I woke last Christmas Eve morning to a wonderful treat – my German host in Kassel, Claudia, was making homemade pretzels. They were delicious and warm, and I mimicked how she ate them for breakfast since I was out of my league in terms of German cuisine. She cut it in half like a sandwich, then spread butter, ham, cheese and avocado on it. I passed on the avocado, but the rest was delicious! She then offered me some apple juice, which she warned me was a bit tart. What she called apple juice, I recognized as apple cider! I said this, and that in Canada we drink it hot or cold with cinnamon. Claudia looked concerned – she said that the German cider here is spiked with a lot of alcohol, no cinnamon, and never ever hot, which she thought that sounded like a terrible way to drink “apple juice”. I reassured her that it is very delicious on a cold fall day. Claudia then offered me to pack a picnic for me journey, so I now have some delicious pretzels and ham and cheese for lunch. I took the morning train from Kassel to Hameln after thanking Claudia for her lovely hospitality.
Hameln sits of the Weser River and is best known for the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The city started as a monastery in 851, and a village soon built up around it. The incident involving the Pied Piper is set in 1284, when for no reason known for certain, approximately 130 young people of Hameln did indeed disappear. Some believe that they were victims of a disease or plague and the Pied Piper is a personification of death, hence the association with rats. The infamous Black Death, however, did not appear strongest until 1348 and 1350, so some doubt is cast on this theory. Primary written sources, dated as early as circa 1300, also make no references to rats. Other theories exist including one that the children may have been recruited for the disastrous Children’s Crusade, but the most probable explanation is that unemployed youths were used by Germany to colonize its new settlements in Eastern Europe. Characters known as “lokators” roamed northern Germany recruiting settlers for the east, some of which were brightly dressed and all of which were silver-tongued. Today, many surnames exist in Poland and Romania that derive from German names common in Hameln in the 13th century. There are also surnames such as Hamel, Hamler and Hamelnikow found in these same regions.
In Hameln, there is a bronze statue of the Pied Piper in the Old Town. The Hochzeitshaus, who’s glocken plays the Pied Piper’s song, also re-enacts the fairy tale a couple of times every afternoon. It was also fun to keep an eye out for the rat shaped tiles hidden among the architecture and cobblestones, sort of like a giant game of hide and seek.