Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Der Rattenfänger von Hameln

Today marks the 723rd anniversary of the Pied Piper of Hameln's not so legendary recourse against what can only be called: Dodgy Government.

Hameln, a small town due southwest of Hannover, Germany had a problem. Rats. What to do? What to do?

Along comes this guy dressed up in a getup that would draw attention even in West Hollywood. Pied, meaning many colored, was his couture and to top off the 'look', he played the flute. Never mind. He told the city fathers that he could lure any living thing to follow him and that included rats. Here's his rapsheet:

In 1284, the town of Hameln is suffering from a terrible plague of rats. The town council tries everything to get rid of them -- without success. At last, the Mayor promises 1000 florins to the one who can put an end to the plague.

A stranger dressed in bright red and yellow clothes shows up and says he can rid Hameln of the rats. At night, the stranger starts to play a soft tune on a flute, luring all the rats out of the houses and barns towards the river Weser, where they drown.

The Mayor refuses to pay the piper: "Playing a tune on a flute is not worth 1000 florins. Get out of Hameln!"

But the piper returns on a Sunday morning, when all the grown-ups are at church. Again he starts to play a tune on his flute. This time, all the children follow him, as he walks out of the gate to the mountains.

Suddenly, a cave opens in the mountain. The piper walks into the mountain, still followed by the children, and the cave closes again.

The children were never seen again in Hameln.

Now, the key here is 'seen again in Hameln'. The earliest reference to this event was written 150 years later in Latin. Later, in 1602, a verse was inscribed on a wall in the Rattenfängerhaus in Hameln:

Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli
war der 26. junii
Dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet
gewesen CXXX kinder verledet binnen Hamelen gebo[re]n
to calvarie bi den koppen verloren

(In the year of 1284, on John's and Paul's day
was the 26th of June
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours,
130 children born in Hamelin were deduced
and lost at the "calvarie" near the "koppen")

Some insist this never happened. Most believe that it did happen but maybe not in quite the way Der Bruders Grimm handed it down to us. William Manchester, the author, is convinced that this is a case of the worst form of Pederasty ever recorded; that the children were used in all sorts of unspeakable ways and the bodies chopped up and left to rot in the nearby forest.

Still others maintain that it is really a tale of immigration:

"Some speculate that the piper was hired by some sovereign to recruit settlers for new colonies in Eastern Europe (a popular version of the tale has the children walk through a tunnel all the way to Transsylvania; serious research accounts see evidence that the "children" went to Moravia -- the Eastern part of the modern Czech republic). Other theories believe in a "dance epidemic", the plague, a children's crusade or some battle etc."

In any case, something happened on the 26th of June, 1284 and it's been memorialized by some pretty lofty guys: Goethe, Robert Browning, the two Grimm dudes, the list goes on and on. Check out the Hameln, Germany webpage to see what events are scheduled for this summer.