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Hamelin, Lower Saxony

Hamelin (German: Hameln) is a town on the river Weser in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Hamelin-Pyrmont and has a population of 58,696 (as at 2006). Hamelin is also the gateway to the surrounding Weserbergland mountains, which can be visited by hikers and bikers.

The town is famous for the folk tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin (German: Der Rattenfänger von Hameln), a medieval story that tells of a tragedy that befell the town in the thirteenth century. The version written by the Brothers Grimm made it popular throughout the world; it is also the subject of well-known poems by Goethe and Robert Browning. Although Hamelin has a fine medieval old town with some remarkable buildings, the main attraction is the tale of the Pied Piper. In the summer every Sunday, the tale is performed by actors in the town centre. Hamelin started with a monastery, which was founded as early as 851 AD. A village grew in the neighbourhood and had become a town by the 12th century. The incident with the Pied Piper is said to have happened in 1284 and may be based on a true event, although somewhat different from the tale. In the 15th and 16th centuries Hamelin was a minor member of the Hanseatic League.

In June 1634, during the Thirty Years’ War, Lothar Dietrich Freiherr von Bönninghausen, a General with the Imperial Army, lost the Battle of Oldendorf to Swedish General von Kniphausen, in the preface of which Hamelin was besieged by the Swedish army. Hamelin was surrounded by four fortresses, which gave it the nickname “Gibraltar Of The North”. It was the heaviest protected City of the Kingdom of Hanover. The first fort (Fort George) was built from 1760–1763, the second (Fort Wilhelm) and third were built 1774 and 1784, the last fort (called Fort Luise) was built 1806. In 1808 Hamelin surrendered without fighting Napoleon, after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt was lost. All of the historic walls and guard towers were pulled down by Napoleon’s forces. In 1843 the people of Hamelin built a sightseeing tower out of the ruins of Fort George onto the Klüt Hill. The sightseeing tower is called “Klütturm” and is a popular spot for tourists with an amazing view over the historic town.

The era of greatest wealth began in 1664, when Hamelin became a fortified border town of the Duchy of Brunswick-Calenberg. The town became part of Prussia in 1867. During the Second World War, Hamelin prison was used for the detention of Social Democrats, Communists and other political prisoners. Around 200 died here; more died afterwards, when the Nazis sent the prisoners on death marches in April 1945 fearing the Allied advance. Just after the war, Hamelin prison was used by British Occupation Forces for the detention of German war criminals. More than 200 of them were hanged there including Irma Grese, Josef Kramer and over a dozen of the perpetrators of the Stalag Luft III murders. It has since been turned into a hotel.

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