Eminem rapped about him. Abba made him the subject of a b-side. And even Megadeath referenced him in one of their songs.
We’re talking about the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
I spent much of the last week in Germany with my seven year old, Maya, on his trail. And on assignment for National Geographic Traveller Family magazine (issue out Jan 2014).
The journey took us by train from Chester to Hamelin via London, Brussels and Cologne – thanks to Rail Europe and Virgin Trains.
Hamelin was our base, and the Piper story our focus, but the legend also forms part of a wider tourism project, the German Fairytale Route.
This runs some 600km from Hanau to Bremen and takes in sites associated with the Germany’s favourite purveyors of dark-comic fairytales, the Brothers Grimm.
We uncovered a mix of historical fact, fairytale fiction and moral message-making during our trip.
We also found a connection to the English poet Robert Browning (of My Last Duchess fame), whose 1842 poem The Pied Pier of Hamelin [see image below] popularised the story in Britain:
All the little boys and girls / With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls / And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls / Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after / The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
Best of all for Maya, we had our own private guide to the legend behind the fairytale from the modern-day Pied Pier [pictured above].
The idea of following a man in a dayglo suit around the historic old town while he played the soprano saxophone took some getting used to. Especially as he was besieged with picture requests from adoring fans as we trampled the cobblestone sidestreets behind him.
But eventually we got into our stride, mixing up tales of Middle-Ages Hamelin with life as one of two of the town’s full-time, latter-day pipers.
Maya, demonstrating a fledgling propensity for investigative journalism, quizzed him on how it felt to play the role of a Horrible Histories-style figure from the past.
It is, we discovered, a bit like being like the actor Robert de Niro.
“It’s method, not acting,” the Piper told us. “You have to live it.”
The illusion was only slightly shattered when we saw him later that same day in dress-down civvies.
His real name, it transpires, is Brian.