Rats! Hamelin needs a modern-day Pied Piper

Thu Nov 20, 2008 8:02am EST
 
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By Josie Cox

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - The German town made famous as the setting for the tale which saw the Pied Piper lure away a plague of rats has a real-life modern problem with the rodents.

Officials in the Weser River town of Hamelin in northern Germany, which celebrates "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" legend, have expressed alarm at a surge in the rat population much like the great plague in 1284 on which the story is based.

"Rats usually come in packs of 20 to 30 but their packs can expand up to 200 or 300 and that what's happened in Hamelin," said Rolf Schmidt, who works for a pest control service in the town of 58,000 north of Hanover.

He called the rodents dangerous and the town has added teams of rodent removal specialists to try to contain the new plague.

In the tale made famous by the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning, a man claims extraordinary rat-catching skills and promises to solve the town's rat problem by playing his magic pipe. He lures the rats into the river where they drown.

But after removing the rats, the villagers renege on their promise to pay him so he extracts revenge by using the same pipe to abduct the village children. Some local officials believe the tale to be based on actual events.

"We do have a rat problem but this could have happened anywhere in Germany," said Thomas Wahmes, city council spokesman.

"It's just a coincidence that it happened here."

Wahmes said that everything will be done to solve the problem fast and that it will definitely all be cleared up by next year, when the city celebrate the 725th anniversary of the well-known tale.

(Reporting by Josie Cox)