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On July 22, 1376, legend holds that the “Pied Piper,” a ratcatcher, led more than a hundred children out of their homes in Hamelin, Germany, never to be seen again. This fairy tale, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” (in German called the “Ratcatcher of Hamelin”) has been re-told dozens of times, although scholars cannot agree if the piper and the missing children are symbols of a natural disaster, religious pilgrimage, or migration. In any case, Ratcatcher’s Day recognizes these medieval exterminators.
 
“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” tells the tale of a ratcatcher who is hired by the town of Hamelin to exterminate rats that have overrun the town. The ratcatcher, dressed in multicolored (pied) clothes, does this by playing an alluring song on his pipe. After successfully ridding the town of rats, the people of Hamelin refused to pay the piper. As a consequence, the piper plays a song for the town’s children, luring them away from their homes. The children, and the piper, are never seen again. The earliest mention of the piper is on a Hamelin church window from 1384, reading “It is 200 years since our children left.” The British poet Robert Browning, writing in 1842, placed the date as 1376.
 
Early historians thought the Pied Piper legend may have hinted at an epidemic, such as the plague (which would explain the involvement of rats in the story). Others thought the story might explain deaths due to a natural hazard, such as a flood or landslide. Still others thought the story alluded to “children’s crusades,” where hundreds of children were recruited to combat Muslim armies in the Holy Land.
 
Today, most historians and mythologists think the Pied Piper of Hamelin symbolizes the Ostsiedlung, or expansion of German settlement to the north and east. Thousands of young people emigrated out of the central German territory of Saxony (where Hamelin is located) to eastern regions such as Transylvania (now part of Romania), Pomerania (now part of Poland), Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic), and Prussia (now part of Germany).
allude
Verb

to refer to.

alluring
Adjective

very tempting and attractive.

city
Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

combat
Verb

to fight.

consequence
Noun

result or outcome of an action or situation.

Crusades
Plural Noun

series of wars in which medieval European kingdoms attempted to gain control of the Middle East or "Holy Land."

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

dozen
Noun

a group of 12.

drown
Verb

to die or suffocate in a liquid.

emigrate
Verb

to move from one's native land to another.

Noun

outbreak of an infectious disease able to spread rapidly.

expansion
Noun

process of enlarging.

exterminate
Verb

to completely destroy.

fairy tale
Noun

folk story often involving magic or supernatural creatures, such as elves or dragons.

Noun

overflow of a body of water onto land.

hint
Verb

to provide a clue or indirect suggestion.

hire
Verb

to employ, or put to work for money or other goods.

Holy Land
Noun

ancient kingdom on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, of historic significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

involve
Verb

to include.

Noun

the fall of rocks, soil, and other materials from a mountain, hill, or slope.

legend
Noun

traditional or mythical story.

lure
Noun

object used to attract an animal or other organism.

medieval
Adjective

having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

mention
Verb

to briefly name or allude to.

Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

Muslim
Adjective

having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

myth
Noun

legend or traditional story.

mythologist
Noun

person who is an expert in the development of cultural myths, fairy tales, and legends.

natural disaster
Noun

an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

natural hazard
Noun

event in the physical environment that is destructive to human activity.

pied
Adjective

having patches of two or more colors.

pilgrimage
Noun

spiritual journey or travel to a sacred place.

plague
Noun

very infectious, often fatal, disease caused by bacteria.

plentiful
Adjective

abundant or full.

recruit
Verb

to work to supply a group with new members.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

revenge
Noun

punishment for an insult or wrongdoing from the person or group who is insulted.

rid
Verb

to eliminate.

Noun

large stream of flowing fresh water.

rodent
Noun

order of mammals often characterized by long teeth for gnawing and nibbling.

scholar
Noun

educated person.

settlement
Noun

community or village.

symbolize
Verb

to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.

territory
Noun

land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.