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Myths, Legends, Fantasy...


The Pied Piper of Hamelin

This item was prepared by Ida Baj who teaches at Kolegium Karkonoskie in Jelenia Góra


The information about the story and its background is taken from: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Millenium Edition. 2000. London: Cassell, and from: Kopaliński, W. 1985. Słownik mitów i tradycji kultury Warszawa: PIW.


The story

The town of Hamelin (Hameln) in Westphalia, Germany was infested with rats. The townspeople went to the Mayor asking him for help, but he said that he couldn’t make the rats go away. The mysterious Pied Piper came to town and offered to get rid of the rats. (The word ‘pied’ means that he was wearing brightly coloured clothes.) The Mayor promised the stranger a certain sum of money. The Pied Piper played a tune and all the rats followed him. He walked into the river and the rats drowned.


However, the Mayor refused to pay the Pied Piper. On the following St John’s Day, the Pied Piper played a different tune and all the children of Hamelin ran after him. The Pied Piper led them to a mountain cave, where all disappeared save a lame boy who couldn’t run fast enough. Another version is that they were led to Transylvania where they formed a German settlement.


The story, familiar in England from Robert Browning’s poem (1842), has its roots in the Children’s Crusade (1212). That event was a result of misguided zeal: it was believed that the children would defeat the Saracens by sheer innocence. There were two main expeditions: some 40 000 German children led by one Nicholas set off over the Alps for Italy. Most of them died in the mountains. Only a few reached Rome, where Innocent III ordered them home. Some hundreds possibly sailed from Brindisi to disappear from history. Another 30 000 French children at the age of 10 to 16, under a visionary shepherd boy, Stephen of Cloyes, set out for Marseilles and about 5000 were eventually offered passage by dishonest shipmasters who sold them as slaves to the Muslims in North Africa. A Polish artist Witold Wojtkiewicz (1879-1909) painted an evocative picture The Children’s Crusade (1905).


‘Framing’ the Pied Piper story

For background to this activity and discussion of the concept of ‘framing’ - see Teaching Culture through Drama: Dorothy Heathcote’s approach


  1. Participants: students enact the whole story or particular episodes. Students act out the conversations between the Pied Piper and the Mayor. Additionally, the pressure on the Mayor can be emphasized by acting out the clash between the angry crowd and the helpless Mayor at the beginning of the story.
  2. Guide: events are related by an eye-witness. The lame boy comes back to town and tells the story to the worried parents.
  3. Agent: students are asked to re-live events or explain them. Students as experts use the story of the Pied Piper to write and deliver an introductory speech at the First International Convention of Rodent Control Officers in Hameln, Germany.
  4. Authority: reconstructing events from the position of power. The German Emperor’s officials (students) come to Hamelin to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the children. Who will they summon and question?  All the interrogated persons are played by the teacher-in role.
  5. Recorder: reconstructing facts. A chronicler from the Hamelin Monastery (students) writes the story trying to stick to facts. For him the Pied Piper is a suspicious gypsy who uses black magic.    
  6. Press: providing a biased commentary on the event. Students rewrite the story in the style of a 1930s Chicago newspaper reporting a conflict between two gangs, one led by a mobster called the Mayor and the other by the Piper. The article tries to persuade the citizens of the city to cooperate with the police in the attempts to track down and arrest both gangsters.
  7. Research: Students find out background information about Witold Wojtkiewicz and try to explain why he referred to the Children’s Crusade in one of his most famous paintings.
  8. Critic: students are asked to compare the event with other events. Students compare the story of the Pied Piper to the film Dogville by Lars von Trier (2003) and/ or to the poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1842) by Robert Browning.
  9. Artist: expressing the story in an artistic form. Students design costumes for the staging of the story or write lyrics of a song entitled The Pied Piper of Hamelin.      


For the full text of Robert Browning’s poem - see, each page beautifully illustrated in colour by Kate Greenaway from 1888


The Pied Piper homepage will give you much more about the story. This is a well-produced, colourful and accessible source of information and links about the Pied Piper and similar stories from other cultures and languages. It has the poetry, literature, music, opera and films (from the first silent in 1911 to “It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown'' in 2000) made from the story, and links to Hameln today. There is a link for instance to an American poem connecting the tale to the 1999 high school massacre in Colorado.


For more material in English on the Pied Piper try the excellent D. L. Ashliman folk tale pages from the University of Pittsburgh

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