Brow Beat

Let the Pied Piper Eat in Peace

A vintage illustration of the Pied Piper leading children away.
The banks of the Weser River were the original slippery slope, because people kept tripping on all the drowned children.
Kate Greenaway/Wikimedia Commons

Over the weekend there was a fair bit of argument over the decision by a small restaurant in Hamelin not to serve dinner to the town rat-catcher. It wasn’t the first time recently that strong political feelings have spilled into what used to be considered the private sphere. We understand the strength of the feelings, but we don’t think the spilling is a healthy development.

Franz Totentanz was dining alone at the Gaststätte Rattenfängerhaus on Osterstraße Friday night. Several of the restaurant’s staff are humans and objected to Mr. Totentanz’s discriminatory policies against human children. In particular, the staff objected to the ratcatcher’s recent impromptu pipe concert, which led to the disappearance of hundreds of children into an enchanted cave outside of town. Respecting her staff’s wishes, the restaurant owner politely asked Mr. Totentanz to leave, and Mr. Totentanz politely acceded. He then tweeted a haunting melody on his magic pipe and led the restaurant owner’s children into the Weser River, whereupon they drowned, turning the episode into a public controversy.

This followed by a few days the very public heckling of the architect of the town’s rat-catching policy and the town’s not-paying-the-rat-catcher policy, the Mayor of Hamelin, at a local restaurant. Also, something unrelated but alarming happened in Virginia, we hear. We know it isn’t called Virginia yet, but we’re having to go pretty far afield to find examples that make it seem like anyone should be worried about people being rude to the Pied Piper, so please don’t think too long or hard about why an editorial board in medieval Germany would be cherry-picking incidents from a place Europe won’t discover for centuries.

It’s not a new tactic for protesters of one sort or another to target a public official’s home or private life. But never-at-rest town criers have blurred the line between work hours and private time. The unexpected boom in leisure time recently enjoyed by the town’s nurses, tutors, and parents makes it even easier for them to intrude.

Most obviously, passions are running high. Those who defend the Gaststätte Rattenfängerhaus staff say this is no ordinary policy dispute. Mr. Totentanz has failed to kill the rats he was hired to exterminate, he has stolen almost every child in town with his actions, his rhetoric, and his demonic pipe-tootling, and people need to speak up however they can.

They will get no argument from us regarding Mr. Totentanz’s policy of using sorcery to lure children to a cave deep in an enchanted mountain where they are forced to dance forevermore, the smiles glued to their tiny faces belied by the terror in their eyes. And when it comes to “coarsening the debate” by “employing dark magick to kidnap all the children forever,” he is the prime offender.

We nonetheless would argue that Mr. Totentanz, and the mayor and city council of Hamelin, too, should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many residents might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that children should not be kept in cages, fed candy until they’re nice and plump, and then shoved into a pre-heated oven and devoured with bloody gusto might decide that witches should not be able to live peaceably in our deep, dark woods?

Down that road lies a world in which only people who do not enjoy luring, enchanting, drowning, caging, roasting, eating, or just plain stealing other people’s children sign up for public service. That benefits no one. Except, perhaps, other people’s children.