Today, the story of the Pied Piper is synonymous with the German town of Hamelin and rats are to be found everywhere – from rodent-shaped sweets in cake shops to statues on bridges across the River Weser.
But the best place for a brush with Hamelin’s favourite furry friends is the Rattenfängerhaus (Rat Catcher’s House) on Osterstrasse. Built in 1602 in a florid Weser-Renaissance architectural style, it’s named after an inscription on its facade, which replicates an eyewitness entry in early church records about the infamous disappearance of Hamelin’s children in 1284.
After a day deciphering historical fact from the Grimms’ fairytale fiction, I sat down hungrily for a plate of the house speciality: flambéed rats’ tails (strips of pork fillet) accompanied by a shot of the local firewater, Rattenkiller. The dish, served with croquette potatoes, salad and dips, is prepared at the table – theatrically flambéed in a herb liquor for a few euros extra. After a day on the trail of the Pied Piper, it feels like a fitting finale.
The restaurant itself, formerly the residence of a high-ranking local councillor, comes across as part museum, part anti-Disney theme restaurant, serving up heavy northern-German fare to a mix of curious international visitors and legend-loving German tourists.
I take in my surroundings while waiting for my food. Among the dark-wood nooks and crannies are glass cabinets of junk-shop candlesticks and family-heirloom liquor glasses. Watercolours of old Hamelin adorn the walls and a wood-carved statue of the Pied Piper, a gaggle of mesmerised children around his feet, dominates the front dining room.
Behind the bar, meanwhile, are translations of the Pied Piper story into various languages, Chinese and Russian among them, while rat-sized souvenirs scurry around the bar top. A compilation of what sounds like German rejects for the Eurovision Song Contest lends the dining experience a slightly surreal soundtrack of oompah-tinged Europop.
As for the rats’ tails themselves? Surprisingly meaty, since you ask. And all the better for being washed down with a cold Erdinger Weissbier. The Piper may have charmed the rats into the river in the story by the Brothers Grimm. But, these days, with a booming tourist trade charmed by the lure of rats in all shapes and sizes, the rodents are back with a vengeance.
*Read the full story of the German Fairytale Route in National Geographic Traveller – Family out on 9 January 2014.