Germany: Under the spell of the Pied Piper

By Diana Plater

The Pied Piper has been telling the people of Hamelin for 25 years now that he is not the culprit - meet Michael Boyer.

The charming Church of Hamelin. Photo / Supplied
The charming Church of Hamelin. Photo / Supplied

Michael Boyer blames the bureaucrats for the mysterious disappearance of the children of the town in Lower Saxony, Germany. And he says their obsession with rats is only one part of the legend that tells of a broken promise and a dreadful revenge, part of Hamelin's history for 800 years.

Michael Boyer is referred to on his card as Rattenfanger von Hameln, the Rat Catcher of Hamelin, but we're more familiar with his other name, the Pied Piper - in reference to his strange outfit.

In his red, yellow, purple, orange and green tights and jacket, yellow pointy shoes and feathered cap he's almost identical to the character as described by Robert Browning in his famous poem, down to being tall and thin with bright blue eyes and light, loose hair.

Fascinated by the mystery and crime elements of a story that taps into our darkest fears, Boyer started the role as a stand-up comedy act and he now represents the town at conferences, events, shows and his own tours.

He is a walking encyclopedia on all the theories behind the famous legend based on the unexplained disappearance of 130 children in the 13th century. So much so that he gets into arguments with historians and scholars, who he believes often get their dates and theories wrong.

One explanation is that by the 13th century the town had too many poor people, with only the oldest son owning all the family's land and power. Supposedly then Hamelin citizens were recruited for the colonisation of eastern Europe countries. Rat plagues were also tackled by rat-catchers in those times and both events may have blended into one another, with the rats first added to the story in a version from around 1559.

Boyer has woven the theories into a hilarious and fascinating walking tour of the town, interspersed with the playing of his pipe, stares by curious onlookers and women fawning all over him as they have their photos taken.

He takes us to a 1602 Weser Renaissance sandstone and half-timbered house, known as the Rat Catcher's, whose walls include an inscription - referring to the loss of the children.

At the Church of Hamelin he points to a stained glass window, a reconstruction of what was said to have had the earliest mention of the story - around 1300.

We hear the town chronicles have an 1384 entry, the earliest written record of the tale, saying that it was 100 years since "our children" left.

According to the Brothers Grimm account in their 1816 collection two children were left behind as one was blind and the other lame, so neither could follow the others. Browning's poem was published in 1842.

But in the end we have to make our own minds up about what really happened. One answer might come from a strange man in a medieval hessian cloak I see talking to a group of tourists.

"Ah, that's my alter-ego ... the dark side of my nature which broke away," the Pied Piper explains, referring to a new one-man theatre production he is also involved in.

* To book a tour with the Pied Piper contact the Hamelin Tourist Information centre at: hameln.de

- AAP

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