In former days every sound still had its meaning and application. When the smith's hammer resounded, it cried, "Strike away! strike away."
When the carpenter's plane grated, it said, "Here goes! here goes."
If the mill wheel began to clack, it said, "Help, Lord God! help, Lord God!" And if the miller was a cheat and happened to leave the mill, it spoke high German, and first asked slowly, "Who is there? Who is there?" and then answered quickly, "The miller! the miller!" and at last quite in a hurry, "He steals bravely! he steals bravely! three pecks in a bushel."
At this time the birds also had their own language which every one understood; now it only sounds like chirping, screeching, and whistling, and to some like music without words. It came into the bird's mind, however, that they would no longer be without a ruler, and would choose one of themselves to be their King. One alone amongst them, the green plover, was opposed to this. He had lived free, and would die free, and anxiously flying here and there, he cried, "Where shall I go? where shall I go?" He retired into a solitary and unfrequented marsh, and showed himself no more among his fellows.
The birds now wished to discuss the matter, and on a fine May morning they all gathered together from the woods and fields: eagles and chaffinches, owls and crows, larks and sparrows, how can I name them all? Even the cuckoo came, and the hoopoe, his clerk, who is so called because he is always heard a few days before him, and a very small bird which as yet had no name, mingled with the band. The hen, which by some accident had heard nothing of the whole matter, was astonished at the great assemblage.
"What, what, what is going to be done?" she cackled; but the cock calmed his beloved hen, and said, "Only rich people," and told her what they had on hand. It was decided, however, that the one who could fly the highest should be King. A tree-frog which was sitting among the bushes, when he heard that, cried a warning, "No, no, no! no!" because he thought that many tears would be shed because of this; but the crow said, "Caw, caw," and that all would pass off peaceably. It was now determined that on this fine morning they should at once begin to ascend, so that hereafter no one should be able to say, "I could easily have flown much higher, but the evening came on, and I could do no more."
On a given signal, therefore, the whole troop rose up in the air. The dust ascended from the land, and there was tremendous fluttering and whirring and beating of wings, and it looked as if a black cloud was rising up. The little birds were, however, soon left behind. They could go no farther, and fell back to the ground. The larger birds held out longer, but none could equal the eagle, who mounted so high that he could have picked the eyes out of the sun. And when he saw that the others could not get up to him, he thought, "Why should you fly still higher, you are the king?" and began to let himself down again. The birds beneath him at once cried to him.
"You must be our king, no one has flown so high as you."
"Except me," screamed the little fellow without a name, who had crept into the breast-feathers of the eagle. And as he was not at all tired, he rose up and mounted so high that he reached heaven itself. When, however, he had gone as far as this, he folded his wings together, and called down with clear and penetrating voice, "I am King! I am King."
"You, our king?" cried the birds angrily.
"You have compassed it by trick and cunning!" So they made another condition. He should be King who could go down lowest in the ground. How the goose did flap about with its broad breast when it was once more on the land! How quickly the cock scratched a hole! The duck came off the worst of all, for she leapt into a ditch, but sprained her legs, and waddled away to a neighbouring pond, crying, "Cheating, cheating!" The little bird without a name, however, sought out a mouse-hole, slipped down into it, and cried out of it with his small voice, "I am King! I am King!"
"You our King!" cried the birds still more angrily.
"Do you think your cunning shall prevail?" They determined to keep him a prisoner in the hole and starve him out. The owl was placed as sentinel in front of it, and was not to let the rascal out if she had any value for her life. When evening was come all the birds were feeling very tired after exerting their wings so much, so they went to bed with their wives and children. The owl alone remained standing by the mouse-hole, gazing steadfastly into it with her great eyes. In the meantime she, too, had grown tired and thought to herself, "You might certainly shut one eye, you will still watch with the other, and the little miscreant shall not come out of his hole."
So she shut one eye, and with the other looked straight at the mouse-hole. The little fellow put his head out and peeped, and wanted to slip away, but the owl came forward at once, and he drew his head back again. Then the owl opened the one eye again, and shut the other, intending to shut them in turn all through the night.
But when she next shut the one eye, she forgot to open the other, and as soon as both her eyes were shut she fell asleep. The little fellow soon observed that, and slipped away.
From that day forth, the owl has never dared to show herself by daylight, for if she does the other birds chase her and pluck her feathers out. She only flies out by night, but hates and pursues mice because they make such ugly holes. The little bird, too, is very unwilling to let himself be seen, because he is afraid it will cost him his life if he is caught. He steals about in the hedges, and when he is quite safe, he sometimes cries, "I am King," and for this reason, the other birds call him in mockery, 'King of the hedges' (Zaunkönig). No one, however, was so happy as the lark at not having to obey the little King. As soon as the sun appears, she ascends high in the air and cries, "Ah, how beautiful that is! beautiful that is! beautiful, beautiful! ah, how beautiful that is!"
ONCE THERE was a little boy called Till Ulenspighel. His father was a good blacksmith, his mother a kindly woman - and Till had such a lively personality, bright and naughty, that people couldn't help smiling when they saw him. In time he came to enjoy playing tricks and teasing too.
But there were others who didn't see the funny side of his pranks, and they were also among his fellow citizens. Neighbours complained to his father, saying, "Mr. Ulenspighel, what a rude son you have!"
And so, one day, Till's father said to him, "Listen, son, why don't people like you? Do you annoy them?"
"Why?" said Till, "it is other people that shake their fists at me whenever they see me and say nasty things."
