Hamelin is a pretty little town in the north of Germany. The good people of the town are always saying, “Our Hamelin is a beautiful little town. No town in Germany is as beautiful as ours!”
The townsfolk of Hamelin are happy. They are all very happy. But once they were not happy; no, they were very sad. They were so sad because some mice, lots of mice, had come to town...
Mice and rats were everywhere. The mice were in every house and they ate up all the grain. Yes, the mice and rats ate everything up.
Then the housewives said, “The mice have got to go. Yes, we must get rid of these mice.”
The men said so too, and all the townsfolk agreed:
“Yes, we must get rid of these nasty mice.”
All the men went to the town hall and talked it over for a long, long time. “How can we get rid of the mice?” they asked, but they couldn’t find a good way to get rid of the mice.
The men were very sad, for every day when they came home the housewives would ask,
“Well, have you found a way? Will we soon be rid of the mice?”
But the men always said, “No, we haven’t found a good way and we won’t be rid of the mice yet.”
At last the mayor said,
“We’ll give gold, lots of gold, to the man who can help us get rid of the mice.”
“That’s right,” said all the men. “We’ll give gold, lots of gold, to the man who can help us get rid of the mice.”
Then came a man. The man was not one of the townsfolk of Hamelin. He came into town. He came up to the mayor and said, “I can take away all the mice. Give me the gold and you’ll be rid of the mice.”
“Good,” said the mayor. “If you take all the mice and rats away from town so that they don’t come back, we’ll give you the gold.”
The man had a pipe. He could make fine music on his pipe. The music was beautiful. The townsfolk of Hamelin had never heard such lovely music.
The Piper walked into the street. He walked into the longest and finest street in Hamelin and began playing beautiful music on his pipe.
The music was at first very, very soft, but after a few minutes it grew louder and louder. The Piper played more and more, and as he played the rats and mice all came out of the houses. Yes, all the big and little mice and rats came to him.
All the people said,
“Oh, look! Here come all the nasty rats and mice! They’re all coming out to hear the music. They’re all coming out of the houses and following the Piper.”
Now the Piper was playing even more beautifully, and walking slowly, very slowly, down the long street. And the rats and mice followed him.
“Look!” said the people. “Look, the mice are following the Piper!”
The rats and mice followed the Piper out of town, out of the beautiful town of Hamelin.
Soon not a mouse or rat was left in town, and the townsfolk were all glad, very glad.
The townsfolk wanted to see what the Piper was going to do with the mice and rats, so they all walked out of the town too. Then they saw the Piper heading towards the river, followed by the rats and mice. The Weser lies near Hamelin. The Weser is a big river. With lots of water, lots and lots of water.
The Piper was now playing so loudly that the mice and rats did not even notice the water. Playing louder and louder, he walked into the water, and the rats and mice followed him. Since they heard the beautiful music and since they could not swim well, they all drowned in the deep river. Yes, all the mice and rats drowned.
When all the rats and mice were dead, the Piper came back to town. He went up to the mayor again and said,
“Sir, now you are rid of all the mice and rats. Give me my reward.”
“Oh, no,” replied the mayor. “You will not get such a big reward. After all, you have only played music. Your music is beautiful, that’s true, but I cannot give so much gold for music.” And the mayor would give the Piper nothing.
Then the Piper was angry and said, “Sir, you promised to give me the gold if only you might be rid of the rats and mice. I have drowned them all in the Weser. They will never come back, for they are all dead. Now give me my reward.”
“No,” said the mayor, “the rats and mice are dead and that is good. They can’t come back, so I’m not going to give you the gold. Go away, Piper, go away, I will give you no reward.”
“Well,” said the Piper, “if I can’t have any gold or any silver, then I must have the children!”
And the Piper went into the street, the longest and most beautiful street in Hamelin, and played his beautiful music once again.
The music, soft at first, grew louder and louder, and then there came – not rats and mice, for they were all dead – but children, big and small alike. They all came out of the houses, so fast.
“Oh!” said the mothers. “Look at the children! They’re following the Piper, he plays so beautifully!”
The mothers watched all the children, big and small alike, follow the Piper. They followed him down the long street. The mothers cried out, “Children, come home!” But the children heard nothing but the music, the beautiful music, and saw nothing but the Piper.
Then the poor mothers said, “Oh, look, the children are following the Piper. He’s going to bring them to the water too. He’s going to drown them in the Weser like the rats and mice!”
And the mothers cried out loudly, very loudly, to the children, and wanted to go after the children, but they couldn’t!
The Piper played on. He walked farther and farther, and the children, big and small alike, followed him. They were all so merry, for the music was so beautiful that they had to dance and laugh.
But the Piper did not go to the water. Oh no, he went farther, much farther.
At last he came with the children to a mountain. The mountain was high, very high.
“Oh!” said the fearful mothers, “that is good. The Piper cannot play whilst going up the mountain. When he stops playing, the children will hear us calling and then they’ll come back to town.”
But that is not what came to pass, for suddenly the mountain opened up. There was a beautiful cave! The Piper entered the cave. He played more and more loudly and more and more beautifully, and the children, still dancing and laughing, followed him. They all followed him, and when they were all in the cave, the mountain closed up again, and the poor parents never saw their dear children again.
There were no more rats and mice in the town of Hamelin, but no more children either, neither big nor small, and the parents wept bitterly.
There was only one child left in Hamelin. That child was lame. He could not dance, and he would weep too and always say, “Oh, why couldn’t I go with the other children? The Piper played so beautifully, and the music spoke of roses and sugar, of honey and cakes. The children have surely found many beautiful roses in the mountain, and the Piper gives them sugar and honey and good cakes a-plenty. Oh, I am sad, and I must ever weep, and the other children are all so merry.”
The lame child was sad, and so were the mothers and fathers, for they could not see their little loved ones anymore. All the townsfolk of Hamelin were sad, and the mayor said,
“No music shall ever be played in the long street again!” He also said that the year twelve hundred and eighty-four (1284), when the Piper came to Hamelin and took away the children, was a sad year, the saddest he had ever known.
Original source: Der Pfeifer von Hameln. In: Märchen und Erzählungen für Anfänger. Erster Teil , 2011, Editor: H. A. Guerber / Project Gutenberg: www.gutenberg.org
Translated from German: Eric Rosencrantz