HAMELN, a town of Germany, in the Prussian province of Hanover, at the confluence of the Weser and Hamel, 33 m. S.W. of Hanover, on the line to Altenbeken, which here effects a junction with railways to Löhne and Brunswick. Pop. (1905) 20,736. It has a venerable appearance and has many interesting and picturesque houses. The chief public buildings of interest are the minster, dedicated to St Boniface and restored in 1870–1875; the town hall; the so-called Rattenfängerhaus (rat-catcher’s house) with mural frescoes illustrating the legend (see below); and the Hochzeitshaus (wedding house) with beautiful gables. There are classical, modern and commercial schools. The principal industries are the manufacture of paper, leather, chemicals and tobacco, sugar refining, shipbuilding and salmon fishing. By the steamboats on the Weser there is communication with Karlshafen and Minden. In order to avoid the dangerous part of the river near the town a channel was cut in 1734, the repairing and deepening of which, begun in 1868, was completed in 1873. The Weser is here crossed by an iron suspension bridge 830 ft. in length, supported by a pier erected on an island in the middle of the river.
The older name of Hameln was Hameloa or Hamelowe, and the town owes its origin to an abbey. It existed as a town as early as the 11th century, and in 1259 it was sold by the abbot of Fulda to the bishop of Minden, afterwards passing under the protection of the dukes of Brunswick. About 1540 the Reformation gained an entrance into the town, which was taken by both parties during the Thirty Years’ War. In 1757 it capitulated to the French, who, however, vacated it in the following year. Its fortifications were strengthened in 1766 by the erection of Fort George, on an eminence to the west of the town, across the river. On the capitulation of the Hanoverian army in 1803 Hameln fell into the hands of the French; it was retaken by the Prussians in 1806, but, after the battle of Jena, again passed to the French, who dismantled the fortifications and incorporated the town in the kingdom of Westphalia. In 1814 it again became Hanoverian, but in 1866 fell with that kingdom to Prussia.
Legend of the Pied Piper.—Hameln is famed as the scene of the myth of the piper of Hameln. According to the legend, the town in the year 1284 was infested by a terrible plague of rats. One day there appeared upon the scene a piper clad in a fantastic suit, who offered for a certain sum of money to charm all the vermin into the Weser. His conditions were agreed to, but after he had fulfilled his promise the inhabitants, on the ground that he was a sorcerer, declined to fulfil their part of the bargain, whereupon on the 26th of June he reappeared in the streets of the town, and putting his pipe to his lips began a soft and curious strain. This drew all the children after him and he led them out of the town to the Koppelberg hill, in the side of which a door suddenly opened, by which he entered and the children after him, all but one who was lame and could not follow fast enough to reach the door before it shut again. Some trace the origin of the legend to the Children’s Crusade of 1211; others to an abduction of children; and others to a dancing mania which seized upon some of the young people of Hameln who left the town on a mad pilgrimage from which they never returned. For a considerable time the town dated its public documents from the event. The story is the subject of a poem by Robert Browning, and also of one by Julius Wolff. Curious evidence that the story rests on a basis of truth is given by the fact that the Koppelberg is not one of the imposing hills by which Hameln is surrounded, but no more than a slight elevation of the ground, barely high enough to hide the children from view as they left the town.
See C. Langlotz, Geschichte der Stadt Hameln (Hameln, 1888 fol.); Sprenger, Geschichte der Stadt Hameln (1861); O. Meinardus, Der historische Kern der Rattenfängersage (Hameln, 1882); Jostes, Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (Bonn, 1885); and S. Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1868).