"Hmm!" said his father and thought for a while. "I'm going to market with the donkey. Get up behind!"
Till did not need to be told twice and he clambered behind his father. But the second he was on the donkey's back, he hung a notice on his shoulders on which he had written: 'Whoever reads this is a donkey.'
People did read it and they were offended, so they shook their fists and shouted, "Oh, you horrid boy, Till! What a little horror you are!"
On hearing these shouts, Till's father, who knew nothing about the notice, muttered: "You're right, Till. People are angry with you, though goodness knows why! Don't worry," he added, "come and sit in front and we'll see if they still call you names."
Till did as he was told and slung the notice over his chest where his father couldn't see it - but his father could see other people as they shook their fists, scowled, shouted and yelled insults. Now he told his son, "Folk don't like you, Till. But pay no attention to them and go your own way!"
Time went by and Till began to weary of long faces every time people saw him. Then one day a company of wandering entertainers came to the town: actors, sword swallowers and acrobats. They made a great impression on the lad, who stared at them open-mouthed. While holding a pole in their hands, they kept their balance as they walked the tightrope across the road. How he would love to do the same. The people who now shook their fists at him would clap their hands.
No sooner thought than done, the boy picked up a pole, stretched a rope between two trees in the wood and started to practise. It was not easy and he fell more than once. But in the end he felt quite secure and decided to hold a show. He went through the streets crying, "Tomorrow Till Ulenspighel, the acrobat, will walk the tightrope!"
Filled with curiosity, everyone came to look at. Till had stretched the rope between his balcony and a tree in the nearby wood: the rope lay above the river and the young lad climbed on. The crowd that at first had laughed and made a noise, grew quiet after a while, and was impressed: "He's clever all right," someone said. "He's a real acrobat," said someone else. "We were wrong about him!" At that moment, Till's mother, who knew nothing about her son's gymnastics, heard the murmur of the crowd and went onto the balcony and saw her son walking the rope in the air. Frightened, she shouted, "Till, come down at once!" And seeing that the boy was not doing as he was told, she picked up the scissors and cut the rope. Till fell with a splash into the river.
The onlookers started to laugh and make fun of the lad as he struggled soaking from the water. "Hey, acrobat! If that had been the ground instead of water, you would have had a cracked head, wouldn't you?" they called, chuckling.
Till said to himself, "Laugh if you want to, he who laughs last laughs longest!"
Some days later Till announced he was going to repeat the show, this time not over the river but above the main road. Everyone rushed to watch. Before he ventured on to the rope, Till called out, "To make it more difficult for me, I'm going to carry a sack on my back. Every spectator will give me his left shoe. I'll put it in the sack and hand it back at the end of the show."
Everyone did this. Till walked the tightrope till he reached the middle of the road, and from the heights he said, "Now I'm going to give you back your shoes. There they are!" And opening the sack, he emptied out the shoes.
The onlookers got hit by shoes, and everyone hunted for his own shoe, argued with others too, and also exchanged insults. And from a window on high Till looked down on the confusion and said with a chuckle, "Who laughs last laughs longest!"
IN THE year 1284 a mysterious man appeared in Hameln. He was wearing a coat of many coloured, bright cloth, for which reason he was called the Pied Piper. He claimed to be a rat catcher, and he promised that for a certain sum he would rid the city of all mice and rats. The citizens struck a deal, promising him a certain price. The rat catcher then took a small fife from his pocket and began to blow on it. Rats and mice at once came from every house and gathered around him. When he thought that he had them all he led them to the River Weser where he pulled up his clothes and walked into the water. The animals all followed him, fell in, and drowned.
Now that the citizens had been freed of their plague, they regretted having promised so much money, and, using all kinds of excuses, they refused to pay him. Finally he went away, bitter and angry. He returned on June 26, Saint John's and Saint Paul's Day, early in the morning at seven o'clock (others say it was at noon), now dressed in a hunter's costume, with a dreadful look on his face and wearing a strange red hat. He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn't rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. Among them was the mayor's grown daughter. The swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.
All this was seen by a babysitter who had followed them from a distance, carrying a child in her arms, but had then turned around and carried the news back to the town.
The anxious parents ran in droves to the town gates seeking their children. The mothers cried out and sobbed pitifully. Within the hour messengers were sent everywhere by water and by land inquiring if the children -- or any of them -- had been seen, but it was all for nothing.
In total, one hundred and thirty were lost. Two, as some say, had lagged behind and came back. One of them was blind and the other mute. The blind one was not able to point out the place, but was able to tell how they had followed the piper. The mute one was able to point out the place, although he [or she] had heard nothing. One little boy in shirtsleeves had gone along with the others, but had turned back to fetch his jacket and thus escaped the tragedy, for when he returned, the others had already disappeared into a cave within a hill. This cave is still shown. Some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania.
The citizens of Hameln recorded this event in their town register, and the following lines were inscribed on the town hall:
In the year 1284 AD
Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, "Die Kinder zu Hameln", Deutsche Sagen. Vol. 1, no. 245.
Bote, Hermann. Till Eulenspiegel: Ein kurzweiliges Buch von Till Eulenspiegel aus dem Lande Braunschweig.. Auflage 16. Berlin: Insel Verlag, 1978.
Grimm, Jacob. Deutsche Sagen. Berlin: Neues Leben, 1986.
Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. Vol. 1. Ed. and tr. Donald Ward. Philadelphia: The Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981.
Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. Vol. 2. Ed. and tr. Donald Ward. Philadelphia: The Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981.
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