The German Fairy Tale Road, or Deutsche Maerchenstrasse, is the route that the Grimm brothers took when collecting stories for Children and Household Tales (Grimm’s Fairy Tales). The route runs from their birthplace of Hanau – just north of Frankfurt – and ends in the town of Bremen. Last year I traveled this route, beginning the trail backwards and researching the Bremen Town Musicians. After spending a night mapping out our driving route, my husband and I rented a car and made our way to the town of Hamelin, home of the Pied Piper legend.
Because this particular tale is rooted in truth, the brothers Grimm took from 11 sources when completing the story of the Pied Piper. The truth lies in the fact that at one time, the children of this town truly did disappear. The true reason for this disappearance will never be known, as the event took place 800 years ago, but there are a variety of theories such as disease, slavery, or even the crusades. The brothers took these conjectures and used what they believed would make for the best story. Because it was inspired by true events, they included the tale in their “Deutsche Sagen,” not the fairy tale collection that became so popular.
Town records dating from the year 1384 declare, “It is 100 years since our children left.” It would be hundreds of years before the brothers would venture into the town and begin to piece together a story for what these words may have meant.
Even to this day, a law exists that forbids singing and music on one particular street of the town, out of respect to the victims. This is enforced on the Bungelosenstrasse, which is adjacent to the Pied Piper’s House. The house bears a plaque commemorating the event with the date June 26, 1284. Although there are rumors that the Rattenfangerhaus, or literally “Rat Catcher’s House,” harbored the Piper during his time in the town, this would be impossible as it was built in 1602.
Among the many aspects of the town that celebrates this terrible historic event is a Pied Piper Route – a map of the town that highlights various locations. While many of the sights were either closed or under construction during our time in the town, the interactivity of the map was interesting. We didn’t have to bother with translating street signs, because the path was drawn out for us at our feet. Throughout the city, rats had been painted on the streets, directing tourist traffic to each location on the map. While perhaps not authentic to the historic aspects of the town, it was details such as this that made our stay in Hamelin more like a fairy tale.