Here’s a cautionary tale: pay a guy for his services, as promised, or he might come back and get revenge on you. Taking all a town’s children may seem a little harsh, but this was medieval Germany. The Middle Ages, and Germans in general, are not revered for compassion and gentleness. Even their children’s stories or fairy tales are filled with parents abandoning children–and witches eating them (Hansel and Gretel)–but you know the stories. They’re iconic. Metaphors. Part of our language and thinking includes instant recognition of Little Red Riding Hood as a lesson in stranger danger and the consequences of disobeying Mom. The Pied Piper has a lesson for adults. Pay your bills. Keep your word. It also has an interesting historical origin, and to this day the town of Hamelin, Germany, commemorates the Pied Piper version of the mysterious disappearance of most of its children, whatever the actual cause may have been.
Interest in the city’s connection to the story remains so strong that in 2009, Hamelin held a tourist festival to mark the 725th anniversary of the disappearance of the earlier town’s children. The eerie nature of such a celebration was enough to warrant an article in the Fortean Times, a print magazine devoted to odd occurrences, legends, cryptozoology and all things strange which are known now as Forteana.
…even to this day, there is prohibition against playing music or dancing upon the Bungelosenstrass, the street where the children were purported to have last been seen before they disappeared or left the town.
A building, popular with visitors, is called “the rat catcher’s house” although it bears no connection to the Rat-Catcher version of the legend. The Rattenfängerhaus, built in 1602 and 1603, is now a Hamelin City-owned restaurant with a pied piper theme throughout. (Someday I must go there! And to Bremen, a town in Germany filled with images of the Bremen Town Musicians.)
The cautionary message of The Pied Piper reminds me of a car mechanic who lives in a trailer, relying on food stamps. He’s done thousands of hours of custom body work for people who failed to pay him. He doesn’t have the patience, mindset or money to book a lawyer and go after the bums who take advantage of him so shamelessly. The law really doesn’t protect entrepreneurs who seal a deal with a verbal agreement, only to go unpaid for their time and labor. The vigilante justice of the Pied Piper is an extreme, but I sometimes wish more people would find legal, non-lethal, not-too-invasive ways to get deadbeats to pay up.
The mafia has ways of collecting money, bill collectors were hated even in Jesus’s time, and fear and violence exist for a reason. Sometimes, common sense, good judgment and simple honesty just don’t motivate people to behave. This is why citizens have the right to bear arms. Too many others just don’t care about right and wrong.
Pay the piper.