near Bingen on the
Rhine River, Germany
|There is a small island in the middle of the Rhine River, by the city of Bingen, that has been the site of some kind of military installation since Roman times. But the fortress fell into disuse and finally into ruin until about 986 when Bishop Hatto II came into power at the archdiocese of Mainz and thus gained souvereignity over Bingen. He was a terrible ruler, bleeding the populace dry with his taxes. It is believed that it was Hatto who had the tower rebuilt to use as a refuge, a place where he could feel safe on his visits to Bingen. Bingen had been a free city before his rule, and to say Hatto was generally disliked might be an understatement!
Then it happened that a time of great hardship fell upon the city as famine and disease ravaged the populace. It is said things got so bad, people stewed mice and rats and even their dogs. But no amount of suffering could persuade Hatto to open his coffers to lend a helping hand. Folks died from hunger and disease left and right.
Legend has it that one day, Hatto was just sick and tired of the starving masses begging for a handout, so he announced that everyone would be fed if they went to an old barn just outside of town. One might imagine that the place was crammed with the hungry. Hatto, however, had the door barred and set the barn on fire.
As the death screams of these unfortunate souls pierced the country side, Hatto is reported to have said, "Listen, listen to the mice whistle."
Earthly justice couldn't (or woudn't) touch the bishop. But there was a higher law. Because from that day on, he was plagued by mice. Wherever he went, whenever he tried to get some rest, there'd be hordes of mice, running and jumping all over him, gnawing on him, making him fear for his well-being, even his life. Finally one day, he could take it no more and figured he'd find refuge in the tower on the island by Bingen. He didn't think the mice would swim after him.
Alas, this was not to be. Such great hordes of mice followed him to the island, they ate him alive!
Thus the fortress became known as the Mouse Tower.
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