There are different versions of the legendary story, but the Lüneburg Chronicle records that it was on June 26th, 1284, Saint John and Paul’s day, that the Pied Piper took away 130 children of the town of Hamelin, luring them after him with his melodic pipe, and took them into a cave, from which they were never seen again.
The tragic event was recorded on a stained-glass window, circa 1300, in the Hamelin church where the adults were at prayer when the children were led away. The piper, clothed in multi-coloured fabric (pied), had appeared to offer to free the town from its plague of rats. The mayor agreed to pay him 1,000 guilders, whereupon the piper charmed the rats with his magic pipe into the Weser river. When they all drowned, the citizens reneged on their deal, and the piper took his revenge by leading their children away.
Some versions record that three children alone remained. A lame one could not keep up, a deaf one could not hear the seductive music, and a blind one could not see where he was going. They were left to tell the adults what had happened when they emerged from their church service.
Some interpretations say that the piper is an allegorical death figure, leading children to their deaths from plague. Others have it that it refers to a mass emigration of young people. Whatever the truth, the city of Hamelin marks the event with Rat Catcher’s Day on June 26th, and even today, no music or dancing is allowed on the Bungelosenstrasse, the street on which the children were last seen.
It is easy to see why the story has resonated. Many children are easily entranced by the music of false promises. Commentators have remarked that if children could vote, ice-cream would be elected. Some young people listen to the music of Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and eagerly follow the promises of free university education, cancellation of student debt, high minimum wages for youngsters in starter jobs, and “affordable” fixed rents at levels that no landlords can afford to provide.
The music plays its seductive sound of free goodies that someone else will pay for, and the children follow. They are told that their cornucopia will be filled by “the rich,” or by “business,” without also being told what would happen to those groups, or to the economy in general, if redistribution on this scale were to be enacted. They are not told that it would be “the rich” and “business” that disappeared, rather than the children.
Politicians such as these, in their multi-hued (but mostly red) garb, play their sweet music to entice young voters to the never-never land where no-one pays for anything, and goodies come free if you follow them. We who are left know what’s inside that dark cave, because we’ve seen the people of other countries led into it.