europe · travel

Following the Trail in Hamelin

I realized that I voluntarily brought my two small kids to a town famous for losing all of their kids mysteriously overnight — have I lost my mind?!

Hamelin’s golden rat guarding over the bridge

Before our trip, my curiosity was piqued while listening to this Hamelin podcast episode from Stuff You Should Know, which claims that the legend of the Pied Piper is one of the few fairy tales which might actually be based on truth. Strange circumstances, like a very specific date in the tale itself, to numerous artifacts referring to the sad day when the town “lost its children”, made historians take a closer look — and made me want to take a peek at the town as well.

To be honest, I was in for a surprise when I first caught glimpse of Hamelin. Perhaps I was expecting something, well, more like a hamlet? A small, almost theme-park-ey town devoted to a fairy tale? What we met was actually a bustling, sprawled-out city — not exactly as busy as Hamburg, but Hamelin was bigger than I thought and had more to offer than simply rat-themed tourist traps.

But the town did love its (in)famous legend — there were statues of the Pied Piper and decor depicting rats everywhere. And I mean, everywhere. One of the pedestrian stoplights even depicted a walking green rat for Go.

The streets of the old town would have random bronze tiles of rats, if you look closely.
Pied Piper fountain in Osterstrasse

Once the initial wave of rat- and piper-hunting excitement has passed by, I also realized how nice it was just to appreciate the intricately-decorated buildings, which made the long pedestrian streets of the Old Town a treat for the eyes:

Our story had a happy ending: glad to report that I still have my two kids with me, both alive and well, long after we have left Hamelin. It wasn’t at all the theme-park-ey experience that I expected, but it was actually nice to be (pleasantly) caught off guard. If you do want a hint of stuff-out-of-fairy-tales encounter, you can add a bonus visit to Hämelschenburg Schloss, about 12 km away from the city — it’s one of the dreamier castles that I’ve seen so far in Germany:

Look at this beaut! Credits to wikivoyage/Wikipedia page of Schloss Hämelschenburg

After visiting Hamelin, I am no closer to knowing whether the fairy tale is rooted in historical fact or not. But you know what? Never mind what the answer could be — the answer may after all not be as important as never losing the impulse to look at the world with child-like wonder.


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