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The Pied Piper of Hamelin: the dark real story that inspired the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale

This medieval tale, which has transcended universal literature, has an obscure origin.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are two of the most outstanding names in universal literature. These brothers, who lived in the 19th century, published dozens of stories based on the folklore of the time, which transcended and have even been adapted to the big screen, mainly by Disney.

Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and many more are tales published by this duo of scholars who undoubtedly left a legacy in literature. Among the creations of the Brothers Grimm is one of the most famous tales in children’s literature: The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

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In 1284 the town of Hamelin was infested with rats. One fine day a stranger appeared and offered his services to the villagers. In exchange for a reward, he would rid them of all the rats, to which the villagers agreed. The musician did his job and played his flute, which caused the rats to leave the village.

After the job was done, the piper demanded his reward, but the villagers gave him nothing, so he left in anger. Years later, he returned to take revenge; this time, he played his flute again, but instead of rats, 130 children, attracted by the music, followed the man who took them away and never returned.

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The legend behind The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Brothers Grimm were inspired by a German legend to write this tale, but the reality is that in recent years, historians have found evidence that the story is based on a real crime.

The architecture of the place it allegedly happened has proof of the story. One of the restaurants at the entrance of Hamelin has a plaque with the following legend: “In the year 1284 on the day of John and Paul, being the 26th of June, by a flute player dressed in many colors, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced and lost in the place of Calvary, near the hills.”

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Another proof that a man abducted 130 children and took them away, never to return them, is the Lüneburg Manuscript (1440-50), in which the crime that supposedly happened on July 26 is recorded. “It has been 100 years since our children left,” reads a text that talks about that event.

Researchers have become so obsessed with finding the culprit of the alleged crime, that on the way they found another surprising theory: the children could actually have been young people who decided to emigrate to other parts of Europe, as a consequence of an economic recession. The hypothesis is based on records with similar names of the missing children, which were found in other cities of the old continent.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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