pass by historic homes that look like they were pulled straight from a fairy tale. Not much of the town has changed since its founding in 851 AD, although it’s no longer just a monastery. In the 12th century, Hameln was officially a town and home to a small village of residents and thus, the story of the Pied Piper was born.
The story goes that the Pied Piper first came to be in 1284 and while it’s presumed to be based on true events, the actual story does vary slightly from the one that’s told to children. While the story might differ, this idyllic town is nothing short of fantasy with its historic timber-framed buildings echoing the architecture of the Renaissance, and cottage-style lanes and alleys that are filled with the wafting scent of coffee from tiny shops. It’s nothing if not charming and while a rat and a Pied Piper might be one and the same throughout the course of its history, this town is the perfect getaway from daily, chaotic life.
The Story Of The Pied Piper
The Brothers Grimm story of the Pied Piper tells of a rat catcher who was hired by the town to end the pest problem with the use of his magic pipe. However, the town refused to pay the piper for the magical work he was doing, and thus, he lured away children rather than rats. Of course, there’s no historical evidence indicating as to which version of this story is true, as the common thread between every version is the luring away of the town’s children. Some view the story as a ray of hope during a time in which the plague raged through the village, as the Pied Piper was able to lead the rats away, thus restoring balance to the town.
Now, visitors can go to Hameln and follow the ‘Rat Trail,’ which is marked by painted rats on the ground. This trail takes visitors past sights that are believed to be associated with the tale of the Pied Piper, including several historical buildings, and at certain times of the day, music will play in tribute to the children’s tale.
What To See In Town
The Piper’s House is by far one of the most popular and main attractions of Hameln. This Renaissance-style building can be found in the Old Quarter and was constructed in 1602 by Alderman H. Arends. While this house has no actual connection to the Pied Piper, it’s referred to as such due to the inscription in the side of the residence, which recounts the story of the piper. The house is a grand tribute to the story and does give the date June 26th, 1284, along with another specific detail: That 130 children were taken from the town of Hameln on the corresponding date. Now, the Piper’s House is home to a restaurant that cooks up rat’s tails and even offers a drink called ‘Rat Killer.’ The restaurant itself is highly acclaimed and is a great spot for both a bite and some fairy tale history.
The Wedding House also called Hochzeitshaus in German, acts as the town’s oversized cuckoo clock. Multiple times throughout the day, the doors built into the side of the building will open, giving way to a miniature piper and his pack of rats, and after that has played, a group of children soon follow, and the whole precession finishes with a blind child who is seen to be pulling his friend away from the group following the magical pipe. This building is the only Wedding House left in the world and its roots go back as far as the 17th century. However, the ‘cuckoo’ part of the building wasn’t added until 1964.
The village is also perfectly walkable and for those who want to dive even deeper into the town’s history, guided tours are available. It’s nearly impossible to walk through town without spotting one nod or another to the Pied Piper tale and the rats that accompany it, so get ready to take a step back in time to the 13th century. Those who have had the pleasure of strolling through town claim it’s sometimes challenging to separate myth from fact, as everything – including the town’s 500-year old buildings – have been kept up in such beautiful condition